Dawn before the storm November sunrise Pamm Cooper photo

Dawn before a November storm

 

“Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.”

-Albert Camus

November is the time of falling leaves and bare trees, perhaps a first snow, woolly bears and the arrival of northern birds that come down to stay for the winter. Geese fly overhead in their v-formations, remaining autumn fruits are visible on trees and shrubs and the weather is definitely shifting toward the colder end of the spectrum.

wooly bear in November 2018 Pamm Cooper photo

Woolly bears travel late in the year and the amount of rust or black is only indicative of its stage of development, not the severity of the coming winter

Most northern birds that migrate here for the winter typically arrive in late September or early October. This year many stayed in the north until recently as temperatures there remained warmer than usual and food was abundant as well. The first juncos I saw arrived on October 30, but that is just in my area, but it is the latest arrival of that species since I started keeping track of such things.

cowbirds on fall migration Horsebarn Hill UConn

Cowbirds on migration Horsebarn Hill UConn

This past October was one of the warmest on record, and anyone with some annual flowers in their gardens may still have some blooms now in  November. I had Mandevilla vine, Thunbergia, salvias, Cuphea ( bat-faced heather), Mexican heather, Tithonia sunflowers, Cosmos, balloon milkweed, ivy geraniums, fuschias and several more annuals still blooming  on November 5. Native witch hazels and some perennials like Montauk daisies, butterfly weed and some hyssop varieties are also blooming. As of today, though, with temperatures in the low 30’s, most annuals should fade away into the sunset.

fuschia still blooming November 3 2019

Fuschia still blooming on November 3, 2019

Mandevilla vine in bloom November 3 2019

Mandevilla vine still blooming on November 3 2019

geraniums blooming November 2 2019

Geraniums still blooming in Manchester on November 3, 2019

October being so warm, many trees still have some leaves, although oaks, dawn redwood and Bradford pears are the main ones with leaves right now. Some sugar maples slow to turn color this year are fading, but many Japanese maples are still full of colorful leaves.

maples

Sugar maple on left and Japanese maple on right

old-house-with-bittersweet-and-japanese-maple-rte-154-november-13-2016-pamm-cooper-photo

Old house with bittersweet and a Japanese maple in full autumn color

This is the time of year when it becomes evident where paper wasps built their nests. According to farmers in earlier times, perhaps mostly by experience and observation, the position in height of these nests was an indicator of the amount of snow to come during the winter. The lower the majority of wasp’s nests, the less snow, and vice versa.

paper wasp nest in chute of wood chipper November 2019

Paper wasp nest in the end of a wood chipper chute

There are many plants that are great to use for fall interest. Fothergillas has a wonderful orange-yellow leaf color into November, and Carolina spicebush has a nice yellow color right now. Several viburnums, winterberry, many Kousa varieties and native dogwoods have fruits that are of  interest for fall and even winter color. Red osier dogwoods also have red twigs that are a standout in the winter landscape if pruned periodically.

cranberry viburnum berries

Viburnums can add colorful interest in the landscape for both fall and winter

blueberry fall color

Blueberry fall leaf color

Honey bees and some syrphid flies are still active as long as food sources remain. Witch hazel is valuable as a food resource for many late season pollinators. Also, the American oil beetle, a type of blister beetle, can sometimes be seen crawling over lawns in early November on its way to find a suitable spot to overwinter. Stink bugs and other insects are still out, but soon should be seeking shelter for the winter as temperatures drop. The invasive brown marmorated stink bugs seek shelter indoors, while native species remain outside.

honey bee on Montauk Daisy

Honey bee on a Montauk daisy

syrphid fly on Cosmos November 2019

Syrphid fly visiting Cosmos flower November 2019

Animals like deer and coyotes may sometimes be seen out and about on sunny fall days. Deer will eat crabapples and acorns, as well as smorgasbord items like Arborvitae hedges and other plants that pique their interest and taste buds. Sometimes they will nibble on young crabapple twigs and those of other small trees and shrubs. If this is a problem, consider wrapping lower branches loosely with bird netting or something else breathable for the winter. Squirrels have been known to clip off the flowers of hydrangeas and cart them off to line their nests.

coyote hunting during the day in fall 2019

Coyote hunting for voles and chipmunks along a small brook during the day

When autumn leaves are just a memory, sunrises and sunsets can provide a spectacular display of color during the fall and winter months. Sometimes there will also be a pre-glow red or orange color in the sky that will light up trees and houses just before dusk. The color will only last for minutes and changes can get more brilliant as the sun settles down over the horizon. In the morning, colors are at their peak just before the sun arrives over the horizon.

pre- sunset December glow 12-3-15

Orange glow just before fall sunset

The warm weather is retreating into fond memories, and the cold and bare landscape is coming to stay for a few months. As Clyde Watson wrote in his poem-

“November comes
And November goes,
With the last red berries
And the first white snows…”

Pamm Cooper

“In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks” John Muir

Air Line trail Raymond Brook marsh area Pamm Cooper photo

Raymond Brook Marsh on the Air Line Trail

In the last three weeks I have visited parts of the Connecticut Air Line Trail and because of what can be found there, I want to share what my friends and I have seen during April and May of this year. Since timing is everything, some of what we enjoyed has moved on or faded, but maybe next year some of you may experience the same excitement of discovery and pleasures of observing flora and fauna in their natural environs.

First of all, this trail was established along an old rail bed that went from Boston to New York and was constructed in the 1870’s. Long gone now, this trail system goes from Thompson to East Hampton and is an easy walk or ride of hikers and bikers. And while all seasons can provide their own versions of landscape interest, I prefer spring and summer.

blackbird 5-14-16

Red-winged blackbird male staking his territory

This spring was especially interesting because of the cold weather. Many migrating birds were found all at the same time- both those passing through and those returning to breed. On one Saturday morning in early May, along a marsh in the Colchester area, birds were abounding in both color and song. We heard and saw the following in just a hundred yard stretch of the trail: Orchard and Baltimore orioles, yellow warblers, warbling and red-eyed vireos, kingbirds, red-winged blackbirds, song and marsh sparrows, common yellowthroats, black- throated green, black and white,Northern parula and yellow-rumped warblers, redstarts, veerys, wood thrushes, red tailed hawks and more. Within a few days, most of the warblers had moved on to northern breeding regions, with the yellow warblers, common yellowthroats, American redstarts and some black-throated green warblers staying on to raise their young here.

yellow warbler singing copyright 2015 Pamm Cooper

Male Yellow Warbler singing in the morning

 

Blueberries abound along the marshy areas of the trail, so of course you would find catbirds and other fruit- loving birds in those spots. This year seems to be a good one for blueberry. Much like last year, the bushes are loaded with flowers and the bees pollinating them, so a bumper crop may follow.

blueberry

Blueberry flowers

limber vine honeysuckle Pamm Cooper copyright 2016 - Copy

Limber honeysuckle- a native vine

Along the trail, keep your eyes open for interesting plants, especially along stream and marsh edges. This trail abounds with black chokeberry, limber honeysuckle, pink lady slippers, red and nodding trillium, wild sarsaparilla, tall meadow rue, native geraniums and native azaleas- the Pinxter flower azaleas. There are also the invasive autumn olives and Japanese honeysuckles, but these are sources of pollen and nectar for native pollinators, butterflies and hummingbirds. A hummingbird spent a lot of time visiting these two plant species, and was in the oak woods finding lots of insects and spiders as well. There is a stretch where the native geraniums- Geranium maculatum grow like a hedgerow along a ditch, and are visited by many bees and early- flying butterflies. You need to go off trail and into the woods to find, as we did, the elusive nodding trillium, which blooms later than the purple species. This trillium is white, and the flower dangles down below large leaves so that it can be easily missed, so it was a nice surprise to find it.

trillium noddiing 5-21-16

Nodding Trillium

Raymond Brook Marsh is one of the most extensive inland wetlands complexes in eastern Connecticut. In the evening, just before dusk, beavers are busy getting started for a night of foraging here. You can see them on both sides of the trail, and sometimes they may surprise you with a slap of their tail if they are alarmed. They often climb out of the water on one side of the trail and slide down into the other side, often using the same spots that look like mud water slides. They will swim along and occasionally climb up a on a bank to nibble on various shrubs, like blueberry, that grow along the water.

Beaver after dining

Beaver taking a break after eating a small branch

There are also turtles that can frequently be seen crossing over the trail from one side of the marsh to the other. Besides the ubiquitous painted and snapping turtles, you may also occasionally see a stinkpot (musk) turtle or a spotted turtle as they crawl across the trail. The Cranberry Bog portion of the trail and the Rapallo Viaduct in East Hampton offer a resting spot beside a pond and a spectacular view from above, respectively.

musk turtle carapace

Musk turtle carapace

Musk turtle plastron

Musk turtle plastron

 

There are many other parts of the trail that are worth the walk, so bring both a camera and binoculars. Although spring is my favorite time to walk this trail, summer and fall are equally impressive. But I do miss all those spring birds…

 

Pamm Cooper           all photos copyright 2016 Pamm Cooper

This past Monday night, the featured speaker at my Garden Club was Bet Zimmerman who gave a really great presentation on Helping Bluebirds Survive and Thrive. Many of us are aware that bluebirds are making a comeback after years of decline due to habitat loss and from predation and competition by highly aggressive invasive bird species especially English sparrows and European starlings.  Both of these pest birds, by the way, were intentionally introduced to this country.

Key factors to helping our Eastern Bluebirds nest successfully include putting up the right nest boxes, monitoring these nest boxes so that only desirable native wild bird species are allowed to populate them, being able to recognize nests and eggs of both native and invasive cavity nesting bird species, controlling predators including English sparrows, and supplying birds with fresh water and sometimes food. While many species of birds build nests in trees, shrubs, under eaves and in other more open situations, bluebirds are cavity dwellers. In undisturbed wild areas they would build nests in the holes of trees that resulted from decay or that were created by other species. As wild areas are developed, trees are cut, especially these wonderful old, often dead, snags that make up such a perfect habitat for cavity dwellers like bluebirds, nuthatches, swallows, woodpeckers, wrens, chickadees and tufted titmice.

Bluebird at UConn Soil Lab, Photo by Deborah Tyser

Before hearing Bet’s talk, I didn’t quite realize the toll that English sparrows take on bluebird populations. I thought they just competed for nest boxes but these nasty little birds will crack bluebird eggs, kill the young fledglings and even decapitate adults. I learned that it is better to not put up a nest box than to put one up and let English sparrows nest in it. At the Soil Testing Lab on the UConn Mansfield Depot campus there are a number of bluebirds and I had put up a bluebird box. The first year I was so delighted when a pair of bluebirds set up housekeeping, laid a clutch of eggs and I could hear the young birds peeping when the parents were bringing them food. Then I came back after the weekend and found baby bluebirds dead on the walkway. I didn’t know how this would happen but turns out deeds like this are characteristics of English sparrows. I will start monitoring more closely and also setting up sparrow deterrents. For all the information you need about attracting and helping bluebirds make it in your neck of the woods (fields actually) check out Bet’s website, www.sialis.org.

Pair of Bluebirds, Photo by Deborah Tyser

Not only has the Soil Testing Lab been getting a considerable increase in samples sent in for vegetable gardens but also for small fruits like blueberries, strawberries, brambles and grapes. Growing one’s own food is a great trend. Imagine fresh, quality produce from your own backyard! It also really makes one appreciate some of the trials and tribulations that farmers have to contend with when growing the food that many of us have come to expect to find on grocery store shelves.

American grape varieties prefer acidic soils

In general, any of the small fruits are fairly easy to grow. They each do have some specific cultural considerations that should be explored before purchasing the plants. One such item would be their soil pH requirements. Both blueberries and American grape varieties, like the Concord, need acidic soils. This would explain, in part, why they are found growing wild in New England where acidic soils prevail. Strawberries, brambles and European grape varieties are happy if the soil pH is somewhere in the mid 6’s. Changing the soil pH is not difficult with limestone being added to raise it up or make it less acidic and sulfur or aluminum sulfate used to lower the soil pH. The bottom line is that plants do best when grown under the right conditions. Whether you check the soil pH with a home testing kit or send it to our lab (www.soiltest.uconn.edu),  it is important for plant health and well worth your time.

Blue pulmonaria in my white garden

And now a question I have been asking myself for years – why did all the pulmonaria seedlings (lungwort) that came from the white flowering cultivar, ‘Sissinghurst White’ in my white garden end up having blue flowers and all the seedlings from the blue flowering ‘Mrs. Moon’ in my birdhouse garden bloom white?

 Enjoy the spring!

Dawn