Signs – of winter’s approach


October’s artistry is apparent in our hills, forests and meadows.

Meanwhile, as the light decreases and the temperatures call for us to “rug up” in sweaters and windbreakers, we’re seeing fewer of our summer songbirds. Migrants have either left or are passing through, and the Vs of Canada Geese are appearing in the skies.

Deciduous leaves are turning yellow, scarlet and crimson. The forest floor is starting to show the colourful leaves of poplars, ash, maples and more, while the understory plants such as Royal and Sensitive ferns are turning gold.

A pretty time of year heralding winter’s approach.

Colourful leaves

Chlorophyl is the pigment which gives leaves their green colour. This chemical also makes photosynthesis possible, where light is captured inside the leaves’ chloroplasts, transforming CO2 and water to sugars and oxygen which feed plants.

When autumn’s light and temperatures decline, the chlorophyl contained in these chloroplasts breaks down.

We see less green in deciduous trees leaves because as the chlorophyl declines, other pigments dominate. This is also why some leaves we’ll find on the forest floor are mottled, showing green as well as red and gold.

Tree Canada’s website explains the process: “Since the leaves are no longer able to produce food for the tree, they break down chlorophyll, and orange and yellow pigments, called carotene and xanthophylls, surface. These pigments emerge in leaf cells to protect chlorophyll from damage. The vivid reds come from pigments called anthocyanins which are manufactures from sugars in the leaf. The sugars are stored in the twigs for next spring when leaves emerge again. This cyclic pattern repeats itself every September in countries that experience seasonal weather.” (

Songs of summer…

Many of our summer migrants have already left – while others are flocking preparatory to their imminent departure. Just the other day I was treated to the whistling calls of two Eastern Meadowlarks: all too soon their songs will have disappeared for the year.

An increasingly uncommon grasslands species, the Eastern Meadowlark, is still here. In recent years, increasing numbers of these birds have been successfully nesting here at Spiritwood. Their numbers are increasing here because we only take one cut of hay, where our farmer delays harvesting the fields until early August. This permits these birds plus other grassland species such as Savannah Sparrows and Bobolinks to finish raising their young so they’re not killed by the harvesting of two or three cuts of hay.

My records show that Eastern Bluebirds, Belted Kingfishers, and Phoebes were calling on October 1, 2021. I wonder when I’ll record hearing them last this year?

Songs of winter approach

After a long forest hike in the transitioning woods on Tuesday September 27, I can report that the Black-capped Chickadees and Blue Jays are starting to approach the house – this is their autumn routine. No longer are they in the depths of our forests. Instead, they are far more visible, starting to flock, where the Chickadees’ cheerful songs dominate in the forest. From now until next spring, their chattery calls will be the predominant birdsong we hear in Pontiac woods.

Squirrels’ middens and pantries appear

The mammals are hard at work too, prepping for winter. Red squirrels create “middens” on the forest floor, where they gather such foods as pine cones in conical mounds – literal stockpiles which will last throughout winter. Also at this time of the year, look for mushrooms suspended in evergreen trees.

The squirrels do this so that this food source is available to them above the blanket of snow, throughout winter.

Signs of Winter

Children love hiking – as do we. Why not head out for a family hike whereby you actively search for signs of winter’s approach? From middens to brilliantly coloured leaves, there’s much to see and learn.

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