As we step into September, we are still in summer. Days can be cool, but heat still prevails often.
During the weeks that lead up to the autumnal equinox, we note shorter days — later sunrises, earlier sunsets. This daylight change triggers many fall happenings. Bird migration may be one of the most notable and each day, the avian movement continues.
Though most obvious are the raptor flights over Hawk Ridge in Duluth, frequently more a thousand a day, but we also see flocks of geese or shorebirds. The smaller songbirds continue their flights, too, and whether it is warblers, sparrows or thrushes, we may note their presence in our yards as they go by.
Though we look for migration to be among birds, the flights of monarch butterflies and green darner dragonflies let us know that some insects also use this method of coping with the coming cold.
Looking at the trees, we see changes that happen throughout these weeks. It is not too early as we begin this month to find leaf colors in the arboreal world.
I find that some of the small trees may be the first to surrender the greens of summer for the reds of autumn. Best examples of this are the little trees at the forest edges: dogwoods, pin cherries and sumac. None are very large, but with bright leafy colors now, they stand out.
Soon, we’ll see more of this brightness as maples, red oaks and the vines of Virginia creeper take on their glows. And though not as bright, but much more abundant, are the yellows that soon fill the woods.
But among the woody plants, there is far more going on than leaf colors. This is also the time of fruits forming in the trees. Red leaves are not the only reds as noted with the berries of highbush cranberries and mountain ash.
The fruits of hawthorns, crab apple and apple are getting ripe now. They have been silently growing all through the summer. Now in September, the products of these trees are in their maturity. Each carries seeds inside. They get noticed by animals that will transport their dispersal.
But there are other arboreal products besides these edible and colorful fruits. There is a nut crop, too.
Nuts on trees are synonymous with fall and in much of the country, hickories, butternuts and walnuts are reaching their maturity at this time. In the Northland, our nut crops are more likely to be acorns from the two kinds of oaks that are most common: red oak and burr oak. But there are also the hazelnuts.
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Hazels are small trees that are very common throughout much of the state. We have two kinds in the region: American hazel and beaked hazel. Both are small shrubs of the understory. Both have toothed leaves; male catkins and small purple female flowers in spring. Each produces a nut crop.
While the American hazel has a tight-fitting husk over the seed, beaked hazel forms a husk with a growth extending, like a beak. I see each often in the woods.
This year, the American hazels have an abundant nut crop, but I find few of the beaked. The interior nut (similar to the well-known filberts) are devoured quickly by birds, squirrels and bears and though I often find the maturing nuts, I usually do not see the fully ripe ones. Someone gets to them before I do.
And I expect this to be happening again this year, but it was great to see them grow through the summer.