Mid-October is a time of great changes in the Northland. The colorful woods of deciduous trees blending reds and yellows in September has shifted to more yellows in the first half of October.

Now, at the middle of the month, the foliage goes to its next phase. The leaves leave their arboreal home for the last five months and cover the forest floor. Rain, wind and storms can sometimes make this drop very dramatic and quick. Looking into the woods now, we can see many more differences than before — often bare trees.

However, the yellows of aspens that lasted until recently have their place taken by the yellow-gold of tamaracks. These conifers of the swamps and bogs give a glow that frequently persists for nearly the rest of the month.

This is also a time of migrants. Songbirds now include sparrows — many from the far north — as well as blackbirds of a couple kinds, robins and the continuous blue jays. And there are a few lingering warblers and tiny kinglets.

Among the raptors, we see sharp-shinned hawks, red-tailed hawks, turkey vultures and bald eagles in the daytime while the small saw-whet owls move by at night. Plenty of geese, swans and ducks are seen, too, as they pause on their southing at lakes and rivers.

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But there is more going on in the woods of October.

During recent woods walks, I have found an abundance of forest fungi. Most of these were mushrooms that appear to thrive in the present conditions here. The days have been damp enough with mild temperatures — not so chilly. There were several amanita. I find them with caps of yellow, gray and white — one with a cap 8 inches in diameter. Honey mushrooms (Armillaria) were growing well at the bases of trees and on the walking trail. On nearby tree trunks, I found clusters of the rough-scaly caps of pholiota.

On the trail itself, there were russulas of several colors, including red. Milk mushrooms (Lactarius) were here, too, and the colorful waxy caps (Hygrocybe), ranging from yellow to red. I had seen all of these in recent weeks, but as I passed a couple downed logs, I found others.

Hundreds of tiny fuzzy-foot mushrooms (Xeromphalina) cover a log. Though individually, they are only an inch wide, their numbers give the whole log a yellow-gold glow.

A large number of puffballs are on logs and tree stumps. Still not mature, they do not yet release their numerous spores, but I expect that soon they will. On another log, I located two terrific growths of a white-body fungus: hericium.

Comb tooth fungus shown in October 2021 in the woods. 
Contributed / Larry Weber
Comb tooth fungus shown in October 2021 in the woods. Contributed / Larry Weber

Not shaped like mushrooms — so common in the woods — and not as robust as the shelf fungi, hericium stands out. Their growth pattern is one of branches that reach out with numerous spines or teeth. This shape and the white color has given them a variety of common names.

This fungus may be called comb tooth, bear-head tooth, bearded fungus and a couple of other perspectives: icicle or waterfall mushroom. Whatever the name, this white branching growth on logs or trunks of trees adds much to the beauty of the October woods. Within these branches and tooth structures, spores are produced.

Going from the woods, and onto a lawn, I find three more of note. Shaggy mane (Coprinus), or inky-caps, stick up above the grass. Two more that often grow in a circular pattern (fairy ring) are here, too. The white meadow mushroom (Agaricus) and brown marasmius are very common now.

It may be mid-October, but still, plenty of mushrooms.

Larry Weber
Larry Weber