Typical October Winds Denude Many Trees

Submitted by Art and Barb Straub

Here today, gone tomorrow. Frances the faithful question-filled Ford Focus inquired this week, “Where did all the autumn color go?” We had to answer, “Except for golden cornfields, and bronze oaks, the leaves are underfoot, dear, on the lawns and in the gutters.” However, peering out from among the bare branches and limbs are bright dabs and dashes, all we need is a bit of sunshine, while agriculturists are appreciating drying winds.

Tucked here and there in fencerows and tree borders, one will find brilliant red colored highbush cranberry growths. These are not native to the Henderson/LeSueur area, rather, are planted as ornamentals, windbreaks, and food for the birds. They are not a berry that you ‘graze’ from while traveling through the woodland, as they have a seed inside that will give your tummy fits. In summary, they are tart, acidic and unpalatable as a fresh fruit. Once the large seed is removed and they’ve been cooked and pureed, one might make jelly of them. (Don’t forget to add sugar!!) In late winter, we’ve found where starving deer will eat the frozen berries as a last resort, leaving bloody snow behind, and cedar waxwings/robins will stomach the berries after they’ve been frozen and softened. They are NOT at the top of a bird’s menu.

Speaking of cedar waxwings, Kerry and Jeanne Renneke reported that large flocks of tufted gray birdniks have been ransacking fox grape vines along Pumpkin Hill Road. Numerous other similar reports of fifty to a hundred chowing down on fruits being devoured in the far reaches of viney trees, especially if cedar berries are nearby. (Cake and ice-cream for the birds.) When they ‘attack a tree/vine,’ the sight is similar to bees on sugar water.

An additional red/orange sighting along country roads, and in the hills where Eastern red cedar trees grow, is the brightly colored American bittersweet. If you look closely at the vine, you’ll note that it winds round and round the tree, wound so tightly it can actually cut off sap to the parent tree, in some cases killing it. In that the birds eat the berries, thence depositing the seeds which drop to the base of the tree, vines are spread in the forest, which causes the orange beauty to be considered a parasite, fit for removal or destruction! A newly arrived Asian variety of bittersweet is considered an invasive. (That word, invasive, surely gets around does it not?)

White-tailed deer ‘rut’ is on, and has been for almost a month, considering the number of ‘rubs’ along edges of woodlands where younger supple trees are prevalent. (Normally one doesn’t find a ‘rub’ on a mature tree, as the buck deer seeks a tree with ‘give’ to it. In late summer, the buck white-tailed deer rubs his antlers on a smaller tree to remove the ‘velvet’ from the antlers. Later, as of right now, the tree serves as a communication or territorial site. A big buck will rub the bark from a sapling higher in the tree, a smaller buck, lower on the tree bark. Some researchers believe that while rubbing the tree, the forehead of the buck will give off secretions that send messages to other bucks. Experienced deer hunters are able to read the direction from which a buck comes and goes, which gives the hunter an advantage.

We two nature observers, three counting Frances, no longer hunt deer, although the number of the species seems to be at a record high, especially does. Once upon an early morning years ago, while perched upon a huge pumpkin on a garden path, a large doe came traipsing down the trail. This hunter shot the beautiful brown animal, and as it dropped, it looked at my rotund tummy, and asked, “Why?” She might have added, “You look as though you’re more than well fed.”

The Coachlight trumpeter swans haven’t been observed by Frances for a week, although with clocks set back to normal, the blue wanderer is getting into gear later each day. Also, strangely enough, she’s not heard nor seen the majestic ‘cloud touchers,’ wardens of the skies, wonders of the bird world, the migrating tundra swans heading for the bays of the Mississippi River, their mid-continent rest stop. Please DO contact 665.2658 if you perceive said sky travelers.