Tuesday, November 8, 2011

November Trails -- Part 1

November Trails
© Dave Spier

Unexpectedly warm and sunny weather followed the first feeble attempt at an autumn snowfall. Call it Indian Summer, or just call it enjoyable. Mornings were chilly and dew-laden, but that's normal November. I hope you have a chance to get out and savor the weather before things go downhill again.

The trail through the field back to the woods is dotted with open milkweed pods releasing brown seeds to float on white down. The zebra-striped Monarch caterpillars that fed on the toxic white sap of the summer leaves long ago transformed to butterflies and headed south toward their winter home in Mexico. You might have noticed the Canadian Monarchs passing through New York in early October.

Near the milkweed, the once-plump, off-white berries on Red-panicled Dogwoods are now wrinkled and dry. Chickadees have been snatching as many of the fruits as they can, and the ones that fall to the ground become food for grouse. The shrub's name comes from the red stems that hold the berries, but the gray bark on the main branches gives it the alternate name, Gray Dogwood. [see the previous blog post] Next to the dogwood, a flock of Purple Finches landed in a small tree and then flew again in unison. These birds, red-raspberry relatives of goldfinches, breed across southern Canada and winter in the eastern half of the United States. We see them most often during their migrations.

In the middle of the field, a thorny rosebush is covered with tasteless rosehips that are nonetheless high in vitamin C. These small, red fruits are credited with supporting the expansion of the mockingbird from its southern strongholds to the cold climates of Upstate New York.

Northern Mockingbird in Multi-flora Rose bush -- © Dave Spier

In the woods, small beige moths flit among the trees while a pair of Red-bellied Woodpeckers chase each other from one tree trunk to the next. In spite of brilliant scarlet feathers on the nape (back of the neck) and crown of the male, the bird is named for an obscure patch of salmon red on the belly between the legs. The bird has to be at just the right angle to see it. The problem with the name is that another woodpecker with an entirely red head and neck took the name Red-headed Woodpecker. That species is a southern bird; we seldom see them in the Finger Lakes region.

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