Fall is in the air and with it comes much beauty to take in while you are hiking or birding.
I am looking forward to many beautiful autumn days ahead. There will be so much to see with steadily changing leaves, late-blossoming flowers, awesome skies, ripening seeds, and interesting birds.
I love to see the many oaks that seem to be laden with a bumper crop of acorns which will provide a great food supply for the wild animals and the birds all winter long. As of mid-September, the acorns aren’t falling yet, but with some cooler weather coming, it won’t be long until they do. I think it is such a pretty sight to see an oak branch that is loaded with acorns. I always like picking up a few for fall decorations or to have in case I want to plant them.
Right now, I have a few young oaks growing in the flower bed which I will transplant in spring. The trick is to keep them away from the browsing deer and rabbits. You can tell it was rabbit from the diagonal cut. Rabbits can do plenty of damage to young blueberry shoots and other plants as well.
I like all oak trees, but like finding some that are a bit unusual including ornamental ones. I’m keeping an eye on some of my favorite oak trees to see if they will have acorns this fall. One that I find interesting is the columnar white oak. In general, the white oaks have more elongated acorns and their leaves are generally lobed. Red oaks generally have shorter, wider acorns and pointed leaves. There are several species of reds and whites.
If you are interested in gathering a few acorns for yourself you need to be on the ball over the next few weeks. Whereas some trees have an abundance, others may not. Squirrels hoard many of them as do some birds. Deer and turkeys will be eating plenty and are very good at finding them under the snow in winter.
When picking up a few acorns, look for the ones that have fallen and do not have their “cap” attached to them. If the cap is firmly attached it often means that the acorn is wormy and it did not have the opportunity to mature properly. Often these fall early and will fool you. Eventually the worm will come out and the acorns will not be viable for planting. If you want your acorn to have a cap on it (for a little decoration) you will have to re-attach the cap which may still be in the tree. In some cases, a cap may be attached to the acorn only because the cap extends around the acorn. You can still tell if the acorn is loose. This can happen with some oaks, including the burr oak.
So, as you go about hiking and birding this fall, pay attention to other neat trees and plants for interesting features.
I like taking photos of colorful and interesting ornamental and wild berries. Our holly bushes on the north side of our home produce amazingly pretty clusters of berries. Those berries against the dark green leaves make for beautiful photos and Christmas time decorations.
Lots of wild berries are out there as well. Look at the staghorn sumac seed clusters which are loaded with seeds that will be a great source of energy for the birds in winter and especially in spring as the sugar levels are believed to be even higher then. These sumac “berries” help many birds survive the late winter when food can be very scarce.
As for other berries to watch for, there are many including wild grapes, viburnums, dogwoods, etc. We also like to grow winterberry shrubs. They lose their leaves but their vibrant red berries remain and provide food for the birds. Our mockingbirds love to eat them along with some barberries. The holly berries are enjoyed by the waxwings especially in the late winter and spring.
If you are looking to plant some bird-friendly trees consider planting ornamental crab apple trees. They provide nesting places for the birds and their berries attract other birds in fall and winter. They also provide some beautiful blossoms and foliage. Mountain ash is also a preferred berry producer; however, I find that the sapsucker (woodpecker) can do quite a bit of damage to the bark and thus the tree. There are many other trees and shrubs that are bird-friendly.
My wife, Leslie, and I love our birds, but we also really enjoy gardening and our trees and shrubs. It all fits together. Generally, if someone likes birds, they also like gardening, and vice versa. And if you have limited time to garden, enjoying the wild flora is a great alternative. Seeing the many neat trees with their seeds and pretty foliage is so much fun. Inspecting the many species of wild plants and shrubs with their fascinating variety of blossoms, leaves, and berries is a great thing to do with your children and friends.
Don’t just walk by all of it, stop and look a little closer at the many beautiful things around you. And when you stop and enjoy the beauty, you are more likely to notice birds that you would have otherwise missed!
I encourage you to just get out there and enjoy the beauty in so many forms. Share notes and pictures with your friends (and me if you like!) Nature is so amazing and we are so blessed!
Hans Kunze is an avid birder and nature enthusiast who has been writing about birds and nature for more than 30 years. He writes for the The Daily News twice each month. Write him at 6340 LaGrange Rd Wyoming, NY 14591 or call (585) 813-2676.