The Dying of the Year

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Filed under Outdoor Notes

October 28, 2012

As October fades and November approaches, there is always a sense of loss.  Certainly there is still much to see in the late autumn hills, but much of what we see is fleeting in nature; death or death-like sleep is imminent for so many, and it will be months before the hills flower and buzz and sing with life once more.

The year dies, but it passeth in glory.

Autumn ridge, late afternoon sun

South ridge flank, late afternoon, autumn.

Few butterflies remain—mostly Cabbage Whites, various Sulphurs, and the ubiquitous Pearl Crescents (Pieris rapae, Colias spp. and Phyciodes tharos, respectively). Most of them are tattered and worn.

Red-spotted Purple (Limenitis arthemis)

Last Red-spotted Purple of 2012, rather down at the heel.

Still, I find fresh Commas (Polygonia comma) and Mourning Cloaks (Nymphalis antiope), which will overwinter in some crevice—emerging from time to time in those near-sixty degree days that pop up in February, or even January—they will be the first butterflies I see in the spring.

Eastern Comma, late season form (Polygonia comma)

The Eastern Comma will overwinter. This is the paler winter form.

Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiope)

Mourning Cloaks also overwinter.

To my surprise, there was still an American Copper (Lycaena phlaeas) out and about on 22 October.

American Copper (Lycaena phlaeas)

American Copper

I checked with the folks who keep records for such things, the late flight record for American Coppers in Pennsylvania is 24 October, so my name does not go into the record book.[1]

One of our latest fliers is the Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia). They cannot survive our winters as eggs or larvae, and these adults will simply perish in the cold. Every summer our local population is re-stocked with migrants from the south.

Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia)

A Common Buckeye at the tattered end of a hard life.

Speaking of migrants, there are still a few stragglers among the Monarch (Danaus plexxipus) throng that began streaming south along our ridgetops last month, heading more than 2,000 miles south to overwinter in the Oyamel Fir groves of Mexico. The most recent one I found 22 October, a female that had a decidedly purplish cast about her. I have never seen a Monarch quite that color.

Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus)

Monarch, I have never seen one with this purplish coloration. Not a trick of the light.

Dragonflies pretty much disappeared with our first frost, although I did see one Meadowhawk (Sympetrum spp.) in mid-October. This is hardly a record, as I once found what acted like an old married couple of Meadowhawks warming themselves on a bit of riprap on the 29th of November.

Meadowhawk pair, November 29th Central PA

Meadowhawk pair sunning, 29 November 2009.

The flowers of autum are pretty much gone, mostly various Asters (Symphotrichum spp.),

Aster

An Aster, I think it is Purple-stemmed Aster (Symphyotrichum puniceum)

although a few Goldenrod (Solidago spp.) remain in sheltered spots. [2]

Goldenrod

Goldenrod, probably Late Goldenrod (Solidago gigantea)

While there were a number of mushrooms after the rains earlier in the month, there are far fewer as October ends.

Dryad's Saddle (Polyporus squamosus)

Dryad’s Saddle (Polyporus squamosus), the black tips, I believe, were “burned” by frost

But the greatest shining transient glory of all is the autumn leaves.

The red and yellow of a lone Sweet Gum,

Sweetgum autumn foliage

Sweetgum

the golden spires of the Hickories,

Hickories in autumn foliage

Hickories are the most golden of all.

the bright lemon of the Beech,

American Beech autumn colors

Beech in autumn yellow

and of course, the resplendent Ruby Surprise.

Poison Ivy autumn colors

Poison Ivy has beautiful fall foliage–it’s still itchy though.

“A spirit haunts the year’s last hours
Dwelling amid these yellowing bowers.”

Tennyson, The Dying Year

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  1. It both delights and impresses me that there are people with the self-discipline and curiosity to keep such lists. I am not one of them. []
  2. As I have mentioned before, I am never too certain of the identities of Asters and Goldenrods. []

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