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Nature’s Best By Elma Chapman - Fall Musings

We’re a third of the way through autumn now, but the forecast for this week is sounding a lot deeper than that. My Weather Channel app is saying snow flurries possible later this week! Hmm, and I’m scheduled to sleep in a tent Friday night at the Indiana Master Naturalist Annual Gathering at Ross Camp, near Lafayette. It’s a two day affair with hikes and educational sessions. You’ll probably be reading more about it next week.

This past weekend I volunteered at the Gene Stratton Porter State Historic Site for Owl-o-ween. Last year it rained hard, but this year Friday night was beautiful. Saturday was about 10 degrees cooler, with a lake-effect rain shower or two, but not enough to dampen our spirits. The first night I worked in Gene’s garden shed, helping kids make raccoon masks. The other craft available was paper bats. Both appeared to be a big hit with the kids and their parents.

The second night I worked at a station in the woods where kids tried to identify the tracks of various wild animals found in northeast Indiana. We had casts made by a local artist of the prints of a turkey, raccoon, great horned owl, skunk, white-tailed deer, fox, muskrat, squirrel, and bobcat. Most people thought the bobcat was a dog print, so we started giving hints. If this were a dog, you would see the claws. This print has no claws showing because they are retractable. The squirrel was a hard one, too. There were lots of guesses of a rat, so we started talking about trees and acorns. Most people knew the deer print, which wasn’t surprising since they are so common and you often see their tracks in the snow in winter, but even the deer confused a few people. The muskrat was a tough one, too. Hardly anyone ever recognized the skunk. I guess that’s because people try to avoid them, not track them! It was a fun learning experience for me as well as for the kids and adults accompanying them. There was a chart with a lot of animal tracks on it to help them find the answers, but even with that it was challenging for most. The kids were always excited when they got one right, even if it was after several hints.

Have you seen the migrating robins? There was a huge flock around my house late last week. They were flying here, there, and everywhere, zipping from tree to tree, eating the berries they found. Not all robins migrate, but those that do, do so in large flocks. It’s not unusual to see a single robin or two in the dead of winter or in summer, but when you see a large group of them it’s during spring and fall migration.

The hummingbirds have left. If your hummingbird feeder is still out, it’s time to bring it in and give it a thorough cleaning so it’s ready for next year. And it’s a good time to put out the seed feeders, if you don’t also feed in the summer. Let the birds learn where the food source is before they are desperate for it. By the way, if you go to the Cornell Lab website they have a citizen science program you can join called “FeederWatch.” You report on what you see at your bird feeders during the winter. You can register now, and the first day to report is Nov. 9. The website said that it takes a couple weeks for you to get your information packet after you register, so now is the time to do so.

Scott Beam reported several flocks of vultures roosting near his house. One flock was about 70 vultures! Those are big birds and can look intimidating in those numbers. They too are on their way south now. We’ll probably see them again mid-March.

Saturday was officially the full moon. It was pretty spectacular Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights this week, despite having to peek through the clouds occasionally. This full moon is known as the Hunter’s Moon. Watch out, turkeys and geese!

We hiked at Pokagon on Sunday. The woods were fairly quiet and the lakes were pretty with only a few boats out, and those that were out were mostly putting along, not racing loudly as they often do in summer. Being late afternoon, most of the campers were already gone or leaving. The woods were colorful, mostly a lot of brilliant yellows with a few vibrant reds here and there.

If you haven’t gotten out to enjoy the fall colors and fresh air, do so soon. It’s going fast!