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Last of the summer wine

Izaak Walton Report

October 5, 2012
Blaine Kloppenborg , The Daily Freeman Journal

Have you been outdoors lately? Mother Nature is at her best. This is as fine a day as we'll ever see, and it's been that way for several weeks. It's as good as it gets.

Speaking personally, there are many uses of the outdoors and I savor them all. I could drink that ale-golden month to its dregs and never touch a gun. But without hunting, some of the savor would be missing.

It just wouldn't be October without squirrel hunting ... and without squirrel hunting it wouldn't be October. I've got to tell you, it's been a summer to remember. This was a summer where 85 degrees was a cool front. Even some of my skeptical friends are beginning to have second thoughts about a warming atmosphere. No less than 240 all time record highs were set in just one two week period. During the long hot summer, 2,346 record highs were recorded. A record low Arctic ice; seven time smore record highs than record lows since Jan. 1.

Calendar year 2012 became the warmest year ever recorded. The previous records: 2010 (warmest) and 2011 (second warmest). Coming after the warmest winter. The pace of records seems to be accelerating.

Don't wait for the fall colored leaf forecast. There isn't anything to forecast. It's here ... right now, and it's almost over - don't blink. Many of our trees have already turned to their brilliant fall colors ... and many more have already lost their leaves. I think we are still going to get some more leaf color. The one thing that can shut it down is a real hard frost. And if we get a gloomy windy day, it can speed it up because leaves fall and it doesn't last very long.

The bottomland and river bottom species are at their peak right now - silver maples, cottonwoods, butternut, hickory and boxelder. And already, sumac, poison ivy and Virginia creeper vines are starting to show bright red and yellow. You've probably already noticed, but there aren't many reds and oranges this fall. No water, no moisture and now humidity. Nearly everything is yellow or pale yellow. The purples and reds are products of changes inside the tree, and with a dry fall and no water there are no changes. Everything is stressed out. It's all about the green-producing effects of chlorophyll. It's triggered by shortened daylight hours, coupled with warm days and cool nights. All this triggers and coaxes late-emerging hues into leaves and shuts down photosynthesis. I am amazed, however, at how early the maple trees are turning color and how yellow they are. Everything but the oaks are changing.

Monday afternoon, I was sitting at the Izaak Walton Park with by binoculars, spotting scope and a thermos of coffee when all of a sudden a brisk wind came up ... and down came the leaves. It looked like huge yellow snowflakes for a short time ... and when I left, the ground was covered with leaves. It happened that fast.

It's my kind of weather, and it's going to be a year of "tall oaks and fat squirrels." Plenty of acorns mean lots of deer and lots of squirrels, When there is a good acorn crop, the deer forsake all other types of food, even apples, to stay in the forest and glut themselves on acorns. Squirrels stay in the trees to eat acorns, seldom venturing down to the ground. And ironically, of all the acorn-gatherers, non are more dependent on the fruit of the oaks than the blue jays. They absolutely love acorns, and they'll gather and store hundreds of them in a hole of a tree. That's more - much more than enough to see them through the coldest winters.

Winter bird feeding

A fellow asked me this morning when he should start his winter bird feeding. I gave him a one word answer - "Now."

Start now. Don't wait for the first winter snowstorm to feed the birds. By then, it will be too late. They'll all be at your neighbor's feeder. Do it now so the birds will know where to find food when the weather gets rough. Do it now and you'll get a lot of southbound migrating birds.

And be sure to clean out your feeders. This is important. I use a bleach mixture (nine parts water to one part bleach); a bottle brush for cleaning the tube feeders and an old putty knife to clean out the corners of the other feeders. Let them dry and you're good to go. But suet cakes that don't melt and you'll avoid a big mess. And at the risk of getting myself into trouble with the local merchants, I steer clear of mixed bird feed. I buy only black oil sunflower seed and niger seed. Mixed feed is junk food. The birds won't eat it and they'll spill it on the ground. Nine times out of ten, it's nothing more than "filler" food mixed in with a few sunflower seeds. Birds need quality food to see them through the long and cold winter nights.

The nice thing about bird feeding is that you can start and stop anytime. But if you're serious and want to see birds at your feeder, then start early and do it right. I started my own backyard winter bird feeding program this week, and I've got nine more bird and squirrel feeders down at the Izaak Walton Park that I've started up at the same time. When the thermometer drops to down around zero and the wind is howling out of the north, I feel comfortable knowing there will be food out there in the feeders for the birds come sunrise.

Well, that's about a wrap for this week. Semper Fi.

And now, have a good weekend.



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