Tag Archives: fall

© Ken Conway

Take 5: Fall Color

All across Massachusetts, the landscape is lighting up with the brilliant colors of fall foliage. Accordingly, we are sharing five photos of stunning autumnal color from past entries to our Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest. The 2018 photo contest is now closed, but stay tuned for updates as we sort through the thousands of entries to find the next batch of big winners!

To help you get even more in the seasonal spirit, check out our guide to the Top 10 Fall Foliage Hikes at Mass Audubon wildlife sanctuaries, get tips for taking great fall foliage shots from some of our top photography program leaders, and find a list of their upcoming fall foliage photography workshops in our program catalog.

Happy leaf-peeping!

© Ken Conway

© Ken Conway

© David Ennis

© David Ennis

© Eric Luth

© Eric Luth

Daniel Webster Wildlife Sanctuary © Christine Lockhead

Daniel Webster Wildlife Sanctuary © Christine Lockhead

© Michael Rossacci

© Michael Rossacci

Before You Pick Up That Rake

Oh, leaves. There’s so much we love about you. The first sight of your flowers in the spring; the sound you make when you blow in the breeze during summer; your brilliant shades of red, yellow, and orange come fall. And then you drop to the ground and become another thing on our to-do list.

If this sounds familiar, don’t fret—we can help. Before you break out the rake, check out our top 5 uses for fall leaves.

Leave Them Be

Why: Leaves act as a home for many different types of beneficial insects (ground and rove beetles, spiders, caterpillars), as well as amphibians such as wood frogs. A layer of leaves also serves as a root protection for trees and shrubs by keeping in moisture and moderating the temperature of the soil. And if that’s not reason enough, you will also attract more birds, which rely on leaves for shelter, nesting material, and water.

How: Leave behind a thin layer of leaves in areas that people don’t walk on (you wouldn’t want anyone slipping). If you’re worried about your grass being smothered, chop the leaves with a lawn mower.

Good to know: Researchers from Michigan State University have found that chopped leaves left on lawns may actually help suppress dandelions.

Make Mulch

Why: A less expensive and taxing option to raking, bagging, and disposing, leaf mulch mimics a natural forest ecosystem, making for excellent nutrient recycling.

How: When the leaves begin to fall, mow your lawn as you normally would. This will shred the leaves, making them decompose faster and a bit easier to pack around the bases of plants. In vegetable and perennial gardens, you can keep the leaves whole, and then turn them over come spring. Or, if you like, you could rake them and put them in a shredder.

Good to know: Songbirds love leaf mulch since it harbors lots of nutritious bugs!

Compost Them

Why: Any gardener can extol the merits of compost. Good compost requires a mix of high nitrogen (grass clippings, food waste) and high carbon components. The best bet for the latter? Fallen leaves.

How: Scoop them up whole and add them to your compost pile. Not only do they add bulk but leaves make for good aeration. Don’t have a compost pile yet? Leaves are a great way to get started. To speed up the decomposing process, you can shred them a little.

Good to know: Leaves that have been left on the ground for awhile bring useful decomposing microorganisms to the compost pile. A good excuse to put off the yard work!

Have Fun With Them

Why: There’s nothing more thrilling than jumping into a big pile of leaves (and that goes for both kids and adults). Note: Be aware of ticks. Wear light colored clothes and check yourself for ticks after playing outside.

How: In addition to a good old-fashioned leaf pile, you can make a scarecrow, add leaves to vases or window boxes, preserve brightly colored fallen leaves, or make leaf rubbings.

Good to know: Some people believe it’s good luck to catch a falling leaf before it touches the ground. Slap the lucky leaf against your forehead, turn around in three complete circles, and then make a wish!

Learn More About Them

Why: Think a leaf is simply just a leaf? Think again. There are compound and simple leaves, broad leaves and needle leaves, leafstalks, leaf teeth, and leaf veins. By learning more about the leaves you see every day, you will gain more appreciation for the natural world around you.

How: Pick up one of the countless books written on the subject. A few of our favorites, which can be found at the Mass Audubon Shop at Drumlin Farm in Lincoln, include: The Sibley Guide to Trees, National Geographic Kids Ultimate Explorer Field Guide: Trees, and Trees of Eastern North America.

Good to know: While we now know science is behind leaves changing color, countless legends have been linked to this fall phenomenon, including Native American lore that said when the Great Bear in the sky was killed, the bear’s blood fell on the forests, turning some of the leaves red.

Photo via iStockPhoto

The Science Behind Foliage

By now, we’re well into foliage season, and many of us have likely done some leaf peeping, as it is shaping up to be a year of spectacular colors (see Foliage Forecast below for why). When you’re checking out nature’s painterly display, do you ever wonder why the leaves change color in the fall?

To get the answer, the first thing to know is that leaf color comes from three pigments:

  1. Chlorophyll. Needed by trees to convert sunlight into food (known as photosynthesis), chlorophyll also provides the green hue to leaves.
  2. Carotenoids. The same thing that gives bananas and sweet potatoes their yellow and orange hues makes leaves golden as well.
  3. Anthocyanins. This one is responsible for the vibrant red and purple tones in leaves as well as raspberries and eggplants.

Since daylight hours are longest during the summer, an abundance of light is available to trees. This means they’re performing photosynthesis optimally and ultimately, storing energy as carbohydrates. The result: lots of chlorophyll, and gorgeous, bright green leaves we see in the spring and summer.

Carotenoids are in leaves during the growing season as well, but we don’t get to see the colors until the fall since so much chlorophyll is present. The anthocyanins responsible for fall colors are produced in the leaves only in autumn.

As the nights begin to lengthen and our daylight hours decrease, trees begin to prepare for winter, and respond to decreasing sunlight by producing less chlorophyll, and eventually stop photosynthesis to lay dormant through the frozen season. As chlorophyll breaks down, carotenoids are able to show through, creating the vibrant display of yellows, oranges, and browns.

The visibility and brightness of the red hues you might see is determined by temperature, soil moisture, and direct sunlight. During warm, sunny fall days, leaves produce lots of glucose, or sugar, but the cool evening temperatures cause gradual closing of the veins in the leaf. This keeps the sugar sap from running down into the tree branches and trunk. More light means more sugar, and the combination of these things spurs the production of anthocyanins in certain trees like maples, which show gorgeous reds, purples, and crimson.

Foliage Forecast

The most stunning and varied-hue foliage displays come from a warm, wet spring season, a summer season that is not too hot or dry, and an autumn with warm, sunny days and crisp nights. This year, we have been experiencing exactly that weather pattern, and are predicted to be in for an absolutely gorgeous transition into winter, unless we experience some warmer and wetter than normal weather right about now.

Tree Color Guide

Different trees yield different leaf colors. Here’s a short list of what you might see when you’re leaf peeping:

  • Birch – golden yellow
  • Dogwood – bright red
  • Oaks – russet & red
  • Sugar maple – vermilion or orange
  • Red maple – deep red to nearly purple

If you’d like to learn more, please join us on an upcoming fall foliage program. Happy leaf peeping!

Photo © Nicole Lemay Text by Emma Evans

Five Great Things About Fall

The air in Massachusetts is feeling crisp, and the leaves are beginning to turn, just in time for the autumnal equinox (when the day and night are of equal length), which falls on Saturday, September 22 this year. I love the first cool breeze, always eager to wrap myself in a cozy sweater, sip a hot cup of tea with honey, and wander through the woods.

Then again, what’s not to love about autumn? With so many incredible things taking place in nature, I savor every day before the first snow. Here are just a few things to look forward to.

1. Topping my list of fall favorites is New England’s famous foliage, a painter’s palette of lingering green, bursts of yellow, red, purple, orange, and deep brown. From the peak of a hill or a mountain, looking out at an expanse of color is a stunning reminder of just how amazing nature is. Mass Audubon is offering some especially fun canoe trips throughout the season, a great way to see the color change.

2. Some of the most delicious vegetables and fruits are ready for harvesting in autumn including apples. Many orchards offer pick-your-own, which is a wonderful way to spend an afternoon outdoors with friends, family, or simply with the quiet calm of nature. Other autumn crops are pumpkins, corn, and root vegetables such as carrots, beets, potatoes, and turnips. Grab a cup of hot apple cider, and head to your nearest farm or wildlife sanctuary, carve a pumpkin (Moose Hill and Oak Knoll sanctuaries are hosting pumpkin carving activities!), and pick-your-own pumpkins or potatoes!

3. We’re not the only ones enjoying a fantastic harvest this year. We’re seeing an abundant acorn crop, which means that chipmunks, mice, rabbits, and squirrels are busy harvesting as many acorns as possible before the winter. If the little guys are well fed, the winter will be a good season for predators such as owls, red-tailed hawks, foxes, and coyotes, too

4. Some of the best creature-watching takes place in the fall, especially as the trees shed their leaves. One of my favorite fall migrants is the common nighthawk. Not actually a hawk at all, the nighthawk can be seen migrating in flocks at dawn and dusk, typically through the beginning of October. Look to the sky just after sunset and you may see some flying overhead (hint: they’re shaped like bats earning them the nickname bull-bat). September and October are also great times to observe monarch butterfly migration, as these milkweed butterflies head south to Mexico. Throughout the season, you can enjoy great bird-watching as many different species pass through.

5. Finally, the clear night sky is best in autumn. On September 29, Uranus will be at opposition, meaning that the planet will be at its closest to the Earth, with its face fully illuminated by the sun. It will appear as a beautiful blue-green dot. Don’t forget to look out for the harvest moon, which is the first full moon of the season, on September 30. On October 20 and 21, we can look forward to the Orionids meteor shower, producing an average of 20 meteors per hour at its peak. Join a program and turn an eye to the sky this autumn!

What’s your favorite thing about fall? Tell us in the comments.

Photo © Debbie Stone Text by Emma Evans

It’s Prime Hawk Watching Time

Although many birds migrate during the fall, hawks are especially impressive to watch. In fact, fall migration potentially offers the best opportunity to view a variety of hawk species in greater numbers than any other time of year as the birds make their way across the skies of Massachusetts on their way south for the winter.

Fall migration technically starts in August when small numbers of hawks begin to migrate, but the best time for see large numbers is in September. Most numerous is the broad-winged hawk, which under the right conditions can sometime be seen in flocks, or “kettles,” containing hundreds, or occasionally even thousands of birds. Among some of the other commonly seen migrants are the sharp-shinned hawk, American kestrel, osprey, northern harrier (formerly called marsh hawk), and turkey vulture.

The total number of migrant hawks diminishes somewhat by early October, but you are more likely to see some of the larger, less common species. These include the cooper’s, red-tailed, and red-shouldered hawks; golden (rare) and bald eagles; peregrine falcons; and merlins.

The fall migration continues through October and into November, with northern harriers, northern goshawks, increased numbers of red-tailed and red-shouldered hawks, and rough-legged hawks bringing up the rear. Some of these late migrants are also found wintering in Massachusetts.

Photo © Brooks Mathewson