Updated for 2017
The End of Autumn and the Arrival of the Winter Migrant Birds
November in Connecticut signals the end of Autumn and the colorful display of leaves on deciduous trees. The harvests are completed, and nearly all of the green foliage has turned brown and the forests are mostly barren. It is too cold for most reptiles and amphibians however a few can be spotted on an exceptionally warm November day. Fungi have passed their peak but can still be found before the first snowfall. But with all that goes away in preparation for the winter, Connecticut gets an influx of the winter migrant birds which dominate the lakes, ponds, and shoreline.
For foragers and survivalists, this is one of the most important times of the year since many of the trees have dropped their nuts, a valuable source of protein, fats, and calories. There are also some late-fall mushrooms of interest, albeit it not as many as the late summer provides. For those who hunt, this is prime time for wild turkeys and deer.
Visiting the outdoors in the chilly month of November is a disappointment if you’re looking for foliage. There are a few flowers and plants of interest to be seen, however with the reduced foliage there is the advantage of it being much easier to go off-trail and explore places you wouldn’t ordinarily be able to visit. Also less biting insects. It is perhaps best to include a few lakes and ponds to visit since they will be host to a number of winter migrant ducks. The shoreline is also a great place for winter sea birds as long as you can stand the wind.
By the end of November there is a fair chance that Connecticut will have seen its first snowfall, or at least it’s first below freezing day. This first cold-snap basically finishes-off what was left of the plants and fungus that were pushing the limits. December is usually a cold month and all we’ll have left to get excited about are the winter migrant birds and the few odd-ball plants and fungi that somehow persist through the winter.
November Species of Interest
We have picked-out a few species from each category that we think are important to look for and be aware of in the month of November. While there are many more species out there, this list should acquaint you with what you are most likely to see outside. For the sake of keeping it interesting, we will skip-over the year-round species such as squirrels, deer, blue jays, crows, and evergreens, but will make note of them as necessary.
We have not found any notable amphibian species for the month of November. They really can’t survive the cold temperatures and have mostly gone into hibernation. While it is possible to see a frog or salamander on an especially warm day in November, it’s significantly less likely now.
Moving into the winter months, Connecticut gets an influx of winter migrant birds including new ducks on the ponds and shorelines and a few new varieties of sparrows and smaller birds. Some of the year-round birds are now more visible due to reduced foliage.
(Branta bernicla hrota)
Eastern wild turkey
(Meleagris gallopavo silvestris)
Great horned owl
(Bubo virginianus virginianus)
By mid-November, most new/soft fungi have stopped fruiting and all that is left is the hardy polypores and crust fungi that remain throughout the year. If it’s warm and wet enough it is possible to still see a few late-autumn mushrooms coming up from the ground or jelly fungus growing on tree branches.
Insects have a hard time in the cold weather, especially after the first frost. While you wouldn’t expect it, there are still a few late-fall butterflies that persist in November while warm weather allows.
Lichens tend to persist all year long, but have a new growth phase in the warmer months. While we don’t really have any notable lichens for November, we’ve selected 3 that you might encounter in the wild.
Smooth rock tripe
Common greenshield lichen
Many mammals go into hibernation during the winter months and most of what is left we tend to see year-round, such as squirrels, deer, and chipmunks. The only notable mammals during this time are some of the more reclusive mammals that are slightly more visible now to due reduced foliage.
(Procyon lotor lotor)
American red squirrel
While many mosses may be able to persist through the winter, they are generally not in a growth phase. Most of the mosses encountered in the winter months will have turned brown. We have no notable mosses to report for the month of November at this time.
Much of the plant foliage has turned brown and died by mid-November. However some of the more hardy plants will remain. This includes evergreen plants as well as a few annuals.
Painted turtles may still be out basking on a log in mid-November, it really depends on temperature and if it has been unseasonably warm. We have no notable reptiles for the month of November.
The winter months are not a very popular time to visit the beach, so we are currently lacking a lot of sea creature photos. Seals (technically a mammal) do head-down to Connecticut around mid-November but we are currently lacking photos. Otherwise we don’t have anything to report for sea creatures for the month of November. You can however probably still find some periwinkles, oysters, and fiddler crabs if you look.
We don’t have any notable slime molds for the month of November. While it is possible to see them during a warm spell, they are generally dormant during the winter months.
By mid-to-late November, nearly all of the deciduous trees will have dropped their leaves. All that is really left are the evergreens that persist year-round. So here’s a few evergreens that you may encounter during the winter months.
November is perhaps the first month after summer in Connecticut where foraging becomes a challenge. If one were trying to survive off the land, the greatest challenge would be finding enough calories. If you had enough time to prepare during the summer and fall you might have stored some grains, tubers, and processed some dried foods to help survive the winter. Otherwise, you must hunt and fish in order to maintain the minimum amount of calories required. It’s simply not possible to gather enough plants and fungi in the winter months to survive. If you had a gun or bow, you could hunt for white tailed deer and wild turkeys. Otherwise you would create snares and dead-fall traps for small game such as rabbits, squirrels, and groundhogs. There are also a fair amount of Canada geese and swans in Connecticut during the winter months and would be easy to catch using bows, guns, or even spears. We are not big fans of hunting, but survival is survival, and it’s good to know your options. If you do have to hunt or fish, you want to do so while expending the least amount of calories. So that’s why traps are recommended vs active hunting.
However, November still has some foraging to offer and survivalists should be aware of most of these sources of food and nutrients. With calories being the biggest priority, the first thing you should look for while foraging in Connecticut in November is nuts and acorns which have valuable fats, protein, and carbs and are full of calories. While most nut trees will have started dropping in early October, it’s still possible to find viable nuts in early to mid-November that haven’t spoiled or been taken by the squirrels.
Acorns from a variety of oaks have a very durable shell which helps keep them fresh a lot longer than many tree nuts. Unfortunately they have varying amounts of tannins in them, which is very bitter and astringent, and it needs to be leached-out before the acorns are edible. The native Americans would gather the acorns, crack the shells, and throw them into a bag. They would tie a rope around the bag and throw it into a river in the morning and gather it in the evening. The moving water would do the hard work of leaching the tannins. Alternatively, the next best method is to soak the acorns in multiple changes of water until they are no longer bitter. That process can take a fair amount of time and effort. The acorn meats are then dried, roasted, and ground into flour.
A number of trees in Connecticut drop edible nuts. This includes hickory, black walnut, and beech trees. Finding the nuts isn’t as much of a challenge as learning how to open them and get at the meat inside. By November, most of the black walnuts will have turned black (still good) and it’s a little easier to remove the husk surrounding the nut. The nuts themselves are hard to crack and the meat inside is woven throughout the hard shell. So it would be fairly time consuming trying to process black walnuts. Hickory nuts are smaller but a little easier to process. The husk naturally falls-off or easily peels-off in sections. The hard nut inside can be difficult to crack but are a little easier in general to access the nutmeats inside. Beech nuts are perhaps the easiest to crack but also have the smallest amount of meat. Processing nuts for consumption would be hard work, but even a half cup of shelled nuts would be a substantial source of critical protein and fat.
Your next best thing to forage in November would be tubers, that is, edible roots. Since deciduous plants turn brown and die in the winter, it can be challenging to locate viable tubers. Knowing what the dried/dead remains of certain plants looks like can help. As well as knowing your terrain in general. Low wetlands near streams are often loaded with wild ramps during the spring time. The leaves die quickly after a few weeks and eventually a small flower stalk comes up on a woody stem. This stem can persist until the winter and can help to show where the edible ramp bulbs are hiding underground. Onion grass, a common weed in lawns, tends to persist through November and much of winter. While the small bulbs are insubstantial, they are edible, do have a bit of carbs, and might be helpful to spice-up a soup or stew. Other edible tubers you might find include Helianthus tuberosus (Jerusalem artichoke aka sunchokes), Ipomoea lacunosa (whitestar potato, morning glory family), Medeola virginiana (Indian cucumber), Phragmites australis (common reed) and Sagittaria latifolia (broadleaf arrowhead). Besides the Phragmites (reed), these edible-tuber producing plants may be very difficult to locate and properly ID unless you already know where they are established. Most of these tubers also require some kind of processing including boiling, or leeching.
There are not a lot of berries in November that haven’t already gone to the birds or have already dried-out and fallen. It is not a good idea to look specifically for berries in November because the caloric expenditure required to locate and forage berries typically exceeds the calories gained from consuming them. However, if you do come across some, you may want to stop and gather a few. While the berries are lacking necessary calories, fats, and proteins, they often have necessary vitamins and minerals and should be added to the diet in small amounts. Some edible berries that can persist through November include Berberis thunbergii (Japanese barberry) and Rosa rugosa (Japanese rose, rosehips), both of which are high in vitamin C. Both are quite sour and best used for making tea.
Other notable sources for healthful tea includes white pine needles, and a few polypore mushrooms including Trametes versicolor (turkey tail) and the reishi Ganodermas including Ganoderma tsugae (hemlock varnish shelf). While it is well known that the pine needles are high in vitamin C, the health value of the mushroom teas is debated. Having any kind of tea however might be a welcome respite from only having water to drink. Most softer fungi are gone by November however some Hericium species, such as Hericium americanum (Bear’s head tooth fungus), can come out very late into November. They are edible, considered a choice mushroom, and often found in large clusters to be substantial.
Lichens, while usually unpalatable, are a valuable source of food in the wild. Reindeer lichen and smooth rock tripe are perhaps the best since they tend to form large clumps that are easy ID and harvest. Lichens are often dried and ground into a flour. Since they don’t taste very good, they are best added as an adjunct to grain or other more palatable flours. Some are also boiled extensively to render them less tough to chew. What they lack in flavor they make up for in abundance and are very easy to process.
Connecticut is fortunate enough to be a coastal state and thus provides access to fishing as well as a vast abundance of seaweed. While not always palatable and often tough and leathery, seaweeds are a valuable food source. While not high in the critical calories, fats, or proteins, they do contain some critical vitamins and minerals, especially iodine. They are also plentiful and easily collected. Nearly all seaweeds in Connecticut are edible, as long as they aren’t tainted by pollution. The tougher ones would be sliced thin to make them a little easier to consume. They would be best added to soups and stews to add bulk.
Besides the wilderness areas of Connecticut, there is much food that could be found in the suburban and urban areas in the winter. Not counting going through garbage or raiding the local supermarket, I’m talking about edible cultivated plants. Kale is commonly grown as a decorative plant in suburban and urban areas and is every bit as edible as the kind bought in the store. Cabbages are also sometimes used as a decorative plant as well. You would also be surprised at how easy it is for some garden plants to escape their natural habitat. Most of us have seen an errant tomato, pepper, or squash plant growing from a compost pit or otherwise not in an expected place. Trying to survive by foraging in the winter you might want to look for hardy squashes like acorn, hubbard, and pumpkins that may have escaped from resident gardens. All capable of surviving into November.
Important Foraging Species
Eastern gray squirrel
Eastern black walnut
Eastern white pine
Bear’s head tooth fungus
Hemlock varnish shelf
Smooth rock tripe
We have chosen a few recommended hikes and places to visit during the month of November. Since foliage is at a minimum, the focus will be on winter migrant birds which inhabit lakes, ponds, and coastal areas.
Rocky Neck State Park
East Lyme/Niantic, CT
The main feature of this park is the vast tidal marsh, a sanctuary for coastal birds. It also has a bit of beach area and mixed forest, making this an excellent area for spotting a variety of migrant shoreline birds. It also has a fair amount of hiking trails to explore as well as picnic and recreation areas to enjoy if the weather is warmer than usual.
Greenwich Point Park
Old Greenwich, CT
During the summer months this beach and park is only open to local residents, however there usually isn’t anyone watching the gate in November. The park peninsula contains lots of beach access to enjoy coastal sea ducks such as buffleheads, loons, and the occasional pelican wandering in. The holly grove is also an excellent place for smaller winter migrant birds.
Preparing for December
November is really the last month where you could have warm days, still see some foliage and flowers, and otherwise enjoy nature without a heavy coat. While we do get an oddly warm December day once in a while, it is clear that winter has finally settled-in for the next 3-4 months and that is reflected in nature. The focus in December will be on winter migrant birds, evergreen plants and trees, and the persistent hard tough polypore fungi. Foraging in December is slim-pickings and if you didn’t spend your last days of November preparing for the winter, it might be your last. There won’t be much to forage in December, but as always, nature does provide something to eat if you know where to look. Have a Happy Thanksgiving and see you next month!