Updated for 2018
Nature’s Fireworks Display
Autumn in New England is a very special time. Before the coming winter, nature puts on an amazing fireworks display that last nearly an entire month. That is, of course, the changing color of the leaves in deciduous trees. There are bright reds, oranges, yellows, contrasted with some green and brown, and the results are spectacular.
While this is often best associated with apple picking, Oktoberfest, and Halloween, exploring the forests should not be over-looked as they are still filled with a wide variety of colorful fungi, some late blooming flowers, and even a few amphibians and reptiles. So put on the hiking boots and get in one or two last good hikes before the leaves fall off the trees and we begin the descent into the cold, dark, and long winter that follows.
Sunset on October 1st is around 6:38PM and on October 31st, it is 5:54PM. So this is one of the last months where you will get to see the sun at the end of the work-day for you 9-to-5’ers out there. Enjoy it while it lasts.
October 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 October. 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 generally skip-over most the year-round species unless relevant.
With the falling temperatures we tend to see less amphibians in October as compared to the prior month, but they are still out there basking in the sun on a warm day or hiding under a log in forests.
Northern Two-lined Salamander
While there are plenty of birds still out there to see, this is really the last good month before the change-over to winter migrant birds and ducks takes over. Some year-round birds, such as the American goldfinch, begin their transition to winter plumage.
Great horned owl
(Bubo virginianus virginianus)
(Setophaga coronata coronata)
Yellow palm warbler
(Setophaga palmarum hypochrysea)
The fungi of October are still quite impressive, especially since we just got a LOT of rain recently. While other months may have a more exotic display of color, October doesn’t disappoint with exotic fungi shapes.
American yellow fly agaric
(Amanita muscaria var. guessowii)
Yellow fairy cups
Dung-loving bird’s nest
Bear’s head tooth fungus
Mossy maple polypore
While insects tend to be less abundant in October, there are still a few warm days and a few remaining wild flowers, so you can expect to see butterflies, dragonflies, and a wide variety of insects keeping busy on the remaining plants.
(Apheloria virginiensis corrugata)
European garden spider
Transverse flower fly
Banded woolly bear
Lichens tend to persist all year long, but have a new growth phase in the warmer months. Not a lot of new lichen activity in October unless it’s exceptionally warm and wet.
Smooth rock tripe
In October you will mostly see the more common species such as squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits, and deer, often feeding in residential areas. Also the occasional bear, coyote, or fox wandering out from the forests in search of food, often near unprotected trash bins.
American red squirrel
Mosses tend to slow-down a bit towards the colder days of October, but it depends on how much rain falls and how warm the month is.
Tree ground pine
There are still quite a few plants and wildflowers in full bloom during the month of October, as well as some that go to fruit or seed with bright colors.
As the weather cools down, reptiles become less seen in the wild. Snakes and turtles can still be found out in the forests and ponds on a warm October day.
Eastern garter snake
(Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis)
Common snapping turtle
(Trachemys scripta elegans)
We have no notable sea creatures to report for the month of October. We will work on getting some photos for next year.
We have only one notable and common slime mold to report for the month of October. We will work on getting more photos for next year.
Fruit trees such as apples, pears, and nut trees like black walnut and shagbark hickory tend to be in full production during the month of October.
Foraging in October is one of the most important times of the year. Many edible fungi are still in abundance in the forest, but perhaps more important is that this is the month for tree fruits to ripen, such as apples and pears, and the tree nuts fall in abundance including black walnut, shagbark hickory, and acorns. These nuts are critical for winter survival as they contains lots of fats, proteins, and essential nutrients. They will also last a fairly long time if kept in their shells or dried and roasted.
There are still a few edible plants in the forests, including tubers and berries, but since the foliage is beginning to die back, they are harder to find now. Some small berries, such as teaberry and partridge berry can be easily gathered in abundance, however they do not provide a lot of nutrient.
During the foraging seasons, we are going to continue to post these reminders:
- Be mindful of the rules and regulations of parks and recreation areas when foraging. Many places in Connecticut do not allow it. However an act was authorized on March 14, 2017, authorizing the taking of mushrooms from state parks and state property.
- Ticks are out, and digging in the dirt will likely bring them onto you. Wear bug spray, long pants, long socks, and protect yourself.
- Take only what you intend to use. Be mindful to never decimate an area.
- Avoid collecting from roadsides, waste areas, or other potententially contaminated places.
- Proper identification is critical. If there is the slightest doubt, do not consume.
Important Foraging Species
Bear’s head tooth fungus
Crabapple / Apple
Eastern black walnut
It’s pretty much all about the fall foliage in October, so make sure to get into the forests that include vistas and lakes for best viewing. Temperatures can vary considerably, so be sure to bring something warm in the backpack, as well as water and bug spray. The key is to go in with layers that can be shed as the day warms up and you get warm from exercise. Rain can still be quite common and unexpected in October, and it’s also possible that it can get cold enough for snow. Temperatures can shift quite dramatically from one day to the next so keep a close eye on the weather reports.
Easily my favorite spot for fall hiking. It includes miles and miles of trails deep into the forest as well as some nice ponds and open fields and vistas. It pretty much has everything you are looking for in a good fall hike to see the leaves change. Trails can be challenging so be sure to bring a map.
West Rock Ridge State Park
Hamden/New Haven, CT
This is a great place to visit year-round. The walk around the lake is short enough for winter hiking and the hike up to the ridge offers some pretty excellent vistas, especially in the autumn to see the leaves. Be sure to go straight up towards the ridge from the Lake Wintergreen parking lot and head left.
Preparing for November
The fall display of foliage will come and go quickly and as we settle into November, we have to accept a lot of changes. For starters, it will become clear that winter is upon us as most of the leaves on the trees will be brown, most of the forest foliage will have died back. The reptiles and amphibians will mostly have gone into hibernation. There is a very good chance we will have had our first snowfall. And with the loss of most wildflowers, so too will most of the insects die or go into dormancy. In short, it’s going to be some time before the forests get exciting again.
There is some good news, however. Starting late in October and into November, the winter migrant birds begin to arrive, especially the pond ducks such as the hooded mergansers and ring-necked ducks. Believe it or not, there are still some colorful butterflies still hanging on to the late blooming flowers that still exist in November. There is also still some good foraging for nuts, acorns, and fruits.