Updated for 2018
Summer’s Almost Gone
Just to give you some perspective on how September ends, on September 30th, the last day of the month, sunset is at approximately 6:37PM. The last time sunset was close to 6:30PM was in mid-march. That is how far we have come around the sun, or approximate just a tad more than half-way. So in Connecticut, it means summer is almost gone. But not yet. Fortunately (or perhaps decidedly unfortunate), the earth is still trapping a fair amount of heat and that means that September is still a warm month, but not generally scorching like July and August. In fact, the temperature tends to hover around the mid 70’s, which is just perfect for hiking and enjoying the outdoors.
Even though the end is near, September does not disappoint. It is still just as full of life as August was. Fungi of all shapes and colors are in full abundance. We get the late summer flowers which can be quite intense, and all the birds and animals are still very busy fattening up for the winter. This will all begin to slow-down a little in October with the transition to fall foliage, so September is your month to get out there and get in the last and best bit of summer while the weather is excellent, the fruits are ripening on the trees, and there is still much to see.
September 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 September. 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.
All of the common amphibians should be visible including the green and bullfrogs, pickerel frogs, toads. Gently turn-over some fallen logs in the forests if you are looking for salamanders.
Eastern American Toad
Just like August, most of the birding is best along the shoreline and near bodies of water in general, as well as near the flower meadows and suburban areas. The reason is pretty straightforward: It is where the majority of their food lives. Insects are active near the wildflowers and crustaceans and fish along the shoreline. What is means from a photography standpoint is that you should prepare your camera equipment according to what you intend to look for as mushrooms are not as often found in abundance in the same habitats as the birds.
(Circus cyaneus hudsonius)
The display of fungi in September is still quite impressive with fungi of all shapes and colors. If you are into foraging it’s still a good month to find edible fungi including honey mushrooms, red chanterelles, and maitake (aka hen-of-the-woods) and chicken-of-the-woods.
Ringless honey mushroom
Fluted bird’s nest
Coral tooth fungus
September still has an abundance of butterflies, beetles, wasps and insects of all kinds. You will mostly find them out with the flowers in the meadows and gardens, and many of them can be a pest at picnics.
European honey bee
Blister oil beetle
Gold-necked carrion beetle
Lichens tend to persist all year long, but have a new growth phase in the warmer months.
British soldiers lichen
Pink earth lichen
In September 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.
Eastern gray squirrel
Mosses tend to be pretty abundant and growing during the month of September.
Tree ground pine
There are a quite a few plants and wildflowers in full bloom during the month of September. We’ve selected a few for you here.
White wood aster
New England aster
The warm weather brings out a lot of snakes in the forest, often near bodies of water, and turtles basking on logs and rocks in the ponds.
Eastern garter snake
(Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis)
Northern water snake
(Nerodia sipedon sipedon)
Eastern painted turtle
(Chrysemys picta picta)
The warm summer months tend to bring a lot of activity to the shoreline. Here are some of the more common species.
Atlantic marsh fiddler crab
Atlantic horseshoe crab
With the warm, and often humid weather of September, slime molds tend to be pretty common on rotting logs in the forests and on wood chip piles.
Red raspberry slime
Some fruit bearing trees, such as mulberry, begin to ripen and become alive with a wide variety of birds. Squirrels and chipmunks will also be active in the trees as well.
Eastern black walnut
Just like August, most of foraging in Connecticut still revolves around mushrooms since this is peak time for the best ones. Chicken-of-the-woods, hen-of-the-woods, chanterelles of various kinds, black trumpets, and more. Unfortunately most of the Rubus species (raspberry, blackberry) have come and gone and are past their prime. Still plenty of edible plants such as Indian cucumber, purslane, etc… What is new for the month of September is that fruits and nuts are starting to make their appearances. It’s a good time to start gathering black walnuts and hickory nuts that have fallen to the ground. Although you will probably need to let them dry for a while before they are ready to actually eat. While the apples are not quite ready until next month, we can see the fruits forming on the trees.
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
Ringless honey mushroom
Eastern black walnut
September is great hiking weather and fall has not quite arrived yet, so it affords many opportunities. I would suggest you skip the shoreline for this month and really focus on getting your last good forest hikes in before the fall. Take advantage of every day with good weather and get out as much as possible. Just as July and August can have some sweltering days of heat and torrential downpours of rain, you should still go out prepared and keep a close eye on the weather. I keep extra plastic shopping bags in my backpack which serve a dual purpose: They can be used for foraging and to protect your electronics in case you get caught in the rain. I also recommend bringing extra water on the warm days. As a best practice, I carry one for myself and one extra in case I encounter someone who was unprepared.
Sleeping Giant State Park is still closed as far as I know it, but there are plenty of other good hiking places in Connecticut with excellent forests and vistas. Since the days are a little cooler, I’m recommending longer hikes this month.
Mianus River Park
Stamford/Cos Cob, CT
The Mianus River Park offers a nice variable option of trails so you can go out for a shorter hike and do a simple loop, or branch-out and explore some of the trails that lead-off from the main loop. It provides an excellent opportunity for finding mushrooms and observing a typical Fairfield Country forest.
Nipmuck State Forest
The Nipmuck State Forest, on the eastern side of the state is part of a very large network of state park forests and provides an opportunity to get really deep and lost in nature in some old growth forest. Besides the abundance of fungi and wildlife in general, it’s going to be a more remote and strenous hike.
Preparing for October
From late September to the 2nd half of October, it is very clear that Autumn is upon us. Forest ground-cover foliage begins to die back and turn brown and the leaves on the deciduous trees start to change colors. The 2nd half of October is typically around the best time for viewing fall foliage, and that should factor into your hikes.
The good news is that despite the die-back in foliage, there is still much to see in the forests. We still have amphibians such as frogs and salamanders in abundance. Birds are in great abundance near the shoreline and ponds and lakes. The reduced forest foliage may actually make it easier to spot the birds, which means you should factor in some bird watching this month. It’s an excellent time to go looking for the smaller birds such as warblers and sparrows.
Fungi can still be quite abundant with all varieties showing including a few edible species. While it’s not common, it has been known to snow in October, and certainly can get cold, so this is probably your last good month for mushroom hunting. The display doesn’t disappoint, so get out there for one last look.
Insects are going to slow-down a little, as many of the plants they rely-upon have dried-up and died. But there are still some fall flowers and we still see a wide variety of butterflies, dragonflies, and other insects of interest. So it’s worthwhile to take a walk through a mostly dried-up meadow and see what’s still buzzing around. You might be surprised what you find.
Mammals, mosses, lichens, slime molds, and sea creatures can still be seen but there is nothing remarkable about them this time of year. They are on their way towards dormancy. We can still see some reptiles including snakes into late October, but they will be significantly less common as the weather cools down. Since their food source (amphibians, small rodents) are still out, the snakes will be as well, just not as often.
There are only a few plants that flower this late in the year, but some of them can put on a pretty amazing display of color. The best of which are typically found in meadows, alongside water sources such as ponds, and in cultivated flower gardens. Otherwise, what we see of plants around this time of year is watching them go to seed and seeing their foliage turn brown and die-back. There are a few evergreen plants that will remain plentiful year-round, but are not terribly remarkable.
So while September may be your last month to really see it all, October is the last month to accept that going forward, it’s all going to slow down very quickly as we head into Autumn and the long Connecticut winter. Sunset on October 1st is 6:38PM, which means there isn’t much time after work for a hike in October. So focus on the weekends and make the best use of your time. By the end of October, we will have to start getting used to driving home from work in the dark and barely seeing the light of day. On the bright side, nature gives us one last fireworks display of fall foliage that makes October one of the best months of the year in terms of just appreciating nature in general. That and apple cider and donuts.