Among the most anticipated times of the year, autumn is the crowing glory of New England as much of the region possesses unique deciduous forests that yield bright colors throughout the fall season. These are not the only changes, as many birds also migrate south for the winter. Most species leave New England, but for some, New England is their wintering habitat.
The most obvious visual change as the days get colder is the leaf color. Deciduous trees native to the northern portion of America have adapted to the colder temperatures by shedding their leaves. This allows the tree to conserve water and nutrients necessary for winter survival. With the onset of fall, the forest canopy turns into a display of reds, oranges, yellows and even pink.
Among the most colorful tree species are the maples. The red maple (Acer rubrum) often turns yellow in the fall (contrary to its name) but can also turn a brilliant red. The tree is known as the “chameleon of the woods” as the species can take on a large variety of forms and is able to adapt to swamps, clay-ridden soils, and other difficult terrains.
The sugar maple (Acer saccharum) is the stereotypical tree of New England and is the primary producer of sap that is used to make maple syrup. In truth, most maples produce sap that can be made into syrup, but the sugar maple is often the most efficient. This tree produces bright yellow and orange leaves in the fall and tends to be the most eye-catching tree in the forest.
Oak trees are not known for their colorful foliage, but there are a few that can produce colors that rival even the maples. One of these is the white oak (Quercus alba), Connecticut’s state tree. When not the standard “oak brown,” white oaks can produce red, orange, and even yellow. These trees are often large, growing to vast sizes and often reaching to very old ages. One particularly large white oak in Easton is said to be well over 300 years old.
While most bird species migrate out of the region to warmer destinations, there are some who stay during the cold winter months. The American goldfinch (Spinus tristis) is one of these birds. During fresh fallen snow, these brightly colored finches can be seen around bird feeders or near thick shrubbery, feeding on nuts, seeds and winter forage.
The American wigeon (Mareca americana) is one of several species that migrate to New England in the winter. This medium-sized duck breeds in Alaska and Canada and flies south to the lower 50 states in the fall. These ducks travel in large flocks, a common tactic that many duck and goose species use to defeat efforts from predators. The more ducks in a flock, the more eyes out for predators (and the lesser likelihood of becoming lunch).
Right now is the peak time to observe the large variety of colors that the autumn foliage has to offer. Get outside and take in nature’s beauty by visiting lands managed by the Aspetuck Land Trust, or explore trails throughout Connecticut at CT Woodlands..
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