Sunday Nature Walk: Autumn in Connecticut

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.

The American goldfinch is one of the few songbirds that will stay during the cold New England winter months. — Tomas Koeck Photo

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..

For more nature photos, fun facts, and environmental entries, you might like to follow my nature photography Instagram, @wild_new_england_ ( https://www.instagram.com/wild_new_england_/ ).

Tomas Koeck
Tomas Koeck

Koeck is a photographer and videographer. He is completing his bachelor’s degree in Communication Studies from the School of Communication, Media & the Arts at Sacred Heart University. He has worked on several stories with the non-profit Vision Project and is on the Easton Courier’s news team.  He has published in the Connecticut Audubon Society, TAMRON Optics, ESPN, and the Spectrum. He has also been featured on the prestigious Instagram wildlife photography platforms Elite Owls and Elite Raptors. He also runs a YouTube channel with over 20,000 subscribers.

He has conducted scientific research for Penn State University on invasive plant regeneration as well as field work with Dr. Kim Steiner of Penn State’s dendrology forest biology division. Koeck is also a recipient of the University of Connecticut’s Environmental Studies Award and has published species profiles for the Connecticut Audubon Society.

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