Each year at about the middle of October, we make note of a change in the season — a change in the region. The leaves that have hung onto the local deciduous trees since mid-May now drop from their arboreal abode. This was preceded by a magnificent dolor display that makes us forget the greens of summer.

From now until the return of the foliage next spring, the deciduous woods around us will be bare. It takes a little while to get used to such a scene. For the first time in months, we can see deeply into the woods. Small mammals such as squirrels and chipmunks, along with the migrant songbirds, can now be better observed.

Regardless of the temperature, the leaf drop is accompanied by shorter daylight. As we enter this last week of October, we have the sun rising at about 7:40 a.m. and setting near 6:10 p.m. — nearly 10 and a half hours of daylight. Cooler than a month ago, we may be seeing frost and maybe the first ice.

Wildlife prepares to deal with the impending cold in one of four ways: Some lay eggs and die (mostly insects); others hibernate (some mammals and herps); a large number will migrate (usually birds); and there are those that will adapt and stay active. Bird migrants are now part of the daily scene. I have been watching some every evening.

I began going to a nearby swamp at dusk in September. The goal was to observe the large insects, giant water bugs, that live in the shallow water here in summer. As the days get shorter and cooler, they will fly from this site and head for a deeper aquatic home for winter. With a body up to 2 inches long and robust, they are quite impressive insects.

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The predacious big brown bats come out at this time, too, trying to snatch a mid-air meal. The bats and bugs put on quite a show. But as I watched these aerial battles, I noticed other happenings here too.

In the nearby woods, I saw robins and various sparrows. Ravens and bald eagles flew over. As the darkness expanded, I watched the resident beaver making its rounds.

And there were the sounds of dusk. As the sun sunk, I heard from a nearby gray treefrog, a barred owl called and the distant coyotes spoke up. But the most abundant critters were the flight of ducks, what I called “ducks at dusk.”

Some Canada geese and sandhill cranes passed over, loudly going south. The ducks that I watched were mostly silent. Nearly every evening, the pattern was repeated. The ducks came in small groups, normally fewer than 10. They flew from the northwest, passing over and going to the east.

Though the groups were never large, the total number of ducks at dusk was about 50. Ducks ranged from a dozen to, one night, more than a hundred. There was a little variety, but nearly all were wood ducks. Though they are often known to squeal in flight, these were silent. They began the twilight trip about 15 minutes after sunset and ended within a half-hour.

What was happening? It appears as though these migrant ducks are now forming flocks. They spend the daylight hours at one location to feed, but as darkness moves in, they go to another more protected site for the night.

The ducks at dusk have made for interesting fall watching, but soon the cold will send them more to the south.

Larry Weber
Larry Weber