Once we get to the last third of November, we settle down to see the happenings with weather and the impending cold season. November changes are nearly daily for a while as we witness ice forming on ponds and swamps one day, gone the next only to return. Once this fluctuating scene has become permanent, lakes will join the freeze-up.

In like manner, snowfall moves in. Typically, the first snowfall covers our yards and leaves of the forest floor. Usually, it will melt quickly, but the snow season has begun, and soon it will remain.

Changes appear elsewhere, too: a shorter amount of daylight has brought in the late-season migrants. Among these arrivals are redpolls, crossbills, grosbeaks, waxwings and snow buntings. Unlike earlier migrants, many of these avians will spend the winter. For them, our region is their wintering site.

Such migrations vary in different years, but this year, the flight of redpolls has been abundant. After so few last year, it would be good to see these small hardy birds at feeders again.

Tree colors and leaf drop, so common in September and October, has not entirely stopped this month. During the last week of October, I took a drive in the region. As many local routes go, I passed a large number of swamps and bogs. The majority of these wetlands held tamaracks with needles. Though some were fading from the bright yellow-gold, others glowed. This was similar with the nearby swamp willows and their yellow leaves.

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Things changed and as I drove again a week later, early November, I noted that the tamaracks had dropped their leaves (needles) as had the swamp willows. Now, at about the halfway time of this month, the only trees still with green leaves are the non-natives: lilacs, weeping willows, apples and buckthorns.

Going from the trees, I shifted my observing to the roadside plants. Here, I could see an abundance of plants that gave much color to the scene in summer: goldenrods, asters, fireweeds and milkweeds. Then, they held blossoms of various colors that were hard to not see. Now, they hold the product of their pollinated flowers: the fluffy seeds. Not as bright as they appeared earlier, but just as obvious are the ones of today.

A closer look at an opening milkweed pod showing the seed attached to its "parachute," helping to disperse the seed.
Contributed / Larry Weber
A closer look at an opening milkweed pod showing the seed attached to its "parachute," helping to disperse the seed. Contributed / Larry Weber

Goldenrods and asters both bloomed late in the season and received much attention. They now have stems with fluffy seeds trying to take advantage of the autumn and winter breezes to disperse their products. Not as numerous as goldenrods and asters are fireweeds and milkweeds. Both of these native plants bloomed with purple flowers in midsummer.

Each day, at that time as I walked, I noted new florets opening. Fireweed flowers climbed the stalks and finished blooming before the milkweeds. Many fireweeds opened their thin pods in August, some lingering until now. Milkweeds were slower.

The ball-shaped pink umbels of milkweeds formed long green carpal pods in late summer, not ripening until autumn. Though many gray-brown milkweed pods do open in October, I find that it is not until about early to mid-November that the pods are fully open.

Driving along roads now, I see patches of milkweeds with their clusters of white fluffy seeds, often just as obvious as the flowers were. Within the pods, small brown seeds are attached to white threads, forming a sort of a parachute, allowing them to drift in the winds. Pods are late to open, but thanks to breezes, they quickly empty.

Now, with plenty of fluffy seeds, milkweeds add much to the bland November scene.

Larry Weber
Larry Weber