Days passing to fall promise cooler temperatures and woodlot foliage turning into beautiful colors. Teal season is already open in many areas, soon to be followed by major migrations of ducks and geese. This is a time to take long walks in the woods or drives in the country to celebrate this edition of autumn.
The leaves are amazing when we have a lot of rain, like this year. There is enough moisture in the stems to produce magnificent colors. A lot happens first to start this annual miracle.
Have you ever noticed that fall tends to feel warmer than spring? This is because spring weather warms the ground and fall temperatures cool the ground. Cooler fall temperatures don’t occur by accident. The days grow shorter and the earth’s axis tilts, creating cooler temperatures by the sun’s angle on the earth.
After a summer’s worth of creating energy, the photosynthesis machine slowly comes to a halt. Photosynthesis is the process of plants creating energy. Chlorophyll gives leaves their green color, and helps photosynthesis occur along with sunlight.
When days grow shorter, the rate of photosynthesis decreases and the chlorophyll goes away. Longer nights in early fall allow cells near the juncture of the leaf and stem to divide rapidly but not expand. This action of the cells forms the abscission layer. The abscission layer blocks transportation of materials from the leaf to the branch and from the roots to leaves and why most professionals prune tree limbs after this process has occurred.
What remains are colors that were always present, yellows or oranges, but was covered by chlorophyll. Cool nights make glucose trapped in leaves turn reddish.
HOW FISH REACT: Fish behavior is responsive to fall’s water temperatures because they are cold-blooded. The best places to fish as fall progresses may be shallow waters along south facing shorelines where they warm the fastest, a great walleye tip.
Air temperatures change lake temperatures, especially in surface layers that are warm during the day and cool at night. This triggers fish to gorge for winter. The water that is too cold for you to swim in feels great to the fish, increasing their energy levels.
Fall is a great time to fish aggressive lures. Briskly walking the dog with a Zara Spook or running buzz baits over submerged cover is effective. Plastic worms are still good and floating balsa or plastic minnow imitations are effective too.
MIGRATING FOWL: The annual fall migration of waterfowl has started. Soon you will see bluewing teal settling on lakes and ponds for a drink and rest before continuing south. Pelicans will be close behind and later the big push when thousands of ducks and geese fly in from Canada and the northern United States.
Missouri and Kansas are located on the edge of the Mississippi Flyway, a perfect stopover, especially after the fowl have been hunted up north for almost a month. Birds attract to our waters and will land with resident ducks and geese already here – sort of like live decoys. Yet the majority will not stay long, shying away from human contact. Many will leave after a peaceful overnight rest.
The majority of waterfowl are still up north, gorging on grain. They will stay north until cold weather pushes flocks south. Then it’s a hop-scotch trip from grain fields to water until their final destination is reached.
Geese and mallards stop in Midwestern states to gorge on row crops. A lot of grain is spilled during harvest, creating easy pickings for waterfowl. Then it’s back to water for a drink. Some stay if we have a mild winter.
Migrating waterfowl can cover thousands of miles in their annual travels, often traveling the same course year after year with little deviation. First-year birds generally make their first migration on their own. Somehow, they can find their winter home despite never having seen it before, and return the following spring to where they were born.
The secrets of their amazing navigational skills aren’t fully understood, partly because birds combine different types of senses when they navigate. Biologists believe that ducks and geese gain compass information from the sun, the stars and by sensing the earth’s magnetic field.
Have you ever wondered why geese fly in a “V” formation? First, it conserves their energy. Each bird flies slightly above the bird in front of him, resulting in a reduction of wind resistance. The birds take turns being in the front, falling back when they get tired. In this way, the geese can fly longer without rest stops. Lead birds, too, can easily keep track of the flock.
BUTTERFLIES: Butterflies are amazing creatures. Their very survival depends on either sacrifice or a marathon effort of travel. Some stay in this area throughout spring and summer while others migrate to cooler temperatures. Monarchs, tiger swallowtails and other species return together in late summer through early fall to feed.
Those who stay in this area perish during the first hard cold snap. The group that dies in Midwestern cold temperatures will leave larvae. You might discover these caterpillars during the following spring when warm sunlight renews life. Others travel on to warmer temperatures.
Monarchs are the main migrating group. Missouri Department of Conservation sources claim that more than 200 million monarchs, each weighing 1/50 of an ounce, fly some 4,000 miles to and from selected wintering grounds in the mountains of central Mexico. The trip starts in Canada.
Results of this migration tradition that started in the last ice age have increased butterfly numbers throughout time. Migrations in this area normally peak around Oct. 1.
Living in the Midwest provides glimpses of nature and wildlife. Migrating ducks and geese add wild beauty to our fall.
– Kenneth Kieser, a veteran outdoors writer and member of the Waterfowlers Hall of Fame and National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame, writes a weekly outdoors column for The Examiner. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.