Falling acorns mark subtle sign of autumn
Maybe it's wishful thinking, but depending on whom you ask, fall just might be poised for an early arrival this year. But then again, maybe not. One of the first signs might have landed right on your head a couple of weeks ago, when oak trees sta...
Maybe it's wishful thinking, but depending on whom you ask, fall just might be poised for an early arrival this year.
But then again, maybe not.
One of the first signs might have landed right on your head a couple of weeks ago, when oak trees started dropping their acorns.
"I think they are falling earlier this year," said Steve Crandall, manager of Turtle River State Park west of Grand Forks. "Seems to me I noted acorns on the ground around some of our facilities several weeks ago already. It does seem as though they are dropping at least a couple of weeks ahead of schedule this year."
Gregg Knutsen, a biologist at Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge northeast of Thief River Falls, concurs.
"There's a real good acorn crop in this general area, and they began to drop about two weeks earlier than normal," Knutsen said. "So, the bears are well-fed."
Early spring theory
One possible reason, Knutsen said, is the early spring. Nature is programmed to proceed at a set pace -- biologists describe the process with the fancy word, "phenology" -- and when spring arrives early as it did this year, logic suggests the same thing will happen in the fall.
"Everything we've been seeing from when things begin to green up in the spring -- aspen and willow leaf-out, cattail growth -- seemed to be a couple of weeks early, and that was fairly consistent throughout the spring," Knutsen said.
Leaves on some trees also are showing shades of color, but the signs to this point are subtle. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources launched its annual online fall color report Thursday, and so far, all of the state is in the 0 percent to 10 percent category.
Fall color in northwestern Minnesota typically peaks from mid-September to early October. The DNR will update the report Thursdays throughout the fall.
"I think it's not quite here yet," said Dave Bennett, manager of Rydell and Glacial Ridge national wildlife refuges east of Crookston. "I don't see any changes in the colors of the leaves or anything. It's pretty green yet."
Still, Bennett said, a glance across the prairie reveals signs of changing seasons. Fall forbs, plants such as New England aster, which has a dark purple flower with a yellow center, are beginning to blossom, he said. Big bluestem also is showing signs of color.
"It's indicating that fall is coming, but I don't know if it's earlier than normal," Bennett said.
Watch the ducks
Perhaps the most obvious sign, Bennett said, is that local waterfowl are beginning to flock up.
"Some of the wetlands, we're seeing 400 to 500 ducks gathering, so I think that's a good sign fall is coming," he said.
Knutsen at Agassiz refuge had similar observations.
"Just in the last couple of weeks, we've really begun to see that," Knutsen said.
Crandall at Turtle River State Park said his gut feeling is that fall will arrive early this year.
"Given what's happening with gardens, acorns and a number of other signs, I'm kind of looking for any early killing frost and subsequent snowfall coming up," Crandall said. "I feel like we're going to make the transition from 90-degree days to 40-degree days pretty quickly this fall.
"Maybe I'm just hoping. ... Fall is definitely my favorite time of year."
Bennett said he's learned not to make predictions when it comes to weather and the seasons. Fall will get here when it gets here, whether it's the autumn equinox Sept. 23 or when the leaves begin to cover the grounds of the refuge and migratory birds fly south.
"When I lived in Montana, I predicted the weather, and a farmer said only fools and newcomers predict the weather," Bennett said. "He asked me how long I'd been there. I kind of took his advice."
On the Web:
DNR fall color report: mndnr.gov.
Dokken reports on outdoors. Reach him at (701) 780-1148; (800) 477-6572, ext. 148; or send e-mail to email@example.com .