September brings the end of summer and the beginning of autumn. With cooler night temperatures the first fall colors of begin to emerge on the forest edge as hints of reds begin to appear. The tupelos are the first to begin to change with sassafras and red maple soon to follow. The meadows too begin to come alive with vibrant yellows of goldenrods and are highlighted by the whites and purples of asters. Migration is underway as birds and some insects begin their epic southern journey.
This is one of the most exciting months for birding in Cleveland Metroparks as fall migration swings into full gear. Woodlands once again burst into motion as scores of warblers, vireos, flycatchers, tanagers and thrushes work their way south. Waves of swallows and hawks now push through on north winds and towards the end of the month, sparrows invade grasslands and wetlands. The muddy edges of wetlands offer stopping grounds for shorebirds and waders feasting on abundant invertebrates found in the mud. A visit to Huntington Reservation during strong northern gales offers a chance to observe the initial large movements of waterfowl, terns, gulls, and on a red-letter day, a jaeger. September’s migration mayhem can offer birders the chance to see over 100 species in one day.
The insect world is still a buzz in September, as the last warm days of the year offer the opportunity to locate and appreciate stunningly colorful butterflies from the common buckeye, black swallowtail, great spangled fritillary and the flashy yellow of clouded and orange sulphurs. Katydids and grasshoppers drone on through the afternoons and evenings with buzzing serenades. Hoverer, big news in the “bug” world is the monarch migration. These large, rich orange and black butterflies make an astounding migration south to Mexico. On a warm day with north winds, visit Huntington Reservation to witness hundreds to thousands of monarchs as they depart Canada and arrive on U.S. ground.
The yellow of goldenrods begin to highlight meadows and as the month progresses they are joined by asters, including the rich purples of New England aster and tall ironweed. This is perfect timing as their nectar fuels the southward journey of monarch butterflies and the pollen is utilized by beetles and bees as a high energy meal. These insect pollinated plants are often accused for fall hay fevers, but that belongs to ragweed and other wind pollinated plants.
Hatchling turtles that have incubated all summer in warm soils begin their trek to nearby wetlands. Some head directly to water, while some are programmed to wander, sometimes up to two weeks, before settling into their new wetland home.