In meadows and roadsides, the early Fall palate: yellow flower sprays of Canada goldenrod, purple daisy-like flowers of New England aster, and white flowers of at least two or three related aster species. A few flowers of our summer stalwarts, chicory and Queen Anne's lace, still linger, but these have largely gone to seed now and are dry and shrivelled.
On a sunny day, the flowers are smothered in insects seeking the last nectar of the year: Bumble bees, joined by the day-flying moth, Virginia ctenucha, which looks bright enough to pass as a butterfly. There are a few butterflies still flying: sulphurs and cabbage white. And a few straggling Monarchs that are late to migrate south. There are still some dragonflies around, the small Meadowhawks, but the large Green darners have migrated.
Where there are not flowering clumps, the fields glisten in the sun from the billowing clumps of seeds of Common Milkweed and thistles. Their seeds are attached to silken threads which act like parachutes to buoy them up in the breeze. The introduced Dog-strangling vine seed pods have ripened also, and they disperse the same way. It is easy to see why it has been very difficult to manage this invasive weed.
In the woodlands, there is a goldenrod representative which flowers in shade: zig zag goldenrod. Most woodland widlflowers and shrubs are past flowering and are bearing fruit. Or nuts, such as white oak and black walnut which the eastern grey squirrels are busy collecting to cache in holes in the ground. In the damp areas, especially along streams, the jewelweed has finished flowering, but the ripe seed pods are perhaps even more interesting: gently squeze one and you will see how a clever spring mechanism ejects the seeds.
The trail edge acts as a trellis for clambering vines. Now that they have fruit they betray their presence. The deep blue berries of Virginia creeper and wild grape are now obvious to migrating birds and racoons, especially as their leaves change colour early and drop. In less disturbed woodland edge, you can find the pods of hog peanut, now dried to a deep brown, or the spikey, round fruit of wild cucumber strung up like Christmas ornaments.
Unfortunately, trails in woodland also act as routes in for invasive plants such as dog strangling vine. And some invasive shrubs also like edges, such as tatarian honeysuckle and buckthorn, both covered in berries now. These will be gleaned by migrating birds, and robins and chickadees which only helps their dispersal.
Woodland trails can also create hazardous barriers for small animals which must cross them. Keep an eye out for roving caterpillars of some of our moths; like the black and orange caterpillar aptly named woolly bear (though this term refers to the fuzzy caterpillars of several late summer moths) which wanders at this time of year looking for a winter pupation site and is often encountered on trails.
The small, brown sparrows which breed in the boreal forest, such as white-throated sparrows and white-crowned sparrows, are now passing through our woodlands en route to the southern United States. This is also the peak time for the migration of birds of prey: eagles, hawks and falcons that have been living in the boreal forest all summer. If you are interested, and have lots of time and patience, then we recommend that you attend one of the sites in Toronto: Rosetta McClain Garden Park in Scarborough, and High Park.
In our ravines, the crack willows and Manitoba maples that line the riverbank act as another trellis for the wild grape and Virginia creeper which in a season can grow into impenetrable stands clambering up crack willows at water's edge. In the big rivers such as the Humber and Don, the banks of the lower reaches are now thick with fishermen plying for Chinook salmon that are heading up stream to spawn.