In the Mogollon highlands of central Arizona, each season displays its own unique character. Fall is no exception: one day we are enjoying the warmth and activities of summer, then suddenly, without warning, it is autumn.
The ambience of this season is a subtle thing—the mornings may be a little crisper, the days a bit shorter, the breeze a bit more forceful as it blows through the ponderosas. The light seems a little softer as the leaves begin to turn. Even the monsoon rains seem to feel more like a soft autumn rain than a summer torrent.
Autumn is a time of preparation, of transition. The animals, insects, and birds are busy preparing for winter. Industrious ants, acorn woodpeckers, woodhouse scrub jays, and squirrels are all busy gathering and stashing nuts and seeds for their winter use. Our avian summer visitors are preparing to leave for the winter and our winter residents will soon be arriving. Other birds, just passing through, stop here to refuel and refresh themselves. We may meet and enjoy them before they continue their journey.
Sedona in Autumn
Regulus calendula, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Winter Resident
The cicadas, having nearly finished the important work of mating to ensure the survival of their species, will soon lay their eggs and cease their songs. The butterflies will also lay eggs soon, in order to give their larvae time to fatten up before they begin to overwinter in their chrysalis. The little tree-frogs, having mated and laid their eggs, will burrow into the mud to spend their winter in a hibernation state. Meanwhile, the autumn-blooming wildflowers are producing a riot of beautiful color. They seem even more vibrant if they are growing next to the dying foliage of the spring-blooming plants which have already dropped their seeds and are preparing for their long winter sleep.
Autumn is also a time of completion. Soon, the overwintering creatures will be adding the last bits of food to their stores and retreating to their burrows and nests to spend the winter in relative comfort. Before the onset of winter, many plants, insects, birds, and mammals must finish their preparations. Some short-lived species, having completed their important work to ensure the survival of the next generation, will now enter the last phase of their life cycle. As their bodies decompose, they will provide food for the many unseen microorganisms that are equally important to life on our Earth.
Of course, there will still be warm days to hike in nature and appreciate the glorious foliage. Autumn brings great photo opportunities for those so inclined, and birders may find a new species migrating through. So, get out and enjoy the ambience of this most beautiful of seasons—autumn in the High Country.
Contributed by HCNH Naturalist Sandy Stoecker.