September 24, 2012 Ice skating field sparrow Frosty coneflower leaf Swallowtail caterpillar Maple leaf in river September sumac Osprey New England aster Deer in winter coat Cedar waxwings Spider dew Indiangrass Kool kale Lucky that we had enough tarps to cover the peppers and green beans and flowers! The weather forecasters were right when they predicted a COLD first night of autumn. We awoke to birds ice-skating on the bird bath, frost on the exposed kale leaves and the prairie flowers, and the brisk feel of fall in the air. Temperature records fell in some places – and summer-lovers shivered. But it’s not like we didn’t have any warning, or that we shouldn’t have expected the change. Migrating ospreys soared over the Turkey River in late August – right on schedule. The deer’s coats have been grey – rather than summer orange – for several weeks. Flocks of cedar waxwings have been scouting for flowering crab fruits and other food they’ll need this winter. The hummingbird swarms dwindled to a single bird, which apparently took the hint and headed south just before the frost. Purple New England asters accent the soft yellows of the prairie grasses and goldenrods. Many walnut leaves turned yellow and fluttered to the ground weeks ago. Patches of sumac glow scarlet along roadsides and woodland edges. Virginia creepers twine up tree trunks, painting blood-red streaks on the green-yellow woodlands. But you have to get up close to appreciate their clusters of bluish berries. Busy spiders – which usually work in relative secrecy – find their handiwork sparkling in the dew of cool September mornings. For us humans, these signs of the season may be interesting topics of conversation. But for many critters, the cycle could mean life or death. The black swallowtail caterpillars we found munching happily on our carrots must finally stop eating and form the pupas in which they will overwinter. Hummingbirds need to head south before their fuel supply of nectar dries up. Nighthawks likewise move south before their insect buffets freeze out. Who knows? We could have a couple of months of balmy days, and the hardier flowers might bloom until Thanksgiving. But the first fall freeze has served notice: Summer is over!