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Blane Klemek columN; Summer's end gives way to fall

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There are subtle and not-so-subtle signs out there that autumn's a'coming.

You might have noticed a slight change in temperature - the daily highs are not as high and the nightly lows are getting lower - or, more likely, you've noticed that the sunrise is occurring later, and the sun is setting earlier. As such, one can rightly assume that the end of summer is right around the corner. Still, there are other, less noticeable, signs too.

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Songbirds are telling us by their actions that the end of the breeding season is upon us and that migration is not far off. And although American goldfinches are the exception - they're busy nesting at this time - most birds have completed their nesting and many still are beginning to flock.

Around my rural home, I am beginning to see red-winged blackbirds gathering in ever-growing flocks. Many of these birds are inexperienced youngsters that still occasionally beg their parents for food in pathetic looking displays of fluttering wings and submissive postures. Where once there were an abundance of singing and displaying male redwings on specific cattail perches everywhere, the marshes are no longer the raucous environs they used to be.

I've also observed a few other species of birds gathering in fairly large family units. For example, I'm beginning to see more yellow-shafted flickers on my yard hunting for ants. I've observed many flickers vocalizing, feeding and flying about.

Conversely, the absence of birds bespeaks of the impending autumn, too. The numbers of tree swallows and eastern bluebirds have seemingly diminished overnight to just a mere few. Where just a couple of weeks ago I would see them atop nearly every birdhouse, now all that remains are their empty nests inside those once-occupied houses.

Territorial singing has decreased significantly as well. Only a week or so ago, I was still hearing a great deal of singing from American robins and red-eyed vireos. Over the past few days, however, male robins and male "preacher birds" have nearly closed the music books for good; albeit only a handful are still belting out half-hearted melodies for my eager ears to enjoy.

Another favorite and joyfully persistent birdsong of mine, that of the bold little house wren, has abruptly stopped as well. Instead, pairs are busy with the final stages of rearing their second broods, no doubt ready to be on their own any day now. In fact, young migratory birds everywhere and of every feather are earning their wings and are gearing up for their first-ever migration.

Indeed, the passing of the seasons come in stages. Red-winged blackbirds and yellow-headed blackbirds, bobolinks, chorus frogs, tree frogs and wood frogs have long since ceased their territorial songs. Now, practically everywhere that we walk - be it on our favorite wooded trail, alongside our favorite lake or wetland, perhaps even the edges of our lawns - are an abundance of young wood frogs and toads barely removed from that amazing aquatic transformation hopping about going wherever they go.

But it isn't just signs from faunal friends that point the way toward a season's end. One can see it in the prairie grasses and prairie forbs as well. For instance, the cool season grasses like smooth brome and Kentucky blue grass have conceded turf to native species such as big blue stem, side-oats grama and Indian grass. Dense and tall, big blue stem is beginning to dominate grasslands where it exists, showing off its reddish tinge and interesting "turkey foot" seed heads.

And within the prairie are many flowering plants: upright coneflower, purple-and-white prairie clover, lead plant, prairie onion and several species of goldenrod. Thistle is shedding seed just in time for nesting goldfinches. Milkweed plants that have provided nurseries and food for the insatiable appetites of feeding monarch caterpillars have helped to transform these striped eating machines into the vastly different looking butterfly.

Change is everywhere one looks or listens to. Grasshoppers and crickets fill the prairie fields with their calls. The occasional sedge wren and grassland sparrow will still greet an ear yearning for avian music. And the honey bees and ruby throated hummingbirds are targeting new and different flowers to help maintain hives and metabolic rates.

Most broods of waterfowl are adult size - minus fully developed flight feathers. Cottonwood trees have long since shed their seed, days are noticeably shorter and the nights will soon be cooler.

There's just one thing left to do. Every day, get out and enjoy the great outdoors.

Blane Klemek is the Bemidji area assistant wildlife manager, DNR Division of Fish & Wildlife. He can be reached at bklemek@yahoo.com

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