Wildlife food sources, particularly fruits and nuts, and sometimes smaller animals, are subject to fluctuations based on weather, growing conditions, natural cycling and animal populations themselves.
Shagbark hickory nut production was grand, maybe one of the best ever in 2017. This year not so much, and in fact almost nothing in many areas.
The bitternut or yellowbud hickory exhibited a fair to good nut drop this autumn.
While gray and fox squirrels prefer shagbark nuts, sometimes they must turn to other sources or starve. The fruit husks under bitternut trees are numerous, but the nuts are gone.
One of the squirrels’ food sources this fall is this lesser nut, the bitternut. It could be comparable to humans preferring sweet corn, but if that fails, they have been known to cook up a kettle of field corn.
Snowy owls and siskins sometimes leave their normal range farther north and come here to winter in greater numbers. Snowy owls possibly come south due to overpopulation, and siskins because the northern pines failed in producing abundant seed cones.
White pines and white cedars seem to be waning, maybe even dying now in October. In reality, both of these evergreens are dropping older needles (leaves) but keeping the evergreen spirit with at least this year’s needles. But first, just like elms, the pine’s needles turn yellow, and then drop.
Fall flowers on deciduous shrubs are rare in autumn, but the witch-hazel seems to be fine with dropping leaves and then flowering throughout October and November, about the same time last year’s fruits are shooting out a few seeds.
White-tailed deer continue to change with the season. Most notable is tremendous neck swelling of bucks. This year’s buck fawns have noticeable tufts on their foreheads where tiny antlers (most call them nubbins) are hidden. A few fawns continue to nurse if the doe allows being bothered.
Combined and standing soybean fields continue to be the place for dining deer, with alfalfa and standing corn running close seconds. Most apples and white oak acorns have dropped.
Deer seasons continue and numbers are piling up on the DNR’s Web site. Last week’s entry gave a total of 11,188 deer registered by archers and crossbowers.
County totals jumped, too. Sampling across the state listed 117 for Dane County, 216 in Portage, 121 in La Crosse, 65 in Lafayette; and 67 in Green. Registrations for the two-day youth hunt last weekend will be posted soon, as will totals for the nine-day Deer Hunt for Hunters with Disabilities, which closes Oct. 14.
Waterfowlers would likely prefer more normal autumn conditions, but the seasons continue with the reopening of the Southern Zone Oct. 13, continuous hunting in the Northern Zone until Nov. 27, and reopening of the Mississippi Zone Oct. 13, and then closing Dec. 4. Ginseng sales are brisk in southwest Wisconsin.
Grouse hunters are finding a few birds, but nothing to call home about. Looking up, however, the fall color was peaking last weekend in the far north and continues to show well coming south. Wisconsin’s state parks call to hikers, campers, photographers and ride-through bikers and pickup truckers. Wisconsin recognized a couple from Illinois, Pat and Jerry Cornelius, ages 73, as outstanding park volunteers this year. They have spent the summer months helping make Governor Dodge State Park in Iowa County presentable the last nine years. Autumn can be a short season, and leaf seeking and peeking even shorter. Any day is the perfect time to enjoy parks and country sides.