Our Top 5 Things to Look for at the Park this Season
By: Brittany McAdams
Fall is here! Our natural resources coordinator Brittany McAdams shares some of her favorite things about spending time out at the parks in the fall.
One of my favorite things about a midwestern fall is the beautiful colors as the leaves of deciduous trees change. In the parks, we have beautiful oaks, maples, hickories, sycamores and beech trees that all take on different shades of red, yellow, orange, and brown during the fall. As the days get shorter and the weather gets cooler, trees stop producing chlorophyll. Chlorophyll is the molecule that absorbs sunlight and turns it into food for the plant. Chlorophyll also gives leaves their green color. As the chlorophyll breaks down and becomes less present, we start to see our beautiful fall colors come through!
As we look forward to taking walks through Hazel Landing to see the changing leaves, one of the best things is enjoying the smells of fall! The cool days are filled with the smell of fallen and decomposing leaves. The sugars and organic compounds in the leaves are beginning to break down and become part of the soil, giving the air an earthy, sweet smell.
Animals Preparing for Winter
Our parks are alive with animals year-round. In the fall, you’ll notice them preparing for winter! Some animals, like rabbits, foxes, squirrels, deer and opossums are active during the winter and will forage in the fall to gain weight for winter. Others animals like skunks and raccoons aren’t as active during the winter and spend more time resting in their shelter during the really cold weather. Groundhogs are the only animal in our area that truly hibernate during the winter.
Migration is the seasonal movement of species. During the fall months, we get to see a few famous migrations here in Indiana. Two of my favorites are the monarch migration and the sandhill crane migration. Monarchs start their migration to their overwintering grounds in Mexico in the fall. The peak time to observe monarch migration at our latitude in Indiana was September 21. This is a prime time to celebrate the amazing migration by such a seemingly delicate butterfly. This year we celebrated monarch migration with Monarch Tagging – one of the biggest citizen science projects for monarch research!
My other favorite migration is sandhill cranes. These birds start moving from the northern regions of Canada and North America down to Indiana and as far south as The Chassahowitzka Wildlife Refuge in Central Florida to spend the winter. From our parks, you can see sandhill cranes flying high in the sky in big groups making loud cooing sounds. If you like seeing sandhill cranes in the fall, you can watch them fly over the parks again for their spring migration!
We typically think of apples and pears when it comes to fall fruits, but Indiana has a host of native fruits that ripen in the fall. In the parks, we have walnuts, plums, and probably one of the most well-known, the pawpaw! Pawpaw trees live in the understory in our woodlands from Central Park all the way out to West Park. These trees produce a small, oblong fruit that, when ripe turn into a rich yellow custardy fruit, reminiscent of a citrusy banana. This resemblance gives it the nickname “the Hoosier banana.” But be warned: When unripe (green outside pale yellow tough inside), eating the fruit can cause a stomach ache.