September – the seventh month of the old Roman year. By the Julian arrangement, it became the ninth month but still retained its former name. This month marks the end of summer and the beginning of autumn. Nature is everywhere, and it’s difficult to put every event in one place. But some events occur so frequently that we often overlook them in favor of our work-a-day lives. It’s time to appreciate, respect, and admire what is happening in our own backyards. It’s time we paid attention. Here’s what to look for: 13 natural events that take place in the month of September.
This is peak migration time for one very special insect. Say bye-bye to Monarch butterflies, as they begin their winter migration. Despite their delicate appearance and breezy style of flight, they average about 50 miles per day. The two major populations of monarch butterflies in North American are separated by the Rocky Mountains. The western group over-winters in coastal California; the eastern in the Transvolcanic Mountains in the Mexican state of Michoacan, at altitudes of up to 11,000 feet.
This flower waits until late summer and early fall to bloom. September’s birth flower, the aster, is named for Astraea, the goddess of innocence. According to Greek myth, Astraea encountered so much sin among mortals that she metamorphosed into the constellation Virgo to get away from them. The astrological sign for those born in the first half of September is Virgo.
You just need to watch the news to know that this is peak hurricane season. Most Atlantic and Gulf hurricanes are born off the western coast of Africa when warm ocean water evaporates and rises into the windy upper atmosphere, creating a powerful, spiraling storm with a heated core. A typical hurricane can release up to 600 trillion watts of heat energy. The word hurricane comes from Hurakan, a cranky, one-legged Mayan diety that was particularly irritable in late summer and fall.
Beginning in September, apple trees everywhere are heavy with ripe juicy apples which are very nearly a perfect food. It takes only 85 minutes to completely digest and provides about 40 calories of readily accessible energy. It’s chief dietetic value lies in the acids contained in and just below the skin, which aid in the digestion of rich and fatty foods. Apples also contain antioxidants, which boost immune function and hinder heart disease and some cancers. They’re also really delicious!
Agriculturally, the apple (a native of Kazakhstan), is an anomaly or, in botanical terms, a heterozygosity. This means that every seed in every apple contains the genetic plan for a completely new and different tree – most of them, in the words of Thoreau, “sour enough to set a squirrel’s teeth on edge.” The only way to maintain a specific tree’s lineage is to graft it, which is what the Chinese began doing with favored cultivars in 200 B.C.
Discovering a tree with edible fruit was a sure route to fortune and fame during the Great American Apple Rush of the 1800s. Thanks to Johnny Appleseed, apple trees were as common as crows on the American frontier, so the odds of finding a sweet-tasting fruit were around 80,000 to 1. “Every wild apple shrub excites our expectations thus, somewhat as every wild child. It is, perhaps, a prince in disguise,” wrote Thoreau. When an edible apple was discovered, the tree was treated much like a Triple Crown-winning stud horse. In 1917, the single Golden Delicious tree from whence all subsequent Golden Delicious trees have come, was sold for $5000 and padlocked inside a steel cage wired with an alarm.
5. Song birds
Monarchs aren’t the only creatures flying south. In cool climes, songbirds are flocking together in anticipation of migration. Many migrating songbirds fly at night to avoid overheating and predation. It is believed that they use the moon and stars to guide them, as well as magnetic cues and visual landmarks. Ornithologists often count migrating birds by the light of the autumnal full moon; one Colorado researcher counted more than 9000 birds on a single September night.
Listen: the crickets are getting louder. As fall progresses, mating becomes imperative, as adult crickets perish come winter. The loud, monotonous song we hear in the evenings is that of the males, singing to attract a mate; they then sing a quicker, softer song when a female approaches. There’s also a territorial tune, sung when two males meet, and an abrupt “Look out!” chirp that warms everyone to be quiet.
Craspedacusta, the freshwater jellyfish, is found on every continent except Antarctica. This quarter-sized, harmless (except to plankton) and rarely seen, jellyfish sometimes “bloom” in early fall, filling lakes and ponds with thousands of tiny floating pseudo-medusae.
The roadrunner really is fast, crafty, quirky and fearless, and pretty much the coolest, most personable bird in North America. And now it’s time for this bird to stock up on body fat for the winter. A fearsome predator, the roadrunner feeds on snakes (including rattlesnakes), lizards, scorpions, insects, rodents and other birds,though it also enjoys hot dogs, dog food and lunch meat, as many residents of the Southwest can attest. It’s not uncommon for a roadrunner to make the rounds of homes in its territory, tapping on windows to announce its arrival and waiting expectantly for a handout.
9. Banana slug
In the fall, as forests receive dead plant material and animal waste, it needs a way to convert these into fertilizer for future tree growth. The banana slug, which indeed resembles a large, over-rip banana (sometimes a green, brown or white one), is a native of the Pacific coastal coniferous rainforest. A world-class composter, it has a raspy tongue with 27,000 teeth and a particular fondness for mushrooms and feces. It oozes along at the fairly rapid pace (for a slug) of three to four inches a minute, leaving behind a trail of nitrogen-rich fertilizer.
On September 22, tho official start of autumn, the sun will be directly over the equator, and day and night are equal all around the planet. The very next day, the 23rd, the sun passes into the Southern Hemisphere, leaving us in the north a little more in the dark every day from now until the Winter Solstice. In fact, the advance of darkness is most rapid near the September equinox, when three minutes of daylight are lost each day – about twelve times the rate of change that takes place near the solstices.
11. Little brown bats
For these flying mammals, September is the start of a very busy season: migrate, mate, and hibernate. For creatures that sleep nearly 20 hours out of every 24, little brown bats surely do get around. They typically travel between roosting sites – for day, night, and hibernation. When they’re not snoozing upside down, little brown bats are hunting and eating – anywhere from 600 to 1,000 moths, mosquitoes, gnats, beetles, midges, mayflies, and wasps per bat in a mere 2 to 4 hours. That’s a lot of pests munched down, making little brown bats a friend to farmers and mosquito-adverse city dwellers alike. Preternaturally agile, they can snatch insects with their teeth or net them with their wings, tossing them from wing to tail to mouth – mid flight.
Little brown bats are found in all environments, from urban to wild, across most of North America, with populations heaviest in the northern United States and southern Canada. Most bat species either migrate or hibernate, but little brown bats do both. Not only do they fly great distances to their hibernation spots, but they also mate when they get there. Then they retire en masse until insects begin hatching again in mid-spring. Most females give birth to a single pup each year and nurse it for approximately three weeks. Bats are among the few species of mammals that will care for each other’s young and bring food to sick or disabled roost mates.
12. Canada geese
Like most birds, migration begins in the fall. As early as September, one can see their characteristic V-shaped flight formation in the skies as well as hear their distinguishing calls. Is there another sound in the natural world that so catches in the throat and heart as the call of the Canada goose? The Canada goose is the most common goose in North America, easily recognized by its flight and sound. It is chiefly a grazer, feeding on marsh vegetation and field crops like corn and wheat.
Its wild range is vast, stretching from the Aleutian Islands south throughout the United States. In many urban areas, Canada geese are year-round residents, nesting on the edges of ponds and streams at night and commuting to rural areas to feed on field stubble during the day.
Canada geese are intensely loyal to flock and family members. While traveling, if an individual goose gets sick or in wounded, two additional geese drop out of formation and follow it down to protect it. They stay until the afflicted goose either dies or is able to fly again.
Plants everywhere are maturing and sending their seeds out into the world to create next season’s crops. Come seeds float on wings or parachutes; some drift along with the breeze. Others have tiny hooks or spikes to attach to animal fur or pant legs; still others explode from their pods like little grenades; and many, with their succulent surrounding flesh, entice birds or animals to eat and excrete them or bury them in the ground.