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Flights of fancy

Farrar Pond hosts resident Canada geese (Branta canadensis) from spring’s first persistent open water to final closure a few weeks from now, and much larger populations of transients as the seasons shift. Harold here offers us some fine shots of geese on the wing.

While geese cannot soar great distances at perfect rest, as can gyrating scavengers like the buzzard (utilizing thermal lifts) or extreme sea voyagers like the albatross (near-surface wind shear), they do fly efficiently, with a glide ratio estimated around 20:1. There is a widespread factoid—based on sound but highly approximate calculations and then over-generalized—that by flying just so in V-shaped “skeins” the flock can fly 71% further than individuals could alone with the same energy expenditure. A more cautious view, which includes an above-average explanation of how formation flyers can benefit from wingtip vortex shedding of those ahead to mitigate induced drag may be found here. And similar benefits are posited for coordination instinctive in schooling fish and calculated for wind farms.

-Ed.

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Pond Geese 02

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Not geese, but quite a gaggle of invasive European starlings!

Hallowe’en shades (and tints)

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Skeleton Dance  (Heptacodium miconioides)

 

Antiparallel to Beltane, the cross-quarter holy day of Samhain marks the short tail of a scenic transition between riotous color and the muted browns and greys of the long half-light. Most birds and mammals

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have put aside their flashy meeting-and-mating duds in favor of being invisible to increasingly motivated predators. Arthropods in the main, with perhaps the widest range of chromatic mechanisms of any life-form, are flown away, in mulchy retreat, or still better camouflaged. Or indoors, when warmth and food still prevail:

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Browsing snow machines

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The Siren’s luminous lure

 

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Weaver and beaver

But plants—unable to flee out or down—yield a final display, either late-bloomers in vain hope of one more round of pollination like this late mullein,

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an inextinguishable ‘Sparky’ marigold

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and the ever-reliable aster, here beneath a beaching wave of change:

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Hydrangeas persist even when frost-nipped, blue fading to white and green inverting to purple:

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Even in a drought-impoverished “color” season like this year’s, with most (but not all) of the usual top act—native maples—

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prematurely defoliated, some kind of show always attends the asynchronous withdrawal of valuable pigments, in various order, from to-be-shed leaves,

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Small-leaf maple and big-leaf magnolia

 

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Golden threads of autumn bluestar

with actinic sunlight sometimes influencing the sequence where its drooping rays still land:

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Smokebush

A few sustain one color from spring bud until the tender whole is frozen,

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Amaranth with seeds

while many more undergo “the change”—here maple and hydrangea again against forsythia, oak and berry-bearing holly: evergreen, therefore much at risk from winter deer and other browsers.

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Some fairly noxious weeds pay back in autumn. Nothing can surpass the fall fire of poison ivy, though Virginia creeper comes close. And this ground bramble brings a glow to compensate for summer’s snaggles

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and a reverse-contrast background for a seed-head’s silent explosion:

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Natives are nearly always best, like the magnificent and slightly primeval-looking staghorn sumac, singly

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or in its preferred habit of small groves;

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or our unfailing (except when stricken with anthracnose, easily prevented through hygiene and pruning) native flowering dogwood:

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–here, as often, carrying a few unharvested berries even as next year’s buds swell. And where season’s end signals not senescence but the flush of youth, a persimmon sapling flashes adolescent energy that later may be better contained for the production of its own offspring:

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Because fruit make their color not as a byproduct of declining metabolism and resource conservation; rather, to beckon consumers to come and taste—once fruit is ripe and life quickens within it—and reward with a few calories the effort of carrying germ to new growing grounds, like these ripe persimmons on a somewhat older tree

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that did, indeed, attract a large mammalian customer who enjoyed sticky-sweet flesh and parked sucked-clean seed in the refrigerator for winter stratification and spring planting.

The fruit of this Asian bitter orange are entirely inedible by humans—their juice even curdles gin—

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but make a decent marmalade that takes well to dark-chocolate couverture, if not already harvested by the next cross-quarter day—dread Imbolc—when not much else remains to sustain sciurid life.

In chromatic opposition but equally unpalatable to us is the Early Amethyst beautyberry:

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And speaking of royal purple, the ancient “Queen of Trees”—magnolia—delivers a fruit to match its magnificent flower, large cones of bright red or orange seed that hang down on long threads when fully ripe to present themselves to birds and small mammals:

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Magnolia macrophylla

 

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Magnolia obovata

In recent years, a few cultivars of the glorious Southern magnolia have been discovered that are hardy even in our neighborhood:

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Magnolia grandiflora

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But at the end, all color vanishes, and drab hues of winter overtake most plants even in advance of snow, like the grey beard of this seed-heavy native clematis,

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until even hoar departs, leaving emptier shadows of life past that will, on the same roots or new, eventually return from the grave.

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Left behind – wild carrot flower as was