Posts Tagged ‘southwestern autumn photography’

Yesterday was the first day of autumn. Our Alberta family members reported beautiful yellow trees in their park. Thursday’s harvest moon was spectacular in Northern California according to our nature-loving middle child. Our youngest said it was raining in Berkeley, a typical fall day there. Just like here.

Two falls ago we were in New England where the leaves were in full display. Yellows, oranges, reds. A magnificent canvas painted across the Berkshire hills.

Watercolor Autumn © SR Euston

Watercolor Autumn
© SR Euston

But all is not well in leaf land. According to a 23-year study of the Harvard, MA Forest, fall colors now arrive three to five days later, correlating with the 2° Fahrenheit rise in average Northeast temperatures.

So what? The leaves will just start changing later. Except…leaves also change color based on day length. It’s the combination of shortening days and turning colder nights that alert the trees they need to begin preparing for the long winter ahead by ceasing to create sugars with the green chlorophyll in their leaves. As the green fades, the underlying yellow pigment begins to show through. Ultimately the leaves dry and fall.

Not so with the red pigment, anthocyanin, which is actually produced as a result of cool nights and sunny days. As those conditions change, the most noticeably affected may be the glorious bright red sugar maple. Not only may they no longer be in suitable habitat as the climate changes, they’ll like produce fewer of their signature red autumn leaves.

Not only is this a heartbreaking loss for those who relish a red sugar-maple-colored fall, it’s not great economic news for the leaf-peeping tourist trade in a swath across the Midwest to the Northeast and south to the Piedmont, an estimated $25 billion per year economic engine.

Guess climate alteration isn’t just for polar bears and ice caps anymore. Seen any good leave change recently? Seems we’ll need to grab the chance while we still can.

Autumn Leaves © SR Euston

Autumn Leaves
© SR Euston

For more info see: http://biology.appstate.edu/fall-colors/will-global-climate-change-affect-fall-colors

and: http://des.nh.gov/organization/commissioner/pip/factsheets/ard/documents/ard-25.pdf

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Sandhill Crane Up Close ©SR Euston

Sandhill Crane Up Close ©SR Euston

Evening approaches at Socorro County’s Bosque del Apache. We hurry to the northern end, where the cornfields and shallow wetlands are. Across the field we spot an enormous, restless, white, honking swath. Looking closer, we see it’s a giant gaggle of snow geese, recent arrivals from the north.

Overhead, ragged streamers of huge gray sandhill cranes circle, their gravelly voices filling the dusky sky. They land and mingle gracefully among their smaller cousins, all of them feeding contentedly.

But the show is just beginning. At some command, unheard by human ears, the snow geese and sandhills, almost as a whole cloth, rise up in a deafening rush of white and gray and black wings. They move just southeast and, with quieting calls and honks, settle in for the night among the ducks in the shallow darkening water and bent reeds across the road.

Dusk and Cranes ©SR Euston

It’s a remarkable experience of pure wildness. And it’s a show that happens at the Bosque twice each day, from November through February—sunrise as the flocks leave, and sunset, when they return.

Some winters upwards of 80,000 birds converge on the Refuge, a birdwatcher’s paradise of ducks, snow and Ross’s geese, and the Bosque’s most famous visitor, the Sandhill Crane.  And it is one of New Mexico’s great environmental success stories with the revitalization of a severely damaged Rio Grande ecosystem and the resulting rebound of the once endangered sandhill crane population. 15,684 were counted in February of this year.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge (NWR), about 20 miles southeast of Socorro, is a 57,000+ acre chunk of prime riparian and mountainous desertland. Created in 1939 to restore migratory waterbird habitat, it is protected and managed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service.  Much of the upland is an officially designated wilderness. But 7000 acres of intensively managed and irrigated farm and wetlands along the Rio Grande are open to the public. Here, along a 12 mile dirt road loop lies a remarkable mix of desert, mountain vistas, irrigated fields, marshes and cottonwoods.

As well as ample blinds, decks and pullouts for watching the avian winter show.

Bosque Autumn ©SR Euston

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“The Water Rat was restless, and he did not exactly know why….ever observant of all winged movement, [he] saw that it was taking daily a southing tendency….It was difficult to settle down to anything seriously, with all this flitting going on.”  from Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame.


Journey's End: Backyard Leaves

All this “flitting going on,” as Ratty describes it, isn’t limited just to his little piece of English countryside. Here in Albuquerque, we’ve been noticing a great deal of flitting ourselves.

Throughout the summer our backyard birds are limited to the usual southwest urban suspects: white-winged doves, sparrows, the occasional thrasher.

But since last week, as the air has turned ever crisper, autumn blue, new visitors have arrived at our waterbath. Migrating flocks of tiny plump Audubon warblers, yellow rumps with white wing bars catching the early morning sun, flit around the terra cotta bowl, snatching quick drinks with their pointed beaks. Larger rufous-sided towhees work the ground, their orange and black perfectly timed for Halloween. Their cousins, the less showy brown towhees have reappeared as well. Robins arrive in messy flocks, throwing water around, ruffling their wet feathers as they bathe. There are chubby black-capped chickadees, and rosy throated house finches. Tiny bushtits in small flocks strip the arborvitae clean of insects.  Raucous scrub jays shout from juniper hedges, and an occasional woodpecker, always somehow on the far side of the trunk, taps away.

Perfect backyard birdwatching. Still, like Ratty, I can feel they will soon be gone. That “southing tendency” is definitely in the air.


Backyard Pyrocantha


Backyard geometry

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Photographer’s note:  Thoreau’s essay “Autumnal Tints” describes his impressions of the infinite  subtlety and beauty of the colors of New England in Fall. Who can not be startled surrounded by fiery woods, or seeing maple or liquid ambar exploding in October’s sun?

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russet sycamores, Gila country

The dry southwest colors—dun streaked, white gold, russet, browns, oranges and tans—present even more subtlety, and the challenge is to see beauty, even intense beauty, in the the homely spine of a barbed cholla, with the Autumn sun glinting off of a rusty colored cholla branch, or in the tangled, abstract, found art of Rice Grass in the late afternoon. The trick is to see with westward looking eyes.


Cholla, desert colors, New Mexico


Cottonwoods, Aztec National Monument, New Mexico


Autumn light on the range, southwest New Mexico


Seed head, Rio Grande bosque (woodlands), New Mexico


Flower seeds, New Mexico


Chiricahua National Monument AZ muted colors


Autumn Asters, Colorado


Arizona Sycamore, Fall


Indian Rice Grass, New Mexico

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