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AutWin returns for a few days

Brown jelly fungus soaks in the recent moisture and grows on a lichen-covered branch. (Photos by Larry Weber)1 / 3
Black jelly fungus holding tight to a twig.2 / 3
Yellow jelly fungus sticks up from a forest branch.3 / 3

It looked like it had ended. When the rain that came on Nov. 18 changed to snow and continued for several hours, giving us a complete snow cover, it looked like the autumn interlude, that I like to call AutWin, was over. This marvelous period of time after the leaves drop from the trees and before the snow covers the ground was remarkable this year. We had about 30 days from Oct. 18 to Nov. 18 when conditions were mild and walking in the woods, either on or off the trails, was very interesting.

I went out here regularly and was not disappointed. The mosses, clubmosses, ferns, green leafy plants and lichens added a touch of greenish color to the mostly brown-gray drab forests. With temperatures as they were, the walks were also among some lingering fall wildlife. Insects, including late butterflies, moths, dragonflies and crane flies were still active on a daily basis, as were myriads of traveling spiders. This kept the birds active, too. Chickadees, nuthatches and woodpeckers were constantly seen on the walks. I also encountered chipmunks, squirrels and occasional mice and shrews.

Each woods wander revealed more nature happenings. But what I did not see were mushrooms and other fungi. With the exception of puffballs and shelf fungi, these growths were not able to handle the very dry conditions. (The weather service in Duluth recorded only 1/10 of an inch of precipitation for the first half of November.) Then came Nov. 18.

Rain in the morning that day became snow in the afternoon and the temperature dropped. By Nov. 20, we were near single-digit readings. The white landscape was mixed with ice forming on ponds, swamps and lakes.

It looked like AutWin was over and the next stage was beginning; the November freeze-up was happening. These conditions lasted about a week and then the November that had an average temperature of 40.2 degrees, compared to the normal of 28.8, making this the second warmest November on record, reverted back to its earlier days. Temperatures during the last week of the month reached into the 40s. This, combined with rain on Nov. 27-28 and we could see the ground again. AutWin had returned.

As I stepped out for my woods walk on Nov. 28, I realized that the conditions were like that of the days of AutWin. The rising temperatures and the falling rain had virtually removed all the snow from the scene. Also many lakes, swamps and ponds shed their ice. Though we were back in AutWin again, this time it was much different from a few weeks earlier. The woods that I was walking in now was wet.

The arid conditions of early November were reversed during the second half and enough precipitation fell, snow and rain, to give the entire month more precipitation than normal. And I see the results in the woods as I walk in these cool wet conditions. Temperatures are still above freezing and there is some light rain. Nature's opportunists take advantage of this moisture. The same mosses and lichens that I looked at weeks ago are still here, but they look larger and more fully developed. The hardy mosses and lichens here cannot go to a shelter when weather is harsh, but instead they take advantage of these changes. As small green mosses on rocks, logs and tree bases now open leaves, the nearby lichens on tree branches and trunks also soak in moisture and give more full colors of green, blue-green and yellow. And here, too, I find more fungi in the dampness.

A very common fall fungus of these deciduous woods is the jelly fungus. Such a name tells of its texture. Those putting fingers on this growth will note that yes, it feels like jelly. Though common, I did not see any when I walked here a month ago when it was so dry. Now I find much. Many branches and twigs, mostly on or near the ground, may be covered with lichens, but with these lichens I find slimy jelly fungi. Most is brown, often called leafy jelly, but I also see some that is black and even a few growths of yellow (sometimes called witch's butter).

Continuing the walk, I also discover oyster fungi, some cup fungus and huge numbers of shelf fungi. Though this fungi appears to be reveling in the wet conditions and thriving in this return to AutWin, I did scare up a critter that did not appreciate it, a snowshoe hare. This mammal was already changed into its white coat and now instead of blending in with the snowy background, it stood out in the AutWin forest.

It did not last long and the snows returned on Dec. 4, covering the ground and again ending AutWin, but I enjoyed these conditions of this week of a return to AutWin. This time, the snow and subsequent cold appear to be to be lasting.

Larry Weber

Retired teacher Larry Weber is the author of several books, including “Butterflies of the North Woods,” “Spiders of the North Woods,” “Webwood” and “In a Patch of Goldenrods.” Contact him c/o budgeteer@duluthbudgeteer.com.

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