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Naturally Speaking: Catch it while it lasts – fall color won’t wait for you

Fall will offer a few “golden days” before October is over. During those days the skies will be blue, the temperatures cool and pleasant, and the trees will show off their best colors. You won’t want to miss those golden days when they come, because they pass quickly and won’t return again for a year. Be prepared to take an hour or two to savor fall’s beauty when the opportunity presents itself. Maybe it will be just a late afternoon walk around your neighborhood, but a better option would be to head out to a nearby natural area and walk a woodland trail. Sunset light makes the colors even more beautiful.

My wife, Sue, and I took a drive over to Ledges State Park last Sunday evening and walked the Lost Lake Trail at the southwest corner of the park. The maples were already losing many of their golden leaves, but ash and walnut added their touches of gold. The park’s dominant trees, the oaks, hadn’t begun their fall color changes, so there’s still plenty of color to come. The trail is relatively easy walking, but offers some longer, more challenging loops for those who have the time and energy to enjoy them.

A sign posted on one of the longer trails reminded me that we were about to enter a public hunting area south of the park, and that’s something to keep in mind. We decided to turn around rather than risk disturbing any hunters that might be using that area. Evening is prime time for archery and early season muzzleloader hunters to see deer moving. The early muzzleloader season closes Oct. 20, but bow hunters will be camouflaged in trees stands and on the ground until Dec. 6. A few will hunt all day long, but most focus on the early morning and late afternoon-evening hours when deer are more active. A midday walk in a public hunting area will be less likely to disturb at least deer hunters. Hunters seeking small game like squirrels or upland birds like pheasants may well be out in the middle of the day, so it’s still a good idea to wear bright colors like orange and avoid subdued colors like browns and tans when walking in or near public hunting areas. Hunters must always be cautious and clearly identify their target before firing, but there’s no reason to make it easy for a hunter to mistake you for game when you’re out for a walk.

There are several prime areas to enjoy fall color right here in Story County. McFarland Park northeast of Ames is a wildlife refuge with miles of woodland and prairie trails. Be aware that, like the Ledges, the park adjoins public hunting land. You’ll be leaving park/refuge land and heading into public hunting greenbelt land if you follow the little stream west out of the park. Robison Wildlife Acres is another wildlife refuge park that is on the hills above the Indian Creek Valley south of Nevada about 5 1/2 miles on S-14 and then a mile to the east on 295th St. Trails through the Skunk River Greenbelt are available for hiking at several access points between Ames and Story City, but keep in mind that they are open to public hunting.

Ames offers several city parks with fine woodland trails, where fall colors and smells can be enjoyed. They include McCarthy Park just off Ross Road west of the ISU campus, Brookside Park along Squaw Creek on Sixth Street, Inis Grove Park on the bluffs above the Skunk River just off of North Duff Avenue and East River Valley Park along the Skunk River just off of 13th Street.

The first “winter birds” are returning as this week’s column is written. Juncos showed up last week, and be on the lookout for red-breasted nuthatches. This would be a good time to scrub out your bird feeders to remove old caked seeds and disinfect them with a 10 percent bleach solution. If you’d rather not do it yourself, drop your feeders off at Wild Birds Unlimited just south of the railroad tracks on Duff Ave. The Gilbert Boy Scouts will be washing feeders there on Saturday, Oct. 19, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. as a fundraiser. You can pick up your cleaned feeders later that afternoon or on Sunday, from noon to 4 p.m.

(Steve Lekwa is a former Story County Conservation director.)

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