Nature Notes

Sights and Sounds

By Ulrike Axen

The early fall weather couldn’t be better: warm temperatures, dry conditions, lots of sunshine and little wind. It is a spectacular time for a walk through one of the woodland trails, which are starting to show color.

High on the Ridge Trail there are a couple of magnificent red oak trees. One of these trees has a diameter of at least 36 inches; tall and straight, it is difficult to see all the way up to its crown. This tree grows throughout the state. It is an old tree indeed, and well worth a hike in the woods to find it.

It is a quiet day as I walked through the forest, except for two loud calls echoing back and forth from different areas. It sounded a little like someone was tapping on a hollow wooden block with a wooden mallet—rhythmic and regular tapping. Except there is a slight whistling sound in there also, indicating that the sound is made but by an animal’s call. A bird? Not any bird I had ever encountered, although that would be a logical guess in this forest. An insect? No, although there are still plenty of insects calling in the meadow below.

The calls are so loud, I set out to find the source, and eventually I locate one of the callers and observe him (or her) sitting on a hollow log and chirping away (perhaps I should say, “chipping” away). I could not believe that the volume of sound echoing in the woods was coming from such a small creature. Have you guessed? It is our native eastern chipmunk, which lives in most of Minnesota, and loves oak trees and its acorns.

Chipmunks are busy at this time of year storing food for their dens. They are omnivorous, enjoying seeds, berries, insects and snails in addition to acorns. They will den for the winter and sleep for long periods of time, although they don’t go into true hibernation; occasionally they wake up and eat some of their cache. These little critters are a delight to watch and listen to, but gardeners, beware: They love tomato juice and will eat holes in the bottom of tomatoes to get at it!

Ulrike Axen is a Minnesota Master Naturalist volunteer.

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