Late fall is the perfect time to explore the edges of a brushy field.
Plants came up with Velcro long before humans. For proof, hike through a brushy field then look at your pants. Chances are they’ll be coated with sticktights, small seedpods covered with dense hairs. The hairs stick to fur (and clothing), which helps the seeds hitch a ride to a new place to grow.
If you see a tangle of tunnels in the grass, you’re likely seeing the work of a vole. Voles are mouse- like rodents with stubby tails. They use sharp teeth to snip grass to eat, building — mouthful by mouthful — tunnels through the vegetation. Mice use the tunnels to search for seeds. Predators, such as weasels and shrews, slink in the shadows, waiting for warm meat.
If canine tracks have you confused, use these clues to tell them apart.
Sparrows are tough to identify, which leads many beginning birdwatchers to label them LBBs: little brown birds. To bone up on sparrow ID, grab binoculars and head to a weedy field in winter. Stand near a brush pile and study the sparrows as they gather seeds. You’ll soon spot differences in the birds’ colors and patterns that will help you tell them apart.
Wild rose, blackberry, and many other thorny plants grow along field edges. To avoid becoming a human pincushion, watch where you walk and wear thick pants.
Smooth sumac’s rusty red berries can be used to make a refreshing drink that tastes like lemonade. Have an adult help you collect a dozen berry clusters and shake out the bugs. Submerge the berries in water, and rub them until the water turns pink. Strain the water through a clean towel into a pitcher, add sugar and ice, and drink up.
Brush piles offer rabbits, quail, and other animals places to escape from predators and shelter from cold, wet weather. To build a brush pile , pick an out-of-the-way location at the edge of a field. Have an adult cut branches and small trees with a chainsaw, then stack them in a tangly pile about head high and 20 feet wide.
In fall and winter, northern bobwhites huddle together in a tight circle with their tails touching and their heads facing outward. This is called a covey, and it helps the birds stay warm and watch for predators.
Angie Daly Morfeld
Nichole LeClair Terrill