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Fall descends on Southern Illinois in October.

The lush, green landscape turns brittle. The huge oaks that populate the hills turn brown, but stubbornly hold onto their leaves into December and even January. The large fan-shaped leaves of the sycamore turn a yellowish brown while the soft maple leaves morph into yellows and reds.

Scattered sumac bushes inject a bit of red into the landscape, but from Thanksgiving to late March, the Southern Illinois landscape is largely a drab mixture of browns and grays, with a few pines mixed in to relieve the boredom.

Those three months can feel like an eternity, yet by March we begin to see color being restored to a monotone world.

Crocus starts poking through the frosty soil early, blazing a path for daffodils and tulips to follow. And, the brilliant breeding colors of waterfowl preparing to migrate to their nesting grounds provide a sparkling preview of wildlife to come.

The breathtaking brilliance of northern shovelers, blue-winged teal and ringnecks and occasional visitors like horned grebes provide a much-appreciated splash of color as winter’s final days drag on.

Then, as the days lengthen, the sun heats up and buds begin to appear on maples, oaks and hickories, colorful birds return to the region. For some, like the rose-breasted grosbeak Southern Illinois is little more than a refueling stop. Fortunately for us, the grosbeak migration can last several weeks.

And, year-long residents like the bluebird and American goldfinch shed their drab winter clothing for eye-piercing blues and yellows.

Other migrants arrive and put down roots – at least through August. Mustard-yellow prothonotary warblers can be seen in trees and bushes near marshy areas. Neon-blue indigo buntings and blue grosbeaks populate grassy areas at the edge of roadways and forests.

Summer and scarlet tanagers arrive to give the northern cardinal competition in the blazing red category. Baltimore Orioles are instantly recognizable by their unmistakably orange plumage.

If a person pays close attention, you can spot great-crested flycatchers and yellow-breasted chats adding a dash of yellow to the green canopies of the region. Yellow-billed cuckoos and common yellowthroats provide more colorful tones to nature’s springtime palette.

Even the browns of thrashers and thrushes appear more vivid in the spring.

Enjoy the colors. They’ll be here until August.


Sports editor

Les Winkeler is sports editor and outdoors writer for The Southern Illinoisan.

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