The *other* changes of fall 🔍 🦅 🦌

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parks and rec
Icons representing different fall outdoor recreation. Text in the center reads "Trailblazer."

September 2023

Monarch butterfly on goldenrod.

O Autumn, Autumn! O pensive light
     and wistful sound!
Gold-haunted sky, green-haunted ground!

When, wan, the dead leaves flutter by
     Deserted realms of butterfly!
When robins band themselves together

     To seek the sound of sun-steeped weather;
And all of summer’s largesse goes
     For lands of olive and the rose!

By Effie Lee Newsome

Section header reads "creative out(let)."

Paul Sundberg, retired park manager turned photographer

As a state park manager he had the opportunity to share his knowledge with many park visitors. He's back at it, with a series of photographs and observations about the "other" changes of fall that inspired this issue.

Man with an SLR camera standing on a trail on a fall day.

"Every season holds new wonders to experience and photographl"

Born and raised on a small farm south of McGregor, Minnesota, Paul Sundberg has been taking photos since the early 1970’s when he purchased his first 35 mm SLR camera. He started photographing the wildlife and scenery along Minnesota's North Shore when he moved to the area for a job at Cascade River State Park. Sundberg later moved to Gooseberry Falls Sate Park, where he worked until his retirement in 2010.  

Seasonal changes

Some fruit are ripening now. Animals are getting ready for winter. In this Trailblazer issue, we shed light on some of the changes that may go undetected as we focus on the bright red, orange and yellow leaves.

Go outside and see what else you notice. Email your photo or story to

Section header reads "conservation." Icon shows image of an Earth globe.

Northern flying squirrels hang together to keep warm

Mostly solitary in summer, these squirrels nest in groups in fall and throughout winter.

Five flying squirrels huddled in a hole in a tree, their heads sticking out.

Northern flying squirrels live in many of our state parks, mostly in the coniferous forest biome. "When I took this photo there were twelve flying squirrels living in three pileated woodpecker cavities in the same tree." PHOTO: Paul Sundberg

Flying squirrels mainly use abandoned pileated woodpecker nests since the bird builds a new nesting cavity every year. Woodpeckers make homes for several northland critters. 

Flying squirrels do not fly, but glide from one perch to another. Their "flight" is made possible by a fold of skin, a membrane which extends from the front to the hind feet. When the legs are outstretched, the skin stretches out to form a large planing surface.

Snowshoe hares change their fur to camouflage

These hares are fast and agile, reaching speeds of 30 mph and jumping 12 feet in a single bound.

Two images of a snowshoe hare, in the fall before the fur changes white, and in winter with white fur.

Snowshoe hares live in northern Minnesota in dense woodlands and forest bogs. PHOTO: Paul Sundberg

In Minnesota, the snowshoe hare is dark brown in summer, matching the deep shadows of damp northern thickets. It changes colors as fall approaches to camouflage from predators, growing an entirely new coat that is as white as the snow around it. This is called a leucistic phase.

Weasels' fur turns white

Because weasels have a high surface area to weight ratio, they conserve body heat in winter by curling into a ball and lowering their metabolism.

Side-by-side images of weasels peaking from tree holes, one is brown, the other one white.

Weasels can be found anywhere that their main prey, mice, are found. Typical habitats are grasslands, woodlots, and brush piles. PHOTO: Paul Sundberg

There are three species of weasels in Minnesota, the short-tailed weasel, the long-tailed weasel, and the least weasel.  All three species are brown on top and white-yellow on their undersides in summer, and turn white in winter. The camouflage helps them to both kill prey, and avoid being prey.

The short-tailed weasel is also known as "ermine," its fur used for trim on coats. The least weasel is the least common, and its fur has a peculiar characteristic — it fluoresces (glows) in ultraviolet light!

Beavers get busy prepping for winter

The largest North American rodent, the beaver is nature's original water conservationist and land and wildlife manager. But wherever they're too numerous they cause problems for people. 

Beaver seen in water by mallard, gold colored tall reeds behind them.

With their strong jaws and teeth, beavers can chew through a six-inch tree in 15 minutes. A single beaver can chew down hundreds of trees each year. PHOTO: Paul Sundberg

In fall, beavers are especially busy storing food in front of their lodges to last through the long Minnesota winters.  In spring and summer, beavers eat leaves, buds, twigs, fruit, ferns, stems, and the roots of water plants. In fall and winter, they eat cuttings from trees stored beneath the water.

"Give the gift of Minnesota's natural world" with image of gift card

Waxwings re-fuel in Minnesota on their migration south

This bird is named for its red-tipped wing feathers. They especially like to eat the mountain ash berries, plentiful in several Minnesota state parks.

A couple of waxwing birds eating bright red fruit.

PHOTO: Paul Sundberg

Fall is the time to see several species of birds migrating through Minnesota heading south. Waxwings are one of the most colorful. Two species that migrate along the North Shore are the cedar and bohemian waxwings. Photographer Paul Sundberg said he's observed groups of migrating waxwings that number in the hundreds!

Bald eagles hang in groups

Multiple bald eagles perched on bare trees.

PHOTO: Paul Sundberg

The Mississippi River valley is a migration corridor for many species of waterfowl, raptors and shorebirds traveling to warmer southern areas for the winter. Large numbers of bald eagles can be seen in southeastern Minnesota during this time. Some even overwinter in the Red Wing and Wabasha areas near the Mississippi River, where the current of the inflowing Chippewa River maintains open water throughout the season.

Explore. Get Rewards. Join the Club! Hiking and Passport Clubs, Minnesota State Parks and Trails.

Deer and moose go into rut

That is, it's mating season for these mammals.

A deer seen behind orange and green grass

PHOTO: Paul Sundberg

Deer get huge necks, as testosterone released by males causes it to swell. This adaptation helps appear more intimidating and attractive to females.

Moose are on the move, as they travel long distances in search of a mate. Look for them (from a safe, respectful distance) along back roads and trails in northeast and northwest Minnesota. The moose is our state's largest wild animal, and it can run 35 mph and easily swim 10 miles without stopping. 

Moose seen in the midst of fall grasses and bushes.

PHOTO: Paul Sundberg

Great spangled fritillary butterflies hatch in fall

Frontenac State Park manager Jake Gaster took this photo and shared about the butterfly that visits this southern Minnesota park.

An orange butterfly with black spots on purple flowers in a prairie.

This butterfly is attracted to a variety of violet species, including common blue violets (viola sororia), sweet white violet (v. blanda), and smooth yellow violet (v. eriocarpa). PHOTO: Jake Gaster

The great spangled fritillary lay their eggs on or near violets in late summer. The eggs hatch in the fall... but the hatched caterpillars overwinter and don't feed until spring. 

Look for this butterfly between mid-June and into October.

Dew reveals hundreds of garden spider webs

Afton State Park naturalist Linda Radimecky likes that the banded Argiope and black and yellow Argiope (also known as garden spiders and orb weavers) eat pests such as flies, moths, beetles, wasps and mosquitoes.

Spider webs on bare branches.

"Overachiever spider" was what Bonnie Affolter named this photo she captured in late September in 2019 at Afton State Park. There's beauty in small things if you look closely.

Many orb weavers build a new web each day and are active during the evening hours. You can see hundreds of their webs when the dew covers the strands of their webs strung between prairie grass stems. You can identify them by the white zigzag pattern (called a stabilimentum) in the middle of the web where the spider often hangs.

Ripening autumn fruit

Itasca State Park naturalist Connie Cox shared some interesting facts about fall wild fruit.

Hawthorn fruit

Hawthorn fruit on tree.

Ripening fruits, also called thornapples, can vary from yellow to red to dark red. They are not a preferred fruit by wildlife, partly because of the low-fat content or low food-energy value. PHOTO: Connie Cox, Itasca State Park

Hawthorn is also known as thornapple, quickthorn, hawberry, bigfruit hawthorn, or Mayflower. The impenetrable interlacing branches and thorns of its thicket makes for ideal nesting cover for mourning doves, gray catbirds, brown thrashers, yellow warblers and northern cardinals. 

In the fall, you might see ruffed grouse and cedar waxwings, as well as black bear and deer, eating the fruits. Hawthorns are high in pectin, thus good for making jelly, jam, pie filling and syrup. They make good tea.

Highbush cranberries

Red highbush cranberries on bush with green leaves.

Ripening fruits appear translucent and range from orange to red in color and tend to dangle in clusters from the branch. They are thin skinned and there is one seed inside each fleshy fruit.

American highbush cranberry is also known as cranberry tree, American cranberrybush, love rose and crampbark. The fruit matures from early August into early September. The bright shiny red fruits often persist on the plants well into the winter. 

The edible fruits are commonly gathered in late August or early September. They are best picked when slightly underripe (they will be sour). They are used in sauces, jellies, and juices.

Many wild critters will eat the fruits, including deer, chipmunks, squirrels, foxes, and racoons. Birds normally eat them after they have frozen and thawed several times. Birds include robins and cedar waxwings.

Rose hips

Rose hips.

Sunset Lakeshore at Glendalough State Park.

Wild roses

Wild roses.

PHOTO: Kurt Mead, taken at George Crosby Manitou State Park

Section header reads ''naturalist events." Icon shows a calendar with a star.

Fall programs

  • Oct. 1 and 8: Discover the stories hidden within scenic river views and geologic features as you explore the glacial potholes at Interstate State Park with a naturalist. 
  • Oct. 7: Bring your binoculars and join Frontenac State Park Association for a birding walk along the beach to Sand Point, on Lake Pepin. Shorebirds, waterfowl, terns and gulls all use the Mississippi River Flyway.
  • Oct. 13: Tour the pine groves along the east arm of Lake Itasca at Itasca State Park from the comfort of a bike saddle or behind the wheel. Learn about old growth forests and their value to wildlife, water, and people. 
  • Oct. 20: Join the Glacial Lakes Astronomers and Stargazers Society (GLASS) at Glacial Lakes State Park for a chance to look through telescopes and binoculars and ask questions about the night sky.
  • Oct. 29: Take a forest bathing walk with certified Nature & Forest Therapy Guide, Sara Holger, at Whitewater State Park

Full list of events at