November phenology

Holy Wisdom MonasteryCare for the Earth, Friends of Wisdom Prairie, Phenology 2 Comments

By Sylvia Marek


Flock of mallard ducks

Phenology is the science of recording plant and animal activities from year to year and their relationship to season and climate. November events can vary when the month is warmer or cooler, wetter or dryer than average. The following Madison area observations are from notes I have kept over the years.

“In that little leaf was all the poetry of fall,
The first soft prelude of the symphony just finished.
The cycle was complete once more,
Now the snows could come.”       -Sigurd Olson

  • Daylight in mid-November decreases to about 9.5 hours of light
  • Daylight saving time ends
  • Sparkling hoarfrost
  • Killing frosts can be early or late
  • Snow is possible. In 2018 snow fell on November 9, 16, and 28.
  • Indian summer usually comes after a hard frost. Days are calm and unseasonably
    warm, nights clear and chilly.
  • Beaver moon
  • Glittering stars against bare branches
  • Orion, Big Dipper, Pleiades
  • Leonid meteor showers
  • Northern lights are possible
  • Bird migration continues
  • Owls call
  • Deer mate
  • Some insects are active
  • Wildflower season has almost ended
  • Last of colorful autumn leaves
  • Colorful prairie grasses begin to fade
  • Seeds, colorful fruits and berries
  • Fall mushrooms


  • Peak bald eagle and sandhill crane migration.
  • Tundra swans, loons, Canada and snow geese migrate.
  • Coots, buffleheads, scaup, goldeneyes, mergansers and other waterfowl leave
    when ice forms on lakes.
  • Resident owls call announcing their presence…great horned, barred and screech.
  • Owls from the north arrive. Look for saw-whet, snowy, short-eared and long-eared.
  • Flocks of crows gather at dusk and form communal roosts.
  • Look for northern harrier and northern shrike.
  • White-throated, tree and fox sparrows, pine siskin, purple finch, dark-eyed junco,
    brown creeper, and red-breasted nuthatch arrive from the north. Many will spend
    the winter.
  • Flocks of robins and bluebirds depart for the southern U.S. Some will spend the
    winter here.
  • Grackles and red-winged blackbirds form large flocks and depart during the month.


  • Mating season for white-tailed deer. Look for “buck rub” on small tree trunks and
    “scraps” on the ground.
  • Fawns have lost their spots.
  • Gray squirrels and chipmunks continue to dig holes and bury nuts.
  • Deer mice and white-footed mice store seeds. Some move into abandoned bird
    nests, nest boxes and buildings.
  • Voles and shrews are active.
  • Woodchucks begin their long winter sleep.
  • Look for muskrat lodges.
  • Red fox and coyote can be heard barking and howling at night.


On warm days when temperatures are 50 degrees or above look for:

  • Woolly-bear caterpillars (Isabella moth) searching for places to spend the winter.
  • Red-bodied dragonflies (Sympetrum sp.) are abundant.
  • Butterflies that overwinter as adults include comma, question mark, red-admiral,
    mourning cloak and tortoise.
  • Black field crickets chirp softly.
  • Listen for the soft “purrrrr” of tree crickets…their sad farewell to us.
  • Look for two-marked treehoppers (Enchenopa binotata) and their small, sticky,
    white egg masses dotting twigs (especially on nannyberry shrubs).
  • Box elder bugs overwinter as adults and enter buildings.
  • Non-native Asian ladybugs (Harmonia axyridis) form large aggregations and
    overwinter as adults often in houses. They bite!
  • A few moth species can be seen flying even when temperatures are near freezing.
    I think the moths are called owlet and winter moths.
  • Deer ticks, also called black-legged or bear ticks, are active. Females are the size
    of a sesame seed and are looking for a blood meal. Beware!


  • Wildflower season is mostly over.
  • A few dandelions, violets, and asters bloom.
  • Witch-hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) is the latest Wisconsin native shrub to bloom.
    Look for delicate, yellow, star-like flowers decorating bare branches.


  • Orange pumpkins
  • American bittersweet (Celastrus scandans) has red fruits that hang in clusters near
    the ends of the woody vine. Non-native bittersweet has smaller, yellow-orange
    fruits scattered along the vine.
  • Winterberry, cranberry viburnum, sumac, rose, and ornamental crabapple display
    red or orange fruits.
  • Non-native female buckthorn trees have black fruit.
  • Poison ivy fruits are creamy white.
  • All sizes and shapes of tan, brown and black seeds provide food for seed eaters.
  • Milkweed pods open and release silk-borne seeds.


  • Last of colorful autumn leaves.
  • Earth colored oak leaves remain on some oak trees.
  • Tamarack (larch) needles turn smoky gold.
  • Older needles of pine and arborvitae turn brown and fall.
  • Colorful prairie grasses begin to fade.


  • Several kinds of mushrooms can be found during warm and wet November days.
    Look for shaggy mane, puffball, meadow, oyster, pinwheel and oak-leaf marasmius,
    and boletes.
  • Many of the following bracket fungi can be found year round: artist’s bracket,
    lacquered and birch poly pore, turkey tail, violet tooth, Dryad’s saddle and chicken
    of the woods.
  • Look for earth stars and bird’s nest fungi.
  • Fruiting bodies of slime molds can be quite colorful.

Sylvia Marek is a highly trained and experienced naturalist. She works for the University of Wisconsin Arboretum and is a first rate birder.

Please share the biological events you notice while at Holy Wisdom Monastery below (remember to include what you see, where and when).

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