As fall begins, many types of plants are still blooming, including many yellow species (sawtooth sunflower, tall coreopsis, several goldenrods). Some don’t begin blooming until well into fall (New England aster, frost aster). Grasses turn color in late summer and fall, to shades of purple or rust before curing to tan. Monarch butterfies rely on the late-blooming plants as they make their journey south in August, September, and October. Monarch migration peaks in September. Summer-blooming plants develop seeds, which are collected by refuge volunteers and staff for spring planting. Fall marks the first frost, and wildlife begin preparing for winter. Bison and elk grow heavier coats and store fat to keep them warm and nourished through the winter. If you are lucky, you may hear the bull elk bugling to attract females. Nesting migratory birds leave the area for warmer climates. Some birds, such as LeConte’s Sparrows, migrate through on their way from their nesting ground to the north to their wintering grounds in the south. Species such as Short-eared Owls, Northern Harriers, Rough-legged Hawks, and American Tree Sparrows that breed to the north of the refuge arrive to spend the winter here. Refuge staff conduct burns in the fall if weather conditions are right. Staff also conduct the annual bison roundup each fall.
"The radio announcers often speak of the fall colors in the hills this time of year, and people drive miles to see them, but I always appreciate the subtle prairie colors too." - Linda Hasselstrom