From Our Backyard, A Monthly Column Written by Charles

Cedar Waxwings

From Our Backyard

      We’re rewarded with another Goldilocks day. Not too hot, not too cold. Leaves cascade from up high, spiraling earthward. Their parting exposes bits of blue sky in the rusting canopy and broken patches of sunlight at my feet. Vultures sail across the deep blue on banking on invisible thermals. Their black silhouettes move over the lawn, creating passing spectres of their airborne selves. These are the days of creeping darkness and long shadows. We lose a bit of daylight but expand the reaches of sun into summer refuges of shade. Every moment is precious and fleeting. In the fall, there’s no time for napping, whether the sun is shining or even if it’s stormy. Get outside before the bears of winter come home.
Throughout the year, customer comments tend to follow two experiences: they tend to grumble about having too many birds at their feeders, or are overly concerned when there’s too few. Lately we’ve been hearing more of the latter. Fall is when the birds disappear Mother Nature’s pantry is overladen with natural foods, ready for eating now, or caching for later. Birds are dining instinctively and don’t need your feeders as much. There’s nothing wrong with your feeders or the bird food. A walk in the woods reveals why there’s been a lack of Blue Jays, Woodpeckers, and Squirrels at our feeders. Hickory Nuts, Acorns, and Black Walnuts are scattered on the ground, as if the forest animals quickly abandoned a game of marbles or croquet. I can hear the Jays squawking high above me, and observe the Squirrels scampering away jaws packed with nuts. The uncut fields and bramble patches bear food for birds and critters alike. Finches and Sparrows can be spotted pecking on the dead heads of old summer flowers. Similar to the transformation of the season, the Goldfinches will be going through changes too. They’ll lose their summer finery and molt into a drab winter coat. Bluebirds rarely visit feeders in the fall but can be observed hunting for insects afield. They perch on a fence or branch, cock their head, then Keep in mind birds like Goldfinches and Bluebirds don’t migrate for winter, they are finding food elsewhere. Both birds return to our feeders late in the year. The last of the Cardinal fledglings have molted out of their patchwork appearance into the vibrant red of an adult bird. Woodpeckers, Titmice, and Nuthatches visit the feeders infrequently. They grab a peanut and retreat to the woodlot behind us. Wrens be-bop in for some bark butter or dry mealworms. I can hear the incessant chatter of the Pileated Woodpeckers but rarely see them. Though at times our feeders seem ghostly, I am comforted with the knowledge that the birds are finding natural foods. And that’s fine by me.
Autumn is for rambling and saying goodbye as the last vestiges of summer fade, depart and vanish. Goldfinches molt, Hummingbirds leave, and Bluebirds rarely are seen. We saw our last Hummingbird a few weeks back but I’ll keep the feeders filled until the end of October for any stragglers heading south. It’s funny how the tiniest but hardiest of birds makes the biggest impact on our lives. Vees of Geese head south and murmuration of blackbirds swirl overhead to somewhere. Four Crows have taken up residence in our yard. They grumble, croak, and caw when they come in to roost. During the day, they find delectable grubs on the lawn and rotten codlings in the crabapple tree. A garter snake basks on the stone wall, a brief bit of warmth before hibernation sets in. I spent the morning cleaning out and repairing birdhouses. The empty boxes will provide roosting places for Downy Woodpeckers and Bluebirds. The firewood is stacked, the gutters are clear, and there’s a tower of books by the bedside. I’m ready for long nights too.
The Earth’s tilt creates long shadows in the yard and in my thoughts. I think about shadows we see and the ones we leave behind. When I was small my sisters and I would play a game under the city streetlights. We’d race around trying to step on each other’s shadow. The longer one’s shadow the easier it was to jump on it. These days my shadow has taken on a markedly funhouse like appearance. You see, our granddaughter, Paisley, lives over the hill and through the woods from our house. She’s a year old and weighs about 17 pounds. I find it easier to walk over to get her than drive around the block. I hoist Paisley up on my shoulders and we amble the trail between the two houses. Along the way I stoop to pick up crisp fallen leaves, discarded feathers or pause to watch the leaping fawns. Her cheery babble and airy mirth lessens the baby burden on this old back. A long time from now, my gray doppelganger will no longer grace this woodland path and Paisley will walk without me. For now this little girl brightens the way and makes my world just right.

Autumn 2023

Happy Birding, Charles Shattuck