Carolina Wren in a Golden Glow

On a sunny, pleasantly warm Sunday afternoon, things around our front yard seemed very quiet, except for the dry leaves and acorns that showered down in even the lightest breeze. After spending several minutes sitting on the front porch, I’d only seen a very few birds. A Northern Mockingbird sat in a small pecan tree in the middle of our cul de sac, and now and then it sang for several minutes, then fell silent again. Its pieces of song sounded more casual than a spring or summer song, much less intense.

An Eastern Towhee came out from below some azalea shrubs to forage in the leaf-mulch, and I watched it for several minutes as it came very close to where I sat. Its plumage looked slightly mottled, especially on the head, so I think maybe it was young, a first-fall male. With a black head, bib and back; warm reddish sides, and white belly, the color pattern was complete, but the black head was subtly striped with brown, and the rest of its coloring was similarly mottled, just a little. I watched as it picked up a water oak acorn and held it in its beak, as if not sure what to do with it, then dropped it and went back to scratching up leaves, looking for something else. It did this three different times, at least, maybe because there were so many acorns on the ground, but it didn’t ever eat an acorn while I was watching – though acorns are said to be common parts of a Towhee’s diet. What it did eat was something that it found in the crack of the sidewalk – whatever that was, it snapped up quite a lot before moving back into the shrubs.

Two Carolina Wrens joined the Towhee in foraging around some Yaupon hollies. A Red-bellied Woodpecker called chuck-chuck high up in trees around the yard, moving from one to another. A Downy Woodpecker also called from somewhere near. A Brown Thrasher joined the Mockingbird in the small pecan tree.

Then the Towhee flew to the rim of the birdbath – only a few feet away from where I was sitting – and without much hesitation, he hopped in and just stood there for a moment, and then flew away. The two Carolina Wrens followed him to the birdbath, and they each got right in and took full, exuberant, splashing baths, one at a time. It must have been the bathing hour – late afternoon – because the wrens were followed by four Tufted Titmice that flew in noisily and took turns bathing, one at a time, while the others chattered in the bushes, making the quiet yard seem as if it had suddenly, briefly come to life.

The afternoon was getting late, and I was just about ready to go inside, when I noticed a Carolina Wren nestled in the glossy green leaves in the very top of a big shrub near the porch, its head turned up toward a slanting ray of sunlight coming through the trees. It sat in a pool of light, its rich brown and cream colors all caught in a golden glow, and it was so very close and lit so well that the details of each feather seemed to shimmer – even in the white around the eyes, the cream-white eyebrow, white throat, and the cinnamon head and back. And the buffy breast, especially, looked as if its feathers were spun of pale reddish-gold.

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