Archive for September, 2005

A Relative Quiet

Monday, September 26th, 2005

September 26, 2005

To describe the woods, fields and yards of our neighborhood during the past week is to speak more of what’s not there than of what is. The Fall season has crept in quietly here – though quiet in a relative sense. Carolina Wrens still sing and chatter and fuss and burble, and it’s at this time of year that I always notice most their amazing vocal variety. Carolina Chickadees and Tufted Titmice still move through the trees in small gossiping bands. The “pik-a-tuk” of a Summer Tanager, the throaty song of a Yellow-throated Vireo, and the “whreeep!” of a Great-crested Flycatcher can still be heard from time to time, though not nearly as often as a few weeks ago, and there’s at least one Eastern Wood Peewee lingering in the trees down the street from us, singing broken pieces of its summery song from time to time.

The most noticeable singers this past week have been Phoebes, which begin their wheezy, brisk songs at first light and continue most of the day. This morning I heard three singing at the same time, just along one stretch of road, and came to another and another and another as I walked through the neighborhood. Wind rustles through the trees. Dry leaves and pine needles shower down in a soft clatter. Acorns plop or thunk. The shrill, thin noise of insect legs and wings and hearts is constant in the background, a few remaining Chimney Swifts twitter in small groups overhead, Bluebirds murmur from perches in the tops of trees, and noisy gangs of Blue Jays and Crows roam from yard to yard.

Nevertheless, it feels quiet, and is, compared to the musical fullness of Summer. In the Old Field, now dry and withered from a long time without rain, but flooded with the dusty yellow and dull green of Goldenrod and Ragweed, the bold, colorful songs of Indigo Bunting, Blue Grosbeak and Yellow-breasted Chat are gone. Even the sharp “plink” of the female Blue Grosbeak, which stayed until very recently, seems to be gone now – though in its place, I’ve heard the mew of a Catbird, the percussive song of a White-eyed Vireo, and the harsh calls of Brown Thrashers and Mockingbirds. The demanding scream of the juvenile Red-tailed hawk that used to sit for long hours on a utility pole over the Old Field is rarely heard now, though on the other hand, two Red-shouldered Hawks have been soaring very high in deep marbled blue and white September skies and calling frequently.

In the woods, the Acadian Flycatcher’s dry “tse-wheet!”, the Yellow-billed Cuckoo’s exotic “Cawp-cawp-caalwp,” the Mississippi Kite’s high, descending “pe-teeeew,” the repeated refrain of the Red-eyed Vireo, and the “chip-burrr” of a Scarlet Tanager’s call remain only as memories. And I guess that’s what seems most alive in this relatively quiet time – while I watch and wait for unusual warblers and other migrants that might pass through, and for the first arrivals of our Winter residents – there are good, sun-ripened memories of the Summer past.

Little Wood Satyrs and the Last Days of Summer

Friday, September 16th, 2005

While birds have been quiet and elusive this week in Summit Grove, butterflies seem to be everywhere. Tiger Swallowtail, Black Swallowtail and Red-spotted Purple butterflies float in and out of treetops, shrubs and over grassy yards. I’ve found Fiery Skipper, Silver-spotted Skipper, Southern Hairstreak, Gray Hairstreak, Buckeye, Painted Lady, Gulf Fritillary and Hackberry in our lantana and butterfly bushes. Clouded Sulphur and Sleepy Orange seem to like the Old Field and roadside wildflowers and weeds. And I saw one bright, sleek Viceroy butterfly on the sunny edge of a lawn.

But my favorites this week were dozens of Little Wood Satyr butterflies that fluttered every morning on the edge of the woods in some tall roadside grass going to seed, in an area where the early morning sunlight was just beginning to reach. A pale sandy-gray color, with pretty but subtle markings, Little Wood Satyrs are very common and might easily escape attention, but with so many of them fluttering among the grasses, they make this particular spot look enchanted, like a still picture that has come to life. At any one time, while most are still flying, several have paused and cling to the stems or seed-heads of the grasses, looking like paper-thin, wing-shaped blooms. A close-up look reveals two large, dark “eyespots” on each wing, and several smaller eyespots, and delicate, rippling patterns of lines across the wings that look like the tracks of water over sand.

Morning glories in several shades of pink, purple, blue and white bloom in the ditch along the edge of the Old Field, tumbling over a messy tangle of kudzu, honeysuckle, and foxtails. Smaller dark red-orange morning glory vines wind in and around privet, pokeweed, ragweed, and goldenrod. Persimmon trees are loaded with fruit. Several Mockingbirds sit on the wires over the Old Field, mostly silent, but at least two White-eyed Vireos have been singing now and then from the densest thickets. A family of six House Finches has been fun to watch, hunting just about every morning along the roadside, sometimes sitting on the wires, and chirping to each other constantly. Our resident male Blue Grosbeak, which sang all summer, is among the few birds still singing every morning – or was until about the middle of this week. He seems only to sing fairly early, from one or two favorite perches, and his plumage, seen in the right light, is still a deep, rich blue, with copper wing bars. A female Blue Grosbeak is often around, too, sitting on the branch of a bush and calling “tink!” Her color is an appealing rosy-tan, and I particularly enjoy watching her because her posture and movements show a fascinating range of personality and moods, all distinctively feminine – or at least they look that way to me.

The most colorful bird sighting this week was a Red-headed Woodpecker that flew over one morning as I was walking. The flash of its white breast caught my eye, and when I looked with binoculars, its blood-red head, white breast and ink-black back and wings stood out sharply against a deep blue sky.

There’s also been a Yellow-throated Vireo singing in the Big Oak at the corner of our cul de sac; an Eastern Wood Peewee singing now and then; two Black and White Warblers that visited the White Oaks by our back deck, quietly but busily creeping over branch by branch; two Red-shouldered Hawks soaring and calling most mornings; a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk that sits atop a utility pole along the edge of the Old Field, though not as often or for as long at a time as it did earlier in the summer; and a Cooper’s Hawk that I’ve seen twice as it flew overhead, low enough for me to see the fine reddish bars on its breast and the white band on the end of its tail.

A long stretch of very dry, warm, sunny weather has helped to turn the leaves of many trees in the neighborhood a crusty brown or yellow already, giving the landscape a somewhat prematurely faded and withered look. The leaves of river birches already lie around them in pools, and the small brown leaves of water oaks shower down in the late Summer wind, clattering across sidewalks, and beginning to pile up.