A Quiet Mid-October

The past week in Summit Grove has been notable mainly for the welcome change to cooler weather, and for the relative quiet in the woods and around the yard. The weather began to change with a good hard shower late Tuesday afternoon, and softer rain continued overnight. Not enough to do much for reservoirs or streams, but enough to give some relief to our trees and other vegetation here, at least temporarily.

Nights since then have been wonderfully cool – in the low 50s and 40s – and days have been pleasantly warm, with spectacularly beautiful deep blue skies and sparkling sunshine, but fewer migrating birds, and it often seems eerily quiet outside. Tuesday morning, one Magnolia Warbler hunted for a while through the tired green leaves of the oaks and pecans out front, flashing the white bands in its tail and a bright yellow breast and throat with black-streaked sides, and still showing a trace of its “necklace” of black marks across the upper breast. The same afternoon, I heard the tooting calls of a Red-breasted Nuthatch again, up high in the pines, but still haven’t seen one.

Early this afternoon a solitary Black and White Warbler stayed for several minutes in the branches of a White Oak out back, methodically creeping, sort of turning this way and that as it worked its way along, frequently turning upside down to inspect the lower side of a branch or the leaves there – and showing a nice view of its pretty, dark-spotted undertail coverts.

The usual Carolina Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, and Downy Woodpeckers frequent the feeders and bird baths off and on all day, with occasional visits from Brown-headed Nuthatches, Eastern Bluebirds and a Red-bellied Woodpecker. But we’ve seen no Rose-breasted Grosbeaks at the feeders this fall. I’ve also seen not a single migrating thrush, which is unusual. In previous falls, we’ve almost always had at least a few Swainson’s, Gray-cheeked and Wood Thrushes, often in the dogwoods eating red berries. But this year, none, and I miss seeing them here – although I know from seeing other birding reports that many thrushes, including Veerys, have been seen in this area. So maybe I just haven’t been out at the right times.

Pine Warblers and Carolina Wrens are singing in the woods, and their songs seem especially lovely right now, in the prevailing quiet. Mockingbirds fly around the yard, flashing their white wing patches, and occasionally breaking into short bursts of song. Phoebes hunt from low branches all around the house and regularly check out the eaves and window ledges for spiders. Brown Thrashers scuttle around in the dead leaves under bushes, and venture out to feed along the edge of the grass. And this morning, an Eastern Towhee looked as if he was bathing in dew, fluttering around in the thickest part of the leaves in a crape myrtle.

On walks through the neighborhood, I usually hear the song of a House Finch and the loud Kleer! of three or four Northern Flickers. A Belted Kingfisher rattles near the small pond along Summit Drive. A Red-tailed Hawk can usually be seen around the Old Field, sitting on a utility pole or, as I approach, leaning forward on the pole, stretching out its neck, spreading its wings and dropping off into a glide, and gradually circling higher, dusty red tail fanned, up over the treetops and the highway. Higher up Black Vultures and Turkey Vultures soar in a big, deep, blue autumn sky.

Most days I hear the cries of a Red-shouldered Hawk from the woods around the creek. The Hairy Woodpeckers that for a while came every day to the dead pines at the edge of the woods have been conspicuously absent lately, but we’ve often heard the bugling call of a Pileated Woodpecker, and over the weekend watched as one worked for several minutes on a jumble of fallen limbs on the floor of the woods, its blood-red crest glowing in fingers of sunlight.

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