Shifting from Summer to fall - Kate Crowley

By Kate Crowley
The curtain is slowly closing on the summer pageant.  I know the next show will bring its own entertainment, but it won’t match the extravagance of the past season. Even as the curtain closes, we know that the performers will not hear our pleas for an encore.  They have pressing and more desirable destinations ahead and we will just have to be patient and wait for their return half a year from now. 
So in the middle of September what is happening in the bird world?  Right now I am listening to a sound that for years I equated with this time of year.  It is the sound of the American goldfinch; a repetitive two tone squeak that after a while begins to get a bit annoying.  I should have known it is the begging call of young birds, but only after seeing a parent feed the wing fluttering, completely capable youngster did I make the connection.  Human parents can well identify with these sounds and behavior. 
It must have been a fantastic summer for the goldfinch in our neighborhood because we have been seeing 10-12 birds at a time at our sunflower and thistle feeders.  The young are the same drab olive green color as their mothers, while the males still wear their bold, bright yellow feathers. Some year I have to try to find a goldfinch nest; there must be several on our property.  They are small, cup like nests, made of pliant vegetative material, and lined with silky down – often from thistles. The edge of the nest is often rimmed with caterpillar or spider silk.  It is generally placed in the fork of a branch, four to 20 feet above ground. Once the leaves come down I should be able to locate some old nests and know better where to look in the future.
The tropical warblers are on the move and they generally come through in ‘waves’ – mixed flocks of numerous birds.  We had one such cluster last week on a mild, cloudy day.  I first noticed lots of activity in maple tree next to our deck. The birds darted about, the first clue that they were warblers. In the springtime when they come north, they are in full colorful breeding plumage, and there are small leaves covering the trees, so their typical, non-stop movement from branch to branch, and leaf to leaf is slightly easier to follow.
However, on their reverse journey, the trees are still fully leafed out and the birds have molted into much less dramatic winter plumage.  They have not changed their feeding behavior though, so trying to get your binoculars on one before it has moved to the next branch is a frustrating task.  Add an overcast sky, with the light behind the birds and it’s almost impossible to identify which species they are. Nontheless, it was a treat to watch the action which moved from the maple to the birch and aspen trees.  We sat at the patio table and just marveled at their numbers.  We were able to pick out a few, like the black and white, the palm, and a Nashville.  These waves are random events, so we feel fortunate to have caught even one.
We are down to just one or two hummingbirds and they may be transients.  They don’t come to the feeders and slurp the liquid as the ones did in August.  These birds are more wary and will only stop for a moment to take a sip.  We have let the sugar water go down and soon will bring all the feeders inside.  We already miss the aerial entertainment they provided us, but if all goes well for them on their migration we know they will be back next summer. 
And then there are the hawks.   Once again the river or raptors is flowing through the sky, following the high ridge and shoreline of Lake Superior.  On each of my bike rides this past week, along the sandy road that leads east of our house, I had one or two hawks fly up ahead of me.  Each time the light was not favorable and I had no binoculars, but by the size and shape, I guessed they were Red-tailed hawks. 
The raptor migration will go on for another two months, with different species coming at different times, so be on the lookout.  The turkey vultures are moving south too; most easily seen as you drive down I35.  They look as large as eagles, but watch for the telltale V shape of their extended wings.  They tilt back and forth on these as they soar on the currents of air.    

It’s never easy saying good-bye to something that gives us so much pleasure, but I remind myself that this is an important part of our theater of seasons and because it is a limited engagement, we appreciate it all the more, each and every year. 


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