Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Autumn Sounds Different

Autumn sounds different on our rocky hilltop.  As the temperatures drop and days grow shorter, life is considerably altered from what it was just six weeks ago.  We have new guests at the bird feeder while other frequent diners have migrated South.  It’s quieter with fewer bird songs and insect orchestral contributions.  Autumn has introduced more than frosty mornings and golden leaves to our countryside.
Long before summer songs ceased, I watched feathered summer friends gearing up for long migrations.  Some are true global citizens that fly to Central and South America for the winter while others shoot for warmer climates in southern Texas and New Mexico. 

Recently, robins rendezvoused in the backyard and under the cedars to feast in preparation for their journeys. They scoured the lawn like miniature vacuums seeking slow moving and inattentive insects.  Bass booming nighthawks, by the hundreds, swarmed an alfalfa patch below the house for at least a week, devouring bugs in order to fuel their journeys.  Abrasive, screeching blue jays stormed our feeder in groups of 15, driving off smaller birds and even saucy squirrels who don’t give up their sunflower seeds without a fight. For a while, it was noisier than usual with all these gatherings until one morning when I awakened to a changed tune in the yard.  Where there had been cacophony, silence controlled. Repetitive mockingbirds and shirring wrens had vanished along with robins and jays.

The same thing happened outside my classroom in town. Swallows darted in frantic activity as they tried to fatten late-fledging young for fall travels.  For a few busy days, it seemed like Denver International Airport outside my window with all the comings and goings.  I glanced to see what was going on, and I noted the fully-feathered young perched at the edge of their daubed home, flapping strengthening wings.  The next day, peace ruled. When I stole a peek, the nest was empty. 

Also in Ellis, the 70 or so turkey vultures that roost throughout the summer on the water tower or atop local grain elevators left stained perches behind.   These birds that rode thermals like they were amusement park rides had taken more direct routes out of town.  Only  rare die-hards show up to feast on road-kill opossums and skunks. 

            During an October excursion to the Quivira National Wildlife refuge, I spied Swainson’s hawks and turkey vultures kettling in groups of 60 or more as they prepared for their exodus.  On the same afternoon, I saw thousands of migrating pelicans creating a moving blanket that reflected sunlight off their white feathers. The sounds from the sky that day reminded me of being at Disneyland and listening to visitors from every continent talking all at once. 

            These days, nuthatches, woodpeckers, and juncos challenge obese squirrels for a spot at the feeder.  Every now and then a chickadee lands to snack.    Despite my new visitors, days are quieter.  I like to think of my summer songsters brightening some Minnesota snowbird’s morning as he sits on his Port Aransas patio sipping coffee while he listens to some of my favorite musicians.

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