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January 2018, vol 13 no 4

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Michael Hill

Birds of October

8:30 a.m. Conference period is over. I grab all my stuff – laptop, glasses, gradebook, fleece, water bottle, binoculars – and head to the workroom. A quiz to edit, tests to finish grading.

9:00 It’s too beautiful out. One of the first real days of autumn. I print and copy the quiz, leave my stack of work on the table. To the trails – bow tie, khakis, work shoes, and all – my binoculars thrown over my shoulder.

Past the garden. I need to harvest and weed my sweet potato patch. There are a few tomatoes hanging on – will they ripen before the first frost?

The Carolina wrens are out in force. A few Carolina chickadees near the weedy forest edge. Blue jays, a mocker or two, towhees. These birds are settling in for winter. Seth says that October 15 is roughly the cutoff date for seeing the more exotic warblers and other migrators; they are journeying back South for warmer environs, to Costa Rica, Venezuela, the Amazon.

There is not a single cloud in the sky.

Past “Frank’s bees,” which have not been there for five years or more. The night’s dew sticks to my brown lace-ups. More towhees in the bramble. A yellow-rumped warbler! Two! I gaze through my binoculars for some time at one of them. No yellow rump here, though, the vibrant colors of spring and early summer a fading memory.

A right turn at the short-leaf pine. I continue on, aiming for Nature Trail III. A cardinal pair in a thicket.

I shuffle through pine duff near the stream, which is not much more than a trickle this time of year. I walk the newly-mowed trail through the open forest. The sun has not yet made it here, and my fingers tingle. A bit farther, and I’m back in the warming sun. Titmice forage about. More blue jays. I hear squawks and look up.

crisp autumn morning . . .
red-bellied woodpecker
hiding acorns

A yellow-bellied sapsucker is only a few feet away, watching as the woodpecker goes around and around a snag and tucks the acorn into a break in the bark.

and a goldfinch
just a touch of neck yellow
gathering coneflower seeds

Time to return to work. Convo in ten minutes. Two more yellow-rumped warblers below the soccer field.

I gaze at Mt. Pisgah as I hurry past, giving a knowing nod to the ancient mountain.