So far, October has been very kind with temperatures staying between fifty and sixty degrees during the day and in the forties at night. A few crickets and katydids are still singing their courtship songs at night and a few brown bats may be seen searching the evening skies for insects.
There are still some migrant songbirds passing through the Kickapoo Valley, but far fewer than normal this time of year. Sunday morning, a flock of 20 robins were eating their breakfast of sumac berries to give them the energy they’ll need for the long trip south. Last year, the robins passed through here in flocks of 30 to 40 and I saw many flocks each day. That hasn’t happened yet this fall but there are still a couple of weeks left in October, so maybe this will be the week they move through. I have seen more migrating blue birds; one flock of about 25 birds was lined up along a barbed wire fence.
I had just backed the truck out of the driveway onto the road; my headlights were on because it was six o’clock in the morning. I hadn’t gone 20 yards before I noticed a small brown bird sitting on the pavement in the other lane and wondered why he didn’t fly when I passed by. I pulled safely off the road and walked back to the bird, who was still sitting there. I thought he might have been hit by another passing car, so I gently picked him up and placed him in a warm quiet place under my jacket. I parked the truck back in the driveway and went to the house to get a better look at the little bird. I was surprised to see that I had rescued a Swainson thrush, a bird that summers in the far north and is about the size of a bluebird. He was the first of his kind that I’d ever seen in the valley and it was nice to get such a good look at him. The pretty little thrush was now very alert and didn’t seem to have any serious injuries so I took him outside and placed him in a place between the logs of stacked firewood. After about five minutes I saw him finally flutter to the ground and then fly to a nearby lilac bush. I figured that rescuing a thrush was a pretty good way to start my day.
A red-tailed hawk was watching the tall grass below as he perched on a power line. It’s not often I see one of these large hawks balancing on the wire itself—usually they choose the wooden cross at the top of a pole. I’m sure the wire-perch was something it would rather not do, but the hunting looked good and there was no other place to perch. With a little luck the hawk would catch a nice fat vole for breakfast. From now on, the red-tailed hawk will find it a little harder to find a meal. It’s much easier to make a living in the summer when there are lots of food options for the hawks. When the weather is warm, there are frogs and snakes, small rabbits, chipmunks and ground squirrels and the crickets and large grasshoppers that hawks and owls like to eat. When it gets cold, all of these food options disappear and the hawk’s and owl’s diets must adapt to what is available: meadow voles and other small mammals. These prey species are much harder to catch but the birds of prey always seem to adjust to conditions.
It has been a beautiful autumn. The fall color has been a wonderful treat and has lasted longer than I thought it would. Many of the bright orange and yellow maple trees are still holding their beautiful leaves. The grove of poplar trees at the end of the valley shimmers in bright yellow. The breeze seems to bring them to life.
Tuesday afternoon, I noticed that the birds had all quickly flushed from the bird feeder; often this means that there is a hawk in the area. I watched out the window for a while but didn’t see a hawk, and five minutes later the birds were back at the feeder. A half-hour later, the birds all flushed again, and, again, I took a look out the window and there, big as life, was an adult female sharp-shinned hawk. She had chased some of the song birds to the brush pile but they all got away, so she perched on a high branch and watched for any movement. Her patience wore thin; after ten minutes she dashed off through the woods and was gone. The little “sharpie” is a small hawk, and the male is smaller than his mate. He is about the size of a female kestrel. These little hawks are very sharp indeed, built to be quick, fast and agile, all the skills necessary to catch little birds on the wing. It comes equipped with short, powerful wings and a long tail for quick maneuvering in thick cover, long legs and toes with needle sharp talons for snatching prey out of the air. This hawk is one of nature’s most beautiful and intense wonders.
It rained Wednesday and Thursday, a light, warm rain that felt good and smelled even better. I spent much of my time indoors reading and watching the birds in the steady drizzle. A single mourning dove seemed to be enjoying the rain, just another day in paradise for him. The mushrooms always look so fresh and inviting when it’s raining, especially this year’s bumper crop of oyster mushrooms.
I watched six meadowlarks who had gathered in a short grass pasture. They were all busy running around snapping up some kind of small insects. I’m not sure what they were eating but they were working pretty hard at it. When I see them gathering up like that, it usually means they are getting ready to fly south. I saw more meadowlarks this past summer than in the last several years, and it was really nice to watch them more often.
That old woodchuck made an appearance when the rain let up and he headed right for the cracked corn on one of the bird feeders. He’s really put on the weight since the last time I saw him. He looks to be in good shape for a long winter nap, even his eyes look a little sleepy, don’t you think?