It’s been cool, so a fire in the wood stove is my best friend again. There was light rain on and off this week, with temps between fifty-five and seventy degrees during the day, dipping into the forties at night. The goldfinch gathered at the tops of the tall sunflowers, the black seeds ripe and ready for the finches. A hundred or more were busy getting their share. The rich sunflower seeds will give them the protein and fat they need to ward off the coming cold. All at once the whole flock rose up and moved to the nearby trees. One finch remained on the sunflowers so I took his picture—he turned out to be a house sparrow. (When I see house sparrows or English sparrows eating sunflower seeds like the finches, I’m reminded that house sparrows are really weaver finches that were imported to North America from North Africa.) Then I saw the reason why the finches flew off. The culprit was a yellow-eyed black cat stalking under the sunflowers. He also liked the sunflowers because it was a good place to find goldfinch.
Wild birds are not the only ones interested in collecting seeds. You might see me with a brown paper bag from time to time collecting seeds to save for planting here next spring, and some for my friends. While collecting seeds this afternoon, I quickly turned my head when a shadow passed by my shoulder. I was so busy scrabbling for seeds that I wouldn’t have noticed the young bald eagle if her shadow hadn’t caught my attention.
The turkey vulture I saw last Saturday morning was perched atop a large round hay bale. A freshly mowed hay field is a good place for many different kinds of birds to search for insects, small mammals, snakes, frogs, toads and anything newly exposed after the tall plants are cut and baled. The list includes several species of sparrows, blackbirds, most any songbird, hawks, owls, cranes, turkeys and soon. The vulture had come to look for casualties, those creatures who were killed during the haying operation. At night the raccoons, opossums and skunks along with a fox or coyote may come to snoop around in the stubby hay field. Everybody is moving around searching for something.
The humming birds were busy hovering around the phlox and Salvia Monday evening. There were three of them and I wondered if they would still be around the next day, with frost in the forecast that night. Before dark I gently spread a sheet of black plastic over the salvia to protect them from the frost. As I walked away I heard the muffled sound of tiny wings against plastic and realized I had covered up a hummingbird. When I gently lifted the black plastic, the tiny hummer buzzed up to a nearby perch and roused his feathers trying to gather himself. As luck would have it, I had the camera, so I snapped a picture of what may well be the last hummingbird of the season. I haven’t seen one here since.
The frost didn’t come Monday night, and Tuesday was a sunny, 68 degree day. I didn’t see the hummingbirds but there were a few butterflies visiting the flower beds, a few fritillaries, a couple of yellow swallow tails and a single monarch. A single white cabbage butterfly quickly flittered through the yard, only the sixth of his kind that I’ve seen in the valley all summer.
I have noticed some fall warblers moving through, but only from their soft chirping in the leafy treetops. There was only one who came close enough for me to take a picture, but I’m not positive what kind he was. The fall plumage of most of the warblers makes them hard to identify one from another.
A couple of white-tailed does strolled out into the meadow prairie Monday evening. They had discovered the dried flower tops of the coneflower and black-eyed Susan. There are lots of tasty treats for deer in the tall grass prairie.
Tuesday morning was 29 degrees according to the old thermometer on the back porch. Sure enough, there was a light white frost on the grass. It was cold enough that I had to scrape the frost off the windshield at 6 a.m., but not cold enough to wilt the morning glories. It was a chilly morning alright, but the sun came out and the day was a comfortable 67 degrees. Tuesday evening I watched a phoebe as he hawked flies from his perch on a nearby dead branch. The grasshoppers seem to be everywhere—they jump out of my way as I walk through the grass. The crickets are singing their best cricket songs from the shadows, and the wings of a hundred dragonflies glitter in the fading sunlight as they zip around the prairie grass. A month from now the valley will be quiet and void of insect sounds. The glitter of dragonfly wings will be only a memory.