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Hanging On to Fall

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Fall warblers—all but gone. A few yellow-rumps, maybe a late palm... I miss them already. Well, we did pull black-throated green, palm, yellow-rumped and Tennessee out of our hats at the Big Sit, but you have to be looking hard and close to see even that much now.

One of my favorite fall warblers is the chestnut-sided. Oh, what a gorgeous lime-green on its back, such a clean gray on its underparts, a surprised little white eye ring and yellow wing bars to top it all off. For those who know the chestnut-side, its posture is distinctive—it often cocks its tail like a wren, drooping its wings and hopping springily along branches as it gleans the undersides of leaves. This one cocked its tail as it inspected the Bird Spa, and I knew, from its clean green coat and cocked tail, what it was without picking up the binoculars. This is a pose I believe I'll use in a painting someday. Warbler poses don't get much better than this. It’s such a revelation when you realize that each warbler has a distinctive shape and style of movement, little things it does that help you identify it. It's what British and some American birders refer to as GISS (general impression of size and shape; a military term referring to airplane ID)--such an ugly word! or even worse, jizz. Blaaaa. I refuse to use either, but I will make fun of it.

Magnolia warblers are active little things, often falling off branches in pursuit of insects. In fluttering, you’ll see their largely white tails, which look like they’ve been dipped in black ink. This fall magnolia is clambering about in the gigantic leaves of our red mulberry tree. Does ya think I yam a Schmoo? I don’t know why our red mulberries (we’ve got three) are putting out new leaves in September and October, but they are. They are still putting out new leaves as I write, on October 16. You’d think it foolish to put new leaves out just before frost, but the tree seems to have a plan to grow as much as possible before it has to stop. Kind of like getting a facelift at 97...Sometimes I wonder if it’s trying to get some branches up out of the reach of the deer, which browse it back hard all winter.

This is the last phoebe of fall, sitting on the porch railing, looking for flies against the siding. Luther? Is that you, bathed in blue skylight in the morning?
Yes, the warblers and phoebes are gone, but we’ll have smooth smoky blue and mauve bluebirds all fall and winter, and they gladden my heart.
Hey, lady. Ya got any suet dough in there?


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