Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Evening Sparrows...

New England Aster

"The motion of autumn is a fall, a surrender, requiring no effort, and therefore the mind cannot long be blind to the cycle of things as in the spring it can when the effort and delight of ascension veils the goal and the decline beyond. A few frosts now, a storm of wind and rain, a few brooding mists, and the woods that lately hung dark and massive and strong upon the steep hills and transfigured and have become cloudily light and full of change and ghostly fair."

- Edward Thomas (1878 - 1917)

White-crowned Sparrow (1st year)

Several patches of New England Aster accent the changing fields of Pheasant Branch. Brilliantly colored dogwood branches shoot up like fire below willows where the sparrows lurk. Observing sparrows past sunset reveals an intriguing secret. Though largely unseen, they forage on the ground, bathe in the springs, preen, chase, watch and wait. But until the sun dips below the horizon, you might have missed just how many more reside than your eyes have tallied. An occasional sparrow cautiously approaches the edge and offers a glimpse, but is it the only Lincoln’s Sparrow in the patch?

Lincoln's Sparrow

Shadows begin to melt along the habitat’s edge and binoculars are rendered ineffective, but ears can pick this extraordinary event - the birds begin to chatter. I wonder what is all the commotion about? It’s as if the sparrows are egging each other on, “Do we go tonight, or do we roost again?” Adult White-throated Sparrows perch higher and chirp more loudly, riling all the others along the edge. The chatter crescendos, revealing an occupation not of a handful of sparrows, but many dozens...even hundreds. You can’t help but smile at the volume of chirps and broken "Sam Peabody" songs. Even White-crowned Sparrows take part in the discussion.

White-throated Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Listening in, the lively chorus is punctuated by the buzzy calls of Lincoln’s and Swamp Sparrows, but the Song Sparrows give it everything they’ve got. A waxing gibbous moon might serve as a signal of resolution, but easterly winds seem to settle the debate...tonight they’ll roost. And then as quickly as it began, the chatter begins to subside, eventually leaving crickets and a few Sandhill Cranes over in the marsh to close the day. I walk back to my car knowing that the birds will still be there in the morning.

All images © 2006 Mike McDowell

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