For the Birds Radio Program: Beautiful Fall
This autumn has been among the most beautiful I’ve ever experienced—we’ve had enough rain this summer in most places I’ve been to that the trees were in top form, their colors beyond perfection. And the beautiful skies on a great many days have added to the intensity of color. I drove down to Rhinelander from Duluth in late September, and that drive was intensely beautiful, with the many maples in northeastern Wisconsin sending the color palette into the red and orange zone. Since then, I’ve spent most of my days in Port Wing, Wisconsin. There the dominating aspens change the main color scheme to golden yellow, but the occasional maples and oaks add depth to the autumnal spectrum. The leaves have been falling in a serious way with this week’s winds, but we still have lovely fall days ahead. Migration has been beautiful, too. Hawk Ridge didn’t break records for total numbers of September hawks, and no single days broke into five figures, but there were a great many September days with beautiful skies streaming with hundreds or thousands of hawks. The banders caught what may be a record-breaking number of Broad-winged Hawks, giving visitors unique opportunities to see these splendid, tiny buteos up close and personal. I was up there when they caught one and brought it to the main overlook. I adopted it, donating $50 to the Hawk Ridge education program for the honor and privilege of holding and releasing this lovely bird back into the wild—now if it’s ever found again, I’ll get word from Hawk Ridge. The Hawk Ridge staff is better than ever, the naturalists and count interpreters’ abundant enthusiasm exceeded only by their expertise. Away from the Ridge, there have been exciting birds at Park Point and Wisconsin Point, including jaegers and Sabine’s Gulls. And wonderful sparrows have been visiting feeders for the past few weeks. We can always count on White-throated Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncoes, along with a smattering of other species. This year I’ve been amazed at the number of Harris’s Sparrows. I’ve been seeing one or two at my mother-in-law’s every day for a couple of weeks now, and had as many as six in my own yard this past weekend, along with fully a dozen White-crowned Sparrows and several Fox Sparrows. A Great Horned Owl was hooting in my neighborhood several nights back in August and early September. Male great horns often hoot this time of year, while establishing their territory, and this one’s soft, deep hooting confirms his masculinity—females have a slightly higher-pitched hoot. Most Great Horned Owls calling in autumn are young birds looking for starter homes, so to speak. My neighborhood has plenty of rabbits—enough to support an owl for at least a while. It’s tricky to see an owl as it hoots. A few times our owl perched right out in the open on my neighbor’s radio antenna, but it was too dark for decent photos. I keep listening for the neighborhood crows to reveal his whereabouts in daylight, so I can revel in his autumnal colors and get some pictures. He may well have moved on, but one of the joys of birding is waking up every morning knowing that there’s even a possibility that a splendid bird may be in my neighborhood. Peabody Street seems more magical and more richly autumnal just knowing that a Great Horned Owl has been spending time here.