Now that fall has really arrived, I feel as though I am suddenly living on a different planet. Or perhaps, I’ve just moved further north. Still, after nearly 6 months of summer, having the weather change so completely so quickly has overnight makes me feel a bit as though I’ve living in a different place, in a vaguely alien landscape.
In most years, the seasonal changes arrive so slowly that I barely notice them. I have to make an effort to notice them. But this year, suddenly and overnight, I am living in a place where I need to wear long sleeves and a jacket. I live in a place where a red-breasted nuthatch comes to the bird feeder. Suddenly, I need to close the windows and heat the cabin. Suddenly, geese fly and their calls can be heard in the dark of a new moon. Six deer trot past the cabin door each morning as they head from their bed to a morning grazing spot. The green of summer is giving way to a yellower, browner shade of leaves. The change out my front door was seismic this week.
On Saturday, it was chilly but pleasant, with little breeze. I sat outside reading my morning newspaper when I heard a familiar call. The call I heard reminds me of those Christmas favors that used to be popular—a little tin horn. It’s the call of a red-breasted nuthatch, which has a hoarser sound than the resident white-breasted nuthatch. It’s been several years since I’ve seen one of these little cuties. They don’t come south every year, and when they do it means they’ve come south because their northern crop of cones is poor. What’s good for southern birdwatchers is a real hardship for these birds. They come south to find food, braving the hazards of migration to search for a new food source. I wonder how many never make it, and I also wonder if the overall population of these birds plummets the year after they are forced to leave their own territories and head south for the winter.
As I sat outside I saw several birds flitting around in the driveway, though the sun’s angle kept me from IDing any of them. I noticed that most of the birds were coming and going from my birdfeeders out back, so I went inside to sit by a window. It didn’t take long before the little red-breasted nuthatch appeared in the feeder. He got food several times, but was often chased away by one of the white-breasted nuthatches. The local white-breasted nuthatch tries to chase off every other bird that comes to the feeders, so this behavior may not be a perceived threat just from a different species of nuthatch. I watched the newcomer for several minutes before it took off. I haven’t yet seen the bird again, so perhaps it is already somewhere else, continuing its flight south.