Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010

Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010
Photo by R.E. Berg-Andersson

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Coming Back to Life

I am still grieving the loss of one of my dear friends, and I still hate this time of year for the shorter days and dying leaves and pods that will soon have to be raked to the curb.

April, 2017 (RE Berg-Andersson)
But there are times I am reminded that with every loss comes rebirth.

My friend is gone but my grandnephew is nearly 15 months old and growing like a weed. The cardinals and their young are still flying around the backyard. The catbirds are leaving my yard but the white-throated sparrows will be here soon for the winter. I have taken in the hummingbird feeder and I will soon be putting out the seed feeders for those passing through or staying around.

I was at the Scherman Hoffman sanctuary, the closest New Jersey Audubon facility to my house, to watch for hawks on its observation deck with Birding Ambassador and author Pete Dunne and a small crowd of people hoping to see a large kettle of broad-winged hawks. The temperature and humidity made it feel more like mid-August than mid-September, which has followed the pattern of this wacky year when we had summer-like weather in spring and fall-like weather in late summer.
Same are, Sept. 16, 2017 (Margo D. Beller)

I left the platform after an hour to hike the hills and valleys. I saw little in the way of birds except for a young female common yellowthroat warbler I pished out of the weeds. Everything else were birds I could've seen or heard in my backyard, including several turkey vultures.

I was trying to walk off my internal agitation, trying to remember why I enjoy birding. I have cut back for a number of reasons, including health concerns. I need a reason to keep going.

Then I walked into a field that had been burned back in the spring to get rid of invasive plants and allow for the seeding and growing of more native plants.

So where there was once scorched, seemingly dead earth were fields of long, seeding grasses I believe are a type of fountain grass and brilliant yellow goldenrod, along the lovely white fall flower with the ugly name of White Snakeroot.

Life after death. The priest at my friend's funeral went on about her happy life now after death and I thought how in my particular religion there is no concept of heaven and hell, just the here and now.

(Margo D. Beller)
So I am going to try to concentrate on the here and now. I am going to stop and enjoy the wildflowers now blooming, including the goldenrod and New England asters you see above. I am going to take walks and listen for what might be passing through. I am going to live in the moment. You can call it selfishness or mindfulness or whatever you want. I just need to get through this down period and hope for better days soon.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Cardinal Rules

I have always thought the period from late August through October to be the saddest time of the year. If you are not already back in school, you will be. The sun sets long before 8 p.m. Leaves are beginning to turn color and/or fall, as is the case with my old apple tree. The regular baseball season ends in early October.

Cardinal pair (Margo D. Beller)
Many birds are migrating south. I haven't seen a hummingbird at the feeder in quite some time. My mother, who was born in late August, died in mid-October. A dear friend, who was born in mid-October, recently died after a long battle against cancer one day after my mother's birthday.

The somber Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur usually fall in September or October. The anniversary of the worst attack in U.S. history occurred on Sept. 11.

By the time November rolls around you are used to the long, cold, dark nights and can look ahead to Thanksgiving and the winter holidays. But now you realize that the cold nights are going to severely hurt or kill your plants and you start to wonder whether to protect them or let them go.

At the same time, there is life.

Cardinal (Margo D. Beller)
Some plants bloom at this time of year. In my yard are flowering Rose of Sharon and liriope, with the sedum "Autumn Joy" not far behind. Mums dot suburban doorways.

There are still birds in the yard. A catbird calls, white-breasted nuthatch and chickadees come to the thistle sock and the cardinals are calling to each other. And there are young cardinals, too, a late brood for these parents.

Cardinals are among my favorite birds. Their size and coloring makes them easy to pick out in bushes and trees. They come to feeders and sit a while to eat, allowing you to admire and photograph them. In spring the red male feeds his mate as part of the pair bonding. It looks like they are kissing. Unlike a lot of other birds, they mate for life. Audubon painted the pair. The adults call to each other constantly, and the male will sit atop a tree and sing lustily during the breeding season, announcing that THIS is HIS territory.

Audubon's portrait of cardinals
(Margo D. Beller)
Cowbirds will drop eggs into cardinal nests. The young cowbird is usually bigger than the cardinal chicks and either grabs all the food or pushes them from the nest. The adults will feed it anyway out of instinct. I have seen a cowbird chick harassing an adult male cardinal, begging for food, following it wherever it goes until the chick grows big enough to leave and rejoin the cowbird flocks.

And yet, the cardinal is far from endangered. Today I watch young cardinals follow their parents around the shrubs in my backyard. They are nearly fully grown. When young, cardinals are smaller and brown like their mothers, lacking the red crest and bill. That is for their protection. As they get older, the brown females get their red bills and crests, the males start to grow the more familiar red feathers.

Relatively soon after they can fend for themselves, the young cardinals will find mates. When winter comes I might have as many as four cardinal pairs visiting the feeder. It will keep them alive this winter until they can breed and keep the cycle going.