On my walk at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, I happened upon these shells neatly arranged on a split log. Somebody went through the trouble of finding the shells and then arranging them in the log. All the work so I can happen upon the shells and have something to take a picture of. Amazing. Thank you, unknown artist!
And before I forget. One more picture of an autumn leaf.
Green ones too.
I must admit that the russet, orange, yellow and green umbrella of leaves didn’t leave much room for finding birds and taking pictures of them on my walk at Huntley Meadows. I must also admit that it doesn’t take that long to walk a three mile trail, unless you’re walking back and forth looking for birds (and not finding them). As I entered the trail at Huntley Meadows, there were some forlorn photographers, with their long lenses and tripods leaving the park. I didn’t want to ask how the birding was, but after ten minutes of walking, I could not resist to ask someone how their morning had gone. Not a lot of interesting things, or something like that, was the verbal answer. It was a confirmation of a supposition answered in the faces of many a photographer walking the trails at the park. Not very promising, but at least there were leaves.
And a good thing that red, orange, yellow and green were in copious quantity. Did it make up for a lack of birds? No. The lesser number of birds in the park, combined with the masking quality of the colors in the trees, combined with my inadequate skills at bird spotting really limited the number of opportunities for spotting a bird. On a beautiful autumn day, the birds may have been there, but so where the leaves. Still, it would have been nice to find more of our avian friends. A lot more practice at bird spotting lies ahead. A great way to enjoy the wonderful beauty that nature provides.
It’s almost November and the leaves are finally getting some color in Northern Virginia. It’s been a relatively dry summer and early fall. As a consequence, the leaves aren’t really colorful – dull red, dull yellow, dull orange, dull brown. Still, you will find the occasional brightly colored leaf or two.
Fall is a beautiful time of year here in Northern Virginia. The weather is relatively mild. A warm spell can appear like a punctuation mark, like a comma in the middle of a sentence. On such a day in late October, the sun was shining and Huntley Meadows beckoned.
The birds are no longer plentiful, though they are certainly still flying around at Huntley. The mallards have returned, but the swallows, egrets, most of the warblers and most of the herons have migrated southward. Just when the thinning leaf cover makes looking for birds easier they migrate away. The leaf covered trails, a clean boardwalk (the geese are in much decreased numbers), the cool but comfortable weather, the canopy of colors make for an irresistible invitation to spend a few hours outdoors
Segments of a decaying leaf.
A warm autumn day. A walk at Green Spring Gardens. Leaves, different in shape, color, state of decay. Still clinging, soon to fall. Why not take a look. Sometimes, very closely.
The most colorful time of the year is also the time of great changes. Birds migrate to warmer climes. Bears are busy foraging in preparation for their winter sleep. The squirrels store their treasures and in the process dig up the yards and gardens of the suburban (and urban) dweller. The leaves, once green and infused with chlorophyll, gain their yellow, red, orange, and brownish coloration. The trees too, will slumber. Soon, gravity will pull the dying leaves from their branches, leaving trees threadbare, wintering in place, waiting for the warm spring sun to begin the cycle anew. As the leaves fall to the ground, they will perform one last function in the cycle of life. Decay leaves to breakdown; what was of the earth becomes earthen once more. And from the earth, life will begin anew, rising in triumph, death vanquished.
With birds continuing to migrate southward in search of warmer climes, the number of birds in local birding hotspots have increased dramatically from their summer lulls. The larger birds, such as the osprey, egrets and herons, many of whom made the mid Atlantic their home in the warmth of summer, have left or will soon be leaving. Gone are the ospreys, the green herons, the little blue herons. There are egrets and Great Blue herons milling about, but they too are diminishing in numbers. The hummingbirds have fueled up for their trip south as well. In a few days, these fleet flyers will be but a summer memory.
The warblers are back, at least for a few weeks. The fall foliage makes finding these birds even more difficult for novice (or inexperienced) birders such as myself. You will hear the rustling of leaves, a chirp or some other sound that betrays their presence, but even with such clues, fall colors meld with the faded colors of these birds. Still, the challenge and enjoyment of finding these birds are undiminished. The number of birding groups in the local nature preserves increase dramatically in the spring and fall migration season. There is something calming about birds – a perfect tonic to the busy life we live in urban and suburban America.
I visited Huntley Meadows three times in the last four days. The last vestiges of summer, in the form of an upsurge of warmer temperatures, have drawn out a bevy of revelers in the outdoor venues. Children with their parents, their classmates on field trips – the happy noise brings a different life to the naturally quiet places that are in diminishing numbers in an urbanized America. To hear a child exclaim their surprise in seeing a frog, a bird, a flower, a fallen leaf is to understand that within us all, it is this sense of wonder that must survive and thrive if we are to remain vibrant in mind and spirit.
Winter will soon be here. The kingfishers will remain, as long as the waters do not freeze over. The bald eagles roam the riverside. The shovelers, the mallards, mergansers will be sharing the preserves with those of us walking the boardwalks in the frozen winds that will soon come. Autumn leaves are falling. In the changing season, the endurance of life is in full display.