Early Autumn in Northern Virginia

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.

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