nature waxwing with berry

Last weekend the wind howled, and heavy rain slashed through the air, cold and driven. Leaves tore off trees and scattered like fleeing refugees through the air before landing on the soggy, flooded ground. Roadways and paths were slick with leaves that had lost their way, landing on unyielding surfaces that would never feel grateful for the life they still had left to give to soil and all the tiny creatures and plants within. Flowers that had hastily and hopefully put forth a last bloom or two now hung their heads, broken and beyond repair.

The landscape has changed once again. Flocks of birds fill trees instead of leaves, rustling and calling as they make their departure plans. There is more gray than color in the trees now, although the marshes still glimmer gold in the late afternoon sun. Even they are beginning to take on that straw-colored blanket of winter color, though.

Walking in the woods is still a delight. Beeches and some maples are still colorful, and the antics of squirrels can be very entertaining if you take the time to stop and watch them. They snip the ends of branches with pine cones on them and watch them fall to the ground. They then scamper down the tree, retrieve the cone from the branch and head off either to take apart the cone and eat the seeds then and there, or bury and stash it for a later date. Squirrels apparently have good memories for where they bury things but many of these buried cones, nuts, acorns and seeds remain in the ground, where they begin to grow in the next spring. Thinking of squirrels as Mother Nature’s little garden helpers is more fun than thinking of them as veggie garden raiders.

In my yard the squirrels are finishing off the pumpkin we put out for them. We keep and roast the seeds from our carved jack-o-lanterns, but we had an extra to put outdoors just for them and the jays. It’s been well worth the chuckles it has brought us.

The squirrels gnawed a big hole, spilling the guts and seeds onto the ground. They gathered seeds, but so did a cadre of jays. Most of the seeds are gone now but the jays haven’t quite given up yet, and one of the gray squirrels seems to have developed a taste for the pumpkin flesh, as well.

These colder days and nights have brought back many visitors to my feeders. Nuthatches, four kinds of woodpeckers and the usual gang of small songbirds are all taking turns taking suet and seed. Our summer birds are mostly gone now, but a few may still be seen lurking in thickets here and there. It’s the time of year to watch for lost migrants as they show up pretty regularly around here.

There’s been a nice peregrine falcon hanging out at Sandy Neck. One of the first peregrines I saw on the Cape was taking apart and eating its prey on the back trail there years ago. I turned a corner and there it was. I stared, it stared, I backed away and it kept eating, every now and then throwing me a look that seemed to say, I dare you.

Yellow-rumped warblers are around in good numbers. Look and listen for them in scrubby pine areas, often around beach or pond edges. Kinglets and waxwings can also be heard and seen, usually high up in the trees.

If you’re out looking for birds these days, keep an eye on areas with lots of berries. Winterberries in particular are a favorite food and you can often find waxwings wherever you find the former.

Ah, November. She brings darkness on either side of the day, gray skies and gray trees. She brings cold and damp and reminds us to prepare for even grayer, colder, damper days ahead. She also gives us a few golden days to enjoy here and there, so let’s make the best of them. November reminds us to be grateful and in spite of some ongoing political horrors, there is still much to be grateful for, especially all those who are waking up and stepping up to protect what is good, honest and helpful in our society and our world.

Mary Richmond is an artist, writer, naturalist, and educator who grew up on the Cape and lives in Hyannis. More information at www.capecodartandnature.com.

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