September pauses, bows out to October
By Bert Raynes, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
Date: September 26, 2012
Maybe it’s the smoke.
Maybe. Smoke has been persistent in Jackson Hole for many days. That’s not unprecedented. Maybe it’s the reminder of how close flames are to us.
More likely, I just don’t have anything else on my mind. So, here we go with a couple of autumn pieces found in the esteemed little book “Valley So Sweet,” available in fine bookstores almost everywhere. Highly recommended.
Morning of the autumnal equinox. Down by the riverside, two adult bald eagles sit side-by-side on a tree limb they use as a hunting perch. I’m surprised to see adult eagles together in September. They must have escaped their young for the first time in half a year and gone off by themselves ... a romantic rendezvous.
No, I don’t really think that. They just seem relaxed and companionable.
Within my binocular view of the eagles runs the fabled Snake River, a low fog bank, a stretch of yellowing cottonwoods, and, in the foreground, a belted kingfisher perches on the root of a grounded tree snag. Easy on the eye, on the psyche.
At autumnal equinox, daylight hours approximate the daylight available in spring. Many bird species respond with renewed mating and nesting urges. It’s easier to notice this tendency in larger birds. Those eagles? Perhaps. An osprey or hawk may take a branch or two to refurbish the old homestead. Grouse not infrequently strut. A songbird may surprise with a burst of song. And ravens — ah, ravens are pretty much full-time lovers.
Simultaneously, a few territorial defense mechanism hormones fire up: Birds that have sailed across the home base of other species unchallenged for weeks are surprised to be chased away. Bald eagles and osprey spar without a fish involved. Here and there, a red-winged or Brewer’s blackbird will chase a raven briefly.
The correct term to describe this activity is phenological response. Phenology studies relationships between climate and periodic phenomena, as in bird migration and nesting or the flowering of plants. These related phenomena are often ephemeral, but enjoyable to find.
In a few weeks I hope to see and remark upon “late” flowering harebells, lupine, scarlet gilia and other wildflowers. Happens every late fall, and always a pleasure to see.
A special day. Brings to mind the mating urge. Think I’ll gather up Meg and take her out to lunch.
A September morning in a high mountain valley in the Rockies. Twenty-six degrees, no wind, quiet. Quiet. No raven call, no chickadee notes. Even the river seems to run smoothly, oleaginously. The water reflects the gold and yellows, the very occasional reds of narrowleaf cottonwoods and their associated understory shrubs of the riparian zone.
Silently, one by one, a leaf here, a leaf there, gives up and twirls to Earth. So many leaves that in an hour’s time there is no detectable change in the scene, but if a particular tree or shrub is studied even for a quarter hour, its branches and trunk begin to emerge as distinct shapes.
I walk to a group of trees and allow myself to be suffused in color. Autumn color in every direction, beneath my feet, above my head. I am acutely aware that this particular color wheel is transitory; leaves are constantly in the air, obeying gravity’s summons.
A hint that winter is not far behind.
Field notes: Leaf color approaches its peak in the region. Leaf color also approaches its time to mature and yield to gravity and/or autumn storms. Vistas are semi-obscured; focus on some leaves in the near foreground.
Birds of a feather are flocking together. Nancy Kobylski had a juvenile female Lewis woodpecker in Jackson on Sept. 12. Look for groups of robins, bluebirds, chickadees, blackbirds, warblers cruising the woods, searching for fruits and berries.
Caution: Some larger animals may be doing the same thing. Moreover, some large animals will cross highways at any time of day.
© Bert Raynes 2012
Bert Raynes writes weekly on whatever suits his fancy with a dash of news on nature and its many ways.