Tag Archives: changing seasons

Fall is for the birds

bird migration, Jacksonville FL

American White Pelicans wintering near Jacksonville, FL.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Fall is for the birds.

Now, I love autumn, and birding is one of my favorite hobbies. It’s just that bird seasons don’t quite match up with those designed by us humans.

When the calendar flips to August, fall bird migration season has officially begun. It ends come December.

Migration, of course, isn’t confined to only those months. Some shorebirds started their long journeys south in July. Many of them have a long ways to go. For example, pectoral sandpipers nest in the high Arctic tundra and winter throughout South America. Consequently, they need plenty of time to fly those thousands of miles north to south.

The start of migration varies significantly according to the numerous species. Besides shorebirds, different types of birds of prey, songbirds, and waterfowl all migrate.

warblers, Florida

Yellow-rumped warbler in its duller fall colors.

Those four months are needed to allow all varieties of birds to complete their journeys. Winter in the bird world runs December through February. Spring is March, April, and May. That makes summer the shortest season with just June and July.

It’s not like the birds take notice or even care about months. They behave on natural instincts with recent research indicating that some birds can actually see the earth’s magnetic poles. Stars and the position of the sun in the sky also may motivate our avian friends to embark on their extended trips.

Some birds will migrate only short distances, say from mountainsides to the valleys below. Others migrate medium distances, moving just a few hundred miles south.

Not all birds migrate, however. Some, like American robins, often congregate in flocks once the nesting season is over. Sometimes extreme weather pushes them out of their normal range where they can find the necessary food supply to survive.

eastern bluebird, bird migration

Male Eastern Bluebird.

Other birds, like eastern bluebirds, will also group up for both warmth and safety. It’s not unusual in the throes of winter to find several bluebirds huddling for warmth in one bird box.

Fall and spring are the seasons most birders relish. They long for the opportunity to see birds that are only passing through the area. They may just get a glimpse of a rare and endangered bird like a Kirtland’s warbler, a bird that nests in the jack pines of northern Michigan and winters in the Bahamas.

In the spring, birds are in their brightest mating colors. The males are the most colorful. The females tend to be duller for practical reasons. They need to be subtler so as not to attract attention to their nests.

It’s just the opposite in the fall. With the breeding season over, the birds transform into less noticeable color schemes. They need to blend in with their surroundings as best they can to be less conspicuous to predators.

When it comes to living, birds need the same essential elements as the rest of us. Water, food, and habitat are crucial for birds to survive, whether nesting or on the move. Forests, fields, fencerows, dead trees, mudflats, marshes, ponds, and waterways all serve as vital habitat, depending on the bird species.

barn swallow, insect-eating birds

A barn swallow on its delicate nest in June.

Food is a primary motivator for those that migrate. Swallows and purple martins thrive on insects. That’s why they arrive in the spring and leave when the insect supply diminishes. Of course, they require appropriate shelter, too.

More than half of the 650 species of birds in North America migrate. With migration already underway, it’s why birders everywhere have their binoculars, spotting scopes, and cameras ready for action.

On behalf of birdwatchers everywhere, welcome to fall.

young birders, shorebirds

Young birders scope for shorebirds on mudflats.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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A season of transitions

lily pond, OARDC

The lily pond.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I sat alone on the park bench enjoying the beauty before me. I didn’t realize it then, but now I see that this little break from my regular routines served as a realization that summer had arrived.

I took in the action in this public garden of flowers, woodlots, shrubs, ponds, and meadows. Here life was abundant, evolving, vibrant, verdant, and fragrant.

Still, the hustle and bustle of urban life intruded. Trucks roared by on the nearby expressway. Sirens sounded in the small city below.

In this peaceful island sanctuary, I found relief, joy, introspection, and resolve. Children’s joyous voices that carried above and around the hedges and well-planned plantings of this lovely arboretum broke my spell.

Their mother asked for directions to the giant slide. I pointed them to the children’s forest where I thought it might be, and off they went. I wondered why they weren’t in school. Then it hit me. School’s out for the summer.

I silently laughed at my silliness. It was the time of year I had simultaneously loved and loathed. As a public school educator for three decades, my two favorite workdays were the first and last ones of each academic year.

Wonder, surprises, heartache, celebration and meaningful interactions filled the days in between. All that changed once school dismissed for the summer. In a matter of days, I missed the students.

That, too, changed with the transition into a second career in marketing and writing. Funny how it was so easy to forget the ebb and flow of the once all too familiar educational rhythm.

As the mother and her clutch left, I returned to my leisurely stroll among the various gardens graced with stone and steel artworks. The many transitions of life that this season brings arose all around.

I took another seat in the garden above a hillside amphitheater used for lectures, weddings, and meditation. An unsuspecting chipmunk scampered across my foot, then realizing its mistake, hightailed it for cover, chattering all the way.

Catbirds practiced their best imitations, competing with a distant mockingbird. Honeybees worked the fragrances. Black and tiger swallowtail butterflies fluttered from blossom to blossom, having only recently transitioned from pupa to fresh, crisp, winged beauties.

Like a herd of runaway soap bubbles, dozens of fluffy white puffball seeds floated by me. A gentle northwest breeze freed them from their mother cottonwood according to plan. This spontaneous event, too, symbolized an annual, natural transition from growth to evolutionary distribution.

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Across the ravine, giant wooden statues carved by a tornado’s impact still stood as witnesses to nature’s contradictory might and resilience. In a matter of moments, the storm’s fury bent and broke the once massive trees like number two pencils.

Suddenly a yellow-green something flashed across my gaze. I chased the bird with my binoculars, uncertain about its species. I was thankful the bird lured me into the ravine.

A soaking wet blue jay sat high in an old snag for the longest time preening, uncharacteristically silent, drying baby blue feathers in the afternoon sun. Had it refreshed itself in the lily pond where I first sat?

A robin perched on a much lower branch also absorbed the golden warmth. Again the yellow-green flash appeared. An orchard oriole had revealed its concealed, woven nest near the top of a young horse chestnut tree.

Just then my ears caught multiple contented screeches. Without investigating, I knew the children had found the long, hillside slide.

Their summer of fun had begun, and so had mine.

hillside slide

Summer slide.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

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Filed under birding, birds, family, human interest, nature photography, Ohio, photography, rural life, writing

Spring’s first day: Winter coat to no coat

springssunrisebybrucestambaugh

Spring’s sunrise.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Winter just wouldn’t let go, even on the first full day of spring.

The day dawned with glorious anticipation. A rosy sunrise filtered through the cumulous clouds hanging low on the eastern horizon. It was down hill from there for much of the rest of the morning.

After the welcoming daybreak came the discovery of a horseshoe nail in the sidewall of a relatively new tire. It’s just one of the hazards of living in Holmes County, Ohio.

Next came the snow, which the weather forecast seemed to have overlooked. By the time my wife and I had reached our morning’s destination, nearly an inch had fallen.

plowinginthesnowbybrucestambaugh

Plowing in the snow.

A former student of mine had invited us to view his maple sugaring operation at the southern end of the county. It had been a long time since I had seen Elmer, a quiet, studious youngster when I taught him in fourth grade. That was 44 years ago.

Elmer had called earlier in the week to tell me he’d be boiling sap. Unfortunately, this day wasn’t one of them. Instead, we had a very nice visit with Elmer and his wife, reminiscing about those long ago school days.

After a while, Elmer’s mother joined us shortly before we needed to leave. By then an overcast sky had replaced the springtime squalls.

thinningskybybrucestambaugh

Thinning sky.

Up hill, down dale, around curves left and right, the further north we drove towards home, the stronger the sun became. At lunchtime, with the heavens still hazy, the sun hung overhead like a bare light bulb trying to illuminate an entire gymnasium.

I had a couple of appointments to keep in the afternoon, which required further driving. I enjoyed my visits, and was pleased to see no line at the usually busy carwash. I needed to clean off the mud from the morning’s foray.

When I returned home, my workaholic wife was outside cleaning up the yard and flowerbeds. Out of chivalry and my own desire to enjoy the remainder of the day, I donned a light jacket and joined her.

I needed to do my part in collecting winter’s litter. When you propagate a mini-forest of various deciduous and evergreen species, a lot of dead leaves and windblown sticks need to be gathered.

This surge of warmth and sunshine had energized me. I decided to trim some of the wiry lower branches of the jumble of trees and scrubs I had planted over three decades.

afternoonshimmeringbybrucestambaugh

Afternoon shimmering.

I knew when I had snipped a sugar maple limb. The sap dripped like a leaky faucet. Right then and there I decided I would head back to Elmer’s sugar shack the next day. I definitely wanted to see his outfit in operation.

All the while, the afternoon sun grew stronger and stronger. It was good to be outside again enjoying the sights, sounds and odorous whiffs of the springtime countryside.

Every few minutes, the song sparrows let loose a few bars of their cheery chorus. Not to be outdone, the cardinals called, too, first from a fir tree, and then they flitted to the bare branches of the oaks and maples.

I was enjoying myself so much, I pitched my jacket altogether. In a matter of hours, it had gone from a winter coat day to a no coat day.

I was glad that winter had finally let go its hoary hold, even if it was only a brief interlude on spring’s first afternoon.

farvervalleybybrucestambaugh

Farver Valley.


© Bruce Stambaugh 2014

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Filed under Amish, column, Ohio, photography, weather, writing

Loving fall: Let me count the ways

fallinamishcountrybybrucestambaugh

A typical fall scene in Ohio’s Amish country.


By Bruce Stambaugh

Plain and simple, autumn has her way with me. I’m in love with fall for so many reasons. Let me count the ways.

The dazzling leaves mesmerize me. I could sit and ponder the various color patterns and striations of a single leaf for hours on end, but only if my wife isn’t home.

I am captivated by how rapidly the leaves on some trees alter their colors, while the same species nearby stands pat as if it were still July. Still others give up the ghost altogether, and simply shed all of their leaves within hours. It’s both a marvel and a mystery.

mixedresultsbybrucestambaugh

Leaves at various stages of color in Ohio’s Amish country.

Neighbors have a lovely sugar maple shade tree that holds a majority of its leaves verdant well into October. The rest blush blotches of fire engine red as if the tree’s perfect canopy had chicken pox. In the end, all the leaves succumb, temporarily covering the ground below with a warm blanket of red, yellow and orange.

The usually boisterous and bossy Blue Jays fly stealthily in pairs from one hardwood grove to the next. Back and forth they go in pairs, uncommonly silent. Are they storing acorns for the winter ahead? They wouldn’t say.

Not so with a gang of American Robins, long absent from our yard. They suddenly reappeared, chirping and chasing one another from treetop to yard to creek bank like it was spring again. I enjoyed their little entreaty even though, like the Blue Jays, I had no idea what they were up to.

blackcappedchickadeebybrucestambaugh

Black-capped Chickadee with sunflower heart.

I’m content to sit on the porch during fall’s balmy weather, watch the American Goldfinches, Black-capped Chickadees and White-breasted Nuthatches devour the expensive sunflower hearts. So doing enhances my daydreamer image.

With windows open on temperate nights, the crickets and the luscious coolness lull me to sleep until my wife pokes me to stop the snoring, or the Screech Owl startles me from the backyard pines. I note both admonitions, roll onto my side and dream on.

The grass is spring green one week and dull and prickly the next. Blessed fall rains ensure the difference.

Fox squirrels and chipmunks scurry to find whatever they can to hoard for the coming cold. I wish they had better memories. Next May dozens of red oak and black walnut saplings will verify the varmints’ mental lapses.

canadageesebybrucestambaugh

Canada Geese on the wing.

Flocks of Canada Geese sail in imbalanced V’s over burnished treetops, cackling their way from one farm pond to the other. Lore says that near-sighted and neurotic Puritans imagined them as witches flying on broom handles. It’s ironic that the religious runaway paranoia inadvertently created a very successful commercial Halloween tradition.

cobwebsbybrucestambaugh

Heavy morn dew reveals overnight cobwebs.

Foggy mornings bring cool moisture that transforms secreted spider’s webs into glistening gems. The stunning natural artistry leaves me speechless, which may be for the best.

A sudden gust blows through the fragile leaves of a poplar tree, cascading a golden shower onto an emerald carpet that had only been raked hours before. Eventually, heavy rains or perhaps an early snow will bring them all down, ringing in the barren times once again. It’s a necessary part of life’s endless cycle.

Fields of corn, once huge waves of tasseled emerald, now show more brittle brown. Corn shocks already dot fields farmed by those who distain machinery.

Hungry birds have devoured all of the bright red berries of the dogwood trees. In protest, the dogwoods’ crimson leaves have one by one fluttered to the ground.

I’m in love with fall. Can you tell?

fieldcornbybrucestambaugh

© Bruce Stambaugh 2013

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