The voices of autumn have arrived

Barbara Hootman

October is the year at full maturity.  It is brisk wind in the tree tops, and just a whisper in the fallen leaves. It is a whiff of fresh apple cider, and an echo of laughter caught on the wind.  It is fall.

This bird was incorrectly identified in the Sept. 22-28 issue.  It is a Wilson's Warbler.
The Blackpoll Warbler shown in breeding feathers uses the migratory paths in the WNC mountains.
The Mountain Ash is one of the most beautiful fall trees in the WNC Mountains.

Bittersweet berries are bright orange, as are the coral-red berries of the Mountain Ash and the lacquered red look of dogwood berries. Tucked in among orange, green and yellow leaves, the Mountain Ash adds splashes of color to mountainsides.  The tree is a member of the rose family.  It begins its annual show with clusters of white flowers in spring and early summer.  It is a small ornamental tree, growing from 15-20 feet tall, occasionally reaching 30 feet.

In higher elevations, the Mountain Ash grows even from granite outcrops.  Some people say you can eat the berries, but the seeds are supposedly poisonous (it is probably best to pass up a snack of Mountain Ash berries). Birds love the berries, but they also enjoy poison ivy berries and are not ill affected.

October evenings stretch long with sunset arriving early.  It will soon be time for a fire accompanied by a good book, a couple of contented dogs and at least one cat to laze on the hearth. An enjoyable evening is guaranteed.

Robins are migrating.  Not all Robins go south for the winter.  The majority of them do move south for the winter, but others wander looking for food.  Fruit makes up the majority of the Robin's diet in fall and winter.

There seems to be no pattern to the Robins’ wandering.  If all the Robins stayed in the breeding territory there wouldn’t be enough food to sustain them through the winter. They do avoid areas with deep snow. When the temperature reaches 37 degrees next spring, they will return to breeding territories.  Usually a Robin doesn’t sing until it is sure spring is close.

Robins stay in flocks during the fall and winter because there are more eyes available to watch for predators.  Individual Robins are usually spring visitors. Their patterns of seasonal movement are not understood well.

Goldfinches are in their annual molt.  The beautiful yellow males will soon look like their less colorful female partners.  The males and females become a pale olive or even a whitish color or a soft yellow. Winter color is determined by age and sex of the Goldfinch. While they are molting their body feathers have an unkempt look.

Cedar Waxwings are arriving in groups to feast on berries.  There are a few hummingbirds still using feeders.  Leave the feeders up until Halloween. Then wash and store them until next mid-April.

If you stay on the lookout, you may spot a Blackpoll Warbler.  If not, next spring the bird will pass through the Western North Carolina mountains on its way to Canada and Alaska to its breeding territories.  It is one of some 42 warblers that travel the migratory paths through these mountains. Its normal weight is the same as two quarters, and it doubles that for migration.

During migration the Blackpoll Warbler lives on insects, spiders and fruit.  It winters in northern South America and has one of the most astounding migrations of any of the warblers. It migrates into Florida in the spring from South America and then spreads westward.  It travels through the WNC mountains on its way to Canada and Alaska.  In the fall, many of the tiny birds fly nonstop from eastern Canada or northeastern United States to northern South America.  Every fall a few lost strays appear in the WNC area headed south. Some fly 72 hours over water nonstop to reach their winter grounds.  They have a much more leisurely flight in the spring.

In the spring, the male in his black and white feathers looks like he is dressed to attend a formal occasion.  In the fall males and females have a similar look.  Their feathers have a greenish tint to them with two white bars on the wings. The chest feathers are only faintly stripped.

Bears are entering the food lust cycle of the year.  It is important for them to start putting on weight for winter.  Bear cubs are growing rapidly now.  They have added solid food to mother’s milk.  She will wean them soon.  Acorns make up the bulk of the Black Bear’s fall diet.

Screech owls begin trilling in the evening.  The call is to announce winter hunting territories.

Late Hummingbirds continue to migrate through the Valley.

Take in the bird feeders so the bear won't be tempted.

Keep out plenty of water for drinking and bathing.

May you always hear the whisper of wings.