A chilly day, with brisk winds out of the northwest. It started to rain early last night and continued off and on, changing to sleet then back to rain again. The temperature had slowly dropped all day and I knew that there was a good chance for some snow in the air by nightfall.
The phoebe that spent the summer hawking insects in the yard was gone this morning. He knew the coming cold weather would put the damper on catching flying insects, so he headed south. To my surprise though, there were six little slate-colored Juncos at the bird feeders this morning. So the summer bird is gone and the winter bird has arrived, although there are some other birds that have yet to migrate south. Birds like the Rufus-sided towhee and Easter bluebird may hang around until early November if the weather stays mild.
The high soaring Turkey vultures may have moved out ahead of the current weather front. Their featherless heads are vulnerable to freezing cold conditions, so they take weather's hints and move further south. The Sandhill cranes, on the other hand, are looking dapper in their winter gray plumage. They are perfectly comfortable sticking around until the real cold comes in early December. That's when it's cold enough to freeze the ground.
The white-tailed deer in the area are also feeling the change of seasons. Their summer coats of cinnamon have changed to grayish brown as warm new hair covers them.
This is the season of "the Rut," the time when the deer are courting. The bucks, with polished new antlers, often do mock battle with shrubs and the trunks of small trees. They are preparing to compete with any other buck for the right to this territory and the does that are in it. His search for the does becomes all-consuming, and the females avoid him until the time is just right.
Deer can be on the move at any time day or night when they are in the Rut. It's always a good thing to remember this while driving on country roads. Some years ago I was driving down a gravel road and suddenly had to hit the brakes for two deer in the headlights. There, right in the middle of the road, two bucks were clashing antlers and kicking gravel. It took them several seconds to realize they weren't alone. That wasn't the only time I've gotten to see a pair of bucks fighting, but it's the first time I got to watch from a "front row" seat.
The first freeze came Wednesday night, and the thermometer read 24 degrees Thursday morning. There had been a light dusting of snow, but not enough to track a cat in. The yard and garden was covered with a hard white frost, and a pail of water on the back porch had a thick layer of ice on it. The morning was nice and sunny but the daytime high was forecast at only 38 degrees.
The crisp, new chill in the air nipped at my face and fingers while I filled the feeders for the waiting hungry birds. I noticed what I thought was a nuthatch scooting up the trunk of a nearby oak tree. Upon closer inspection, the little bird turned out to be a Brown creeper. It's rare to see one of these inconspicuous little birds. They often go unnoticed even though you may walk right by them. Their brownish plumage gives them a perfect camouflage against the tree bark. You have to be very observant, or lucky enough to see them move.
The Brown creeper searches cracks and crevices in the tree bark for tiny eggs and larvae of insects and spiders, which are quickly snapped up and eaten. Hopefully I'll see this secretive little brown bird all winter.
There's another small bird that has shown up in the yard this past week. The Blue jays and nuthatches scolded a little red Screech owl who peered out from the hole in a nesting box high in the locust tree in the front yard. He is using the box for his daytime roost, and comes out each evening to look for mice, small birds and other small prey. There's lots of things to watch for as the season's changes come about.
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