November’s Passing, Winter’s Ahead

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Woodpecker (Photo by Christy Hinko)
Woodpecker (Photos by Christy Hinko)

November is the prelude to winter. Nature’s silent symphony of peak foliage is usually ending but this year I’ve been paying more attention to the eleventh month than usual.

Delightful Confusion

When I retired nearly 13 years ago, my wife and I started to spend winters in Longboat Key, FL. That’s when I first became momentarily confused about the seasons. Most days it’s shorts and T-shirt weather. One typical winter day I saw an article in the paper about a hockey game. Hockey? That’s in winter; it must be a preseason game. The paper’s month, day and year read otherwise.

A few weeks ago at Gerry Park in Roslyn, the sun was gleaming off the water and there were dozens of Canada geese and ducks on it. Was it spring? It felt more like summer. I wear shorts and T-shirts, long- and short-sleeved, all but six weeks of the year so it always seems warm. My mixups last a few seconds and I’m bemused that I can still become confused.

Robin
Robin

It’s not hard to tell that it’s fall in October and November because of the leaves, nature’s silent symphony. This year the turning leaves seem to be lasting longer than in prior years. There are deep reds, bright yellows, golds, light greens, dark greens and withered browns on the ground.

Looking at an entrance to Rte. 135 from Old Country Road, the tree’s colors were wonderfully intertwined. It seemed that to go down that on-ramp would be like going down a magic corridor. I’ve watched a red tree for a few weeks from our kitchen window. Now the top branches are bare. Others will follow. Other trees have some bare limbs that curve and twist, reaching upward. They are like arms reaching toward the heavens asking about the coming winter’s weather. Will it be mild?

Starling
Starling

Where Are The Starlings?

I wonder about the starlings which in the past have appeared en mass at the end of October and the beginning of November. I have seen them only once at this writing, which is just after Election Day, as they converged on the grass on the side of the LIE. In the condo where I live in Woodbury, there have been times in the past during the morning when the starlings swooped down in a constellation landing on trees or the grass. They would stay awhile and suddenly some would fly off followed by others until the last ones left. They would fly to other trees or a lawn and then fly off over roof tops.

A few years ago, early one morning, hard light illuminated the side of a unit that were rising above. Moving shadows fell on the building’s side as their bodies rose, making it seem like so many more than were actually flying. Then in a long instant they were gone. I don’t know why they mass or how they can fly in unison like magnetic particles being drawn as one by an invisible source. I never knew when they would come or why. Coupled with their short duration it always seemed like an event not to be missed and I miss those events.

Winter birds
Goose

When starlings stay in the trees or on the ground, through binoculars, these 8½-inch birds show dull white steaks on their dark breast, some shimmering iridescent green plumage and a yellow bill. For that reason I affectionately refer to them as the “dirty birds” They were introduced to the U.S. in the 1890s from Europe and since have adapted very well. The original 60 birds have swelled to 150 million in North America. Interestingly, Mozart had a pet starling that could sing part of his Piano Concerto in G Major.

Winter birds
Cardinal

Winter Watching

While I’ve not been here for winter in many years, I have been seeing birds from the car that should be here for winter watching. The other day while driving on 135, a group of 20 Canada geese flew north overhead. They appeared like specks in a line, became larger and passed. Later on the Northern State extension a much larger group were flying in a very uneven V formation which had many more birds clumped up on one side. They were flying east, not migrating southward.

Interestingly, I see pigeons on power lines and on the arms of lights on the LIE lined up and wonder what they are doing. They don’t migrate and if they are removed from their location can find their way back.

One bird that also should be here over the winter is the house sparrow. The tend to like the safety of bushes. I remember one winter day long ago when a light dusting of snow had fallen and many were on a metal fence chirping. When I came along they all disappeared into the bushes. Some woodpeckers and cardinals should be here as well but you’ll probably have to wait for spring to see robins, as most migrate.

Winter birds
Sparrow

My focus however is on winter in Florida. I receive daily emails about what is being seen by naturalists at a Sarasota birding hot spot. One naturalist reported that she had a British couple at her site during her watch who had been in the area for a month but had changed their departure date from the day before Election Day to the day after in order to stay for the election. It only cost them a hundred dollars to make the change. One said ‘it’s going to be historic, don’t you think?’ I wondered if they had an inkling that a Brexit would happen here. Meanwhile November’s peak foliage is still here and winter is around the corner.

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