Grackles and a palm warbler

Early morning two weeks ago I was writing in the kitchen. It was three days before the equinox, still dark out. The windows were open. At around 4:15 I realized I was hearing the lisps of songbirds flying overhead, so I stepped outside. The previous night I had had an email from my friend Jay Sturner, who told me he’d heard about 200 thrushes in just over an hour the week before, flying over the house. I’d forgotten about fall migration. The sky was hazy and moonless. Orion was clear in the southeast over our garage, but many of the stars were obscured. The sky above our backyard was filled with bird calls, little songbirds on the move.

This morning outside the research and administration building, the grackles are flocking up. Cedar waxwings are whistling to each other. The honeybees in the Cildren’s Garden are still patrolling for pollen. At the west edge of the Children’s Garden, honeybees foraged in the witchhazel flowers while a drab, fall-colored palm warbler casually took out a moth. The warbler seemed utterly unconcerned about me, looking around in the witchhazel branches for more to eat.

Wednesday night last week I drove west on Butterfield to my elder son’s track meet, going 10 miles an hour in the traffic. Alongside Hidden Lake Forest Preserve, over the sound of traffic and the news, the tree crickets were singing at full volume. They never seem to sing their hearts out, but they never stop. By contrast, I don’t believe I’ve heard a cicada in the neighborhood all week. The last one we saw is sitting on our piano.

Our prairie experiment is riddled with unplanted frost aster, every third plot with one or two gangly, long-limbed plants that we pull out as we walk by. The prairie and our garden at home have turned the corner: the height of blooming is several weeks past, but many species are still flowering. Everything is coloring or browning up. It’s still a month or more before they give up the ghost, but with the temperatures down at night and the garden looking like this, I feel it’s finally fall.

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