Date: 9/15/20 7:36 am
From: Ted Levin <tedlevin1966...>
Subject: [VTBIRD] September 15, 2020: Coyote Hollow, Thetford Center
6:02 a.m. 37 degrees, wind SSE 0 mph. Sky: last night, star-studded and
bird-filled; this morning, pale orange wash in the east; haze from
California wildfires does little to hide Mount Ascutney, forty miles away;
my visibility yardstick. Wetlands: neighborhood cold pocket; mist above the
reeds, frost below, crystalline and white; much too early to ruin the
garden.

Once upon a time, on the doorstep of September, in the late seventies and
early eighties: to deny frost, we'd cover the basal and zucchini with
newspaper. Mid-October 2000s, the garden thrived, and I busied myself
making fresh pesto. Last night, the cold settled into the marsh, gilded the
reeds but not my garden, which has had enough problems coping with drought.

The night sky holds *far* more than a billion stars. An unseen
pageant moves south above the face of the continent, patterns established
since the Ice Age, a watershed of feathers, flyways into flyways, an
outpouring of birds head to ancestral homelands, adding meaning and color
to a season in transition. And predictability in an unpredictable world.
Colorado State University's AeroEco Lab, a leader in the *new* science of
radar ornithology, predicted that last night more than four hundred million
migratory birds would be aloft over North America. Fifty million over the
Northeast, which includes more than two million over Vermont. *I think I
heard* *seven*, thin peeps, chips, much softer than cricket chirps, an
audio drizzle from a thousand feet, maybe ten thousand feet, free-fall out
of the firmament. More distinctly at pre-dawn, when cold-stunned crickets
fell silent. A friend, lying on her picnic table, claimed to have heard *an
ocean of sound*, the soft woosh of busy wings, as though the entire flight
of songbirds and cuckoos and whippoorwills and hummingbirds, two million
steadfast birds passed over her. A wonderful image . . . but more likely,
she suffered tinnitus. I have suspicions.

Amid the noise of blue jays, crows, chickadees, and nuthatches, bands of
warblers and vireos, mumbling incoherently and screened by yellowish
leaves, pass through the canopy, refueling on numb insects. Too high, too
indistinct to recognize. Four wood thrush, the first I've seen since late
May, erect and synchronized like the guards at Buckingham Palace, patrol a
neighbor's driveway. A clipped chorus of purple finches.

Most species of warblers, which breed throughout hardwood and boreal
forests, fly more than a thousand miles to crowd into a fraction of the
landmass they occupied during the summer. Upon arriving, they face a
different suite of predators—bird-eating snakes and spiders, among them—and
competitors—antbirds, manikins, and so forth—as well as to adapt to a
vastly different forest structure and climate. Take the lonely eastern
kingbird, a hunter of bumblebees and dragonflies over pastures and marshes.
A kingbird aggressively defends its summer turf against other kingbirds and
robins and tree swallows, even bald eagles (their Latin name is *Tyrannus
tyrannus*). But, wintering in a New World jungle, kingbirds transform into
gregarious and peaceable berry-eaters, a Fred Rogers among flycatchers. For
me, the capacity to change, a repeatable lesson, a continuous striving.

Winters coming. Another COVID project. Be more peaceable. Follow the
kingbird's example.
 
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