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Autumn Ramblings

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Autumn Ramblings


Three times in the past week I have flushed a woodcock up from its hiding place in the underbrush. I do not ever remember seeing a woodcock here in our woods before, although I know that they do live in our area. I am wondering if these birds are on their way south for the winter.

The first one I saw puzzled me. What is slightly larger than a mourning dove, reddish brown, and takes off suddenly from under your feet like a grouse, scaring the daylights out of you? I had no idea. But the second time this happened, I caught a glimpse of the bird’s profile as he flew, with his long beak silhouetted against the fall foliage. Aha! A woodcock! The third time I saw one, he actually crossed the path in front of me before he took off, so I got an even better look at him.

No other bird has the woodcock’s distinctively pudgy form. His neck is so short that his head appears to be set directly on his round little body, and his shoe-button eye is almost at the top of his head. His feathers are painted in a subtle pattern of russet, brown, and fawn, which makes him blend in perfectly with the dry leaves on the woods floor where he hangs out. Since the woodcock is primarily nocturnal, the ones I have seen have been rudely awakened from their afternoon naps.

I had the opportunity to draw a woodcock several years ago. It was when I was still managing the gallery in downtown Rumford. My boss came through the gallery one day, fresh from a hunting expedition, with a dead bird in his hand. He had left it in his coat pocket and found it there after he got down out of the woods.

He showed the bird to me. When I marveled over the exquisite pattern of its feathers and told him that I wanted to draw it, he gave it to me. I took it home, stuck it in our freezer, and then made a composite drawing of it with colored pencil on paper. That drawing was later framed and hung in the gallery, and is now in a private collection.

The woods have been full of migrating warblers. They flit silently through the bushes and I rarely get a good enough look at one to identify it. The only one that I saw this fall that I am absolutely sure about is the myrtle or yellow-rumped warbler.

When I was following our path through the woods last week, I heard someone scuffling around in the dry leaves ahead of me. I froze and waited to see who it was. It was a long wait. I had almost given up, when I heard a sudden wild fluttering right by my left ear. I turned and looked just in time to see a chickadee high-tailing it out of my reach. My, did he scold me! Apparently I had been standing still long enough to look like part of the landscape, so he had tried to land on my hat. I don’t know which one of us was more startled. The bird in the leaves for which I was waiting turned out to be a white-throated sparrow.

We have had a lot of rain recently. In one twenty-four-hour period last week we had almost three inches dumped on us. The mushrooms have been springing up all over the woods. I don’t know much at all about mushrooms. This may be a good chance to learn….

Many years ago my mother-in-law planted a little patch of Scottish heather in the meadow near the pine tree, significant of their Scottish heritage. Over the years the patch has become more and more shaded and overrun by brambles, so the heather has almost disappeared. But I was walking along the road this weekend, on the old railroad right-of-way, and found a heather plant growing in the grass near the end of our property. I am hoping that it will spread. It is a lovely flower, not at all showy, but beautiful in a quiet and unassuming way.