They leave quietly in the night, the birds who came here last spring to breed, and the young they raised. Without fanfare they steal away – the Tree Swallows who cared for three chicks in the narrow snag at Southwest Pond; the four Cinnamon Teals who hatched on Main Pond and took their first flight together all the way over to the lake, a distance of 20 meters; the Savannah Sparrows who kept the prairie grasses abuzz with their chatter; the Common Yellowthroat babies whose dads were so busy fetching bugs the poor guys barely had time to sing their boundary songs. All gone away.
I wanted to say goodbye, to wish them well on their long journey south. But birds are not about saying goodbye. Sentiment is simply not in them. Neither nostalgia nor regret can hold them here. When they leap into the sky and join the vast stream of other birds fleeing our shortening days and colder nights, they do not look back. Their eyes look only ahead. They feel the call of the south, and they are free.
Fall is a time of leaving. The last warmth of summer drifts away as languidly as the cottonwood leaves that break from their branches with a little crack and float down.
But fall is not just the season of endings. It is also the time of arriving. Yesterday, a foursome of American Wigeons flew in from the north. They will spend the winter here. It is their home. So too for the flock of Ring-necked Ducks that winged their way back and forth across the lake, looking for just the right place to set down. Foster Island looked good at first, but in the end they settled on Waterlily Cove. A good place for fish. A good place for life.