One October Morning

Today was definitely a fall day, with gray skies (at last!) spreading pearly light over the rank weeds of autumn. The birch trees near the Lone Pine Tree are dripping with gold now, and fog blanketed out the sounds of the city so much I could hear the plop when a golden leaf snapped off and drifted down.

At the Lagoon, a Western Grebe was fast asleep, its neck folded back onto itself like a twisted telephone cord. It paid no attention when a male Wood Duck in stunning breeding plumage began splashing in a bathing frenzy. Why wake up when your belly is full of fish and life is easy?

Out on the pewter lake, a flotilla of ducks and geese clumped together, herded by the screams of the two Bald Eagles who have returned to their territory after a brief vacation. Among the dark shapes was one luminous white one: a SNOW GOOSE! It’s the first one I’ve seen at the Fill in almost two years. I ran over to Waterway 1 to get a closer look, but when I arrived, it had already disappeared, a ghost shimmering away into the mists.

Also on view today were two Ruby-crowned Kinglets back from Alaska and feeling feisty. Ruby-crowned Kinglets are drab little songbirds who spend the winter down here with us and then head north each spring to breed. Usually in fall they are peaceful creatures, intent on foraging for the miniscule insects that are their favorite food. Every now and then, though, they argue over who has laid first claim to a likely bush or branch. Then they fight. The way Ruby-crowned Kinglets fight is they part their olive-green head feathers and reveal a bright red set of plumes that make their heads look like they’re on fire. Then they shine their red crowns at each other. Two of them were mixing it up near the Turtle Logs, showing as much red as I’ve ever seen. A serious squabble.

Years ago, I was talking to a birder friend of mine about how Ruby-crowned Kinglets fight. “Wouldn’t it be nice if humans fought the same way, by shining our heads at each other?” I mused.

“I don’t know about that,” my friend replied. Then he took off his hat and showed me his head. It was completely bald. “Some of us wouldn’t have much ammunition!”