November sky in the city.
November sky in the city. (Courtesy of Elsa Lichman)

On a hot sunny day, folks are out swimming at Walden Pond, attired only in bathing suits, in the calm, glassy water. Others are kayaking in that pristine setting, in ripples which take on soft hues of the pale green edge, and the sandy bottom below.

As I stretch out in my yard, I watch a pair of mockingbirds on a wire. As one approaches, the other retreats, and vice versa, many times, until they both fly up, in a twirling, spinning dance around one another, settle back on the wire, and repeat the performance. It seems like an odd time for mating behavior, but the springlike air and sunshine may have contributed to their ardor. I watch a pair of mallards in the river, doing a courting dance of head bobbing and dipping, as hawks also circle each other in the air, separate, and soar on air currents. Global warming has changed our climate, perhaps affecting some birds’ typical seasonal behavior patterns.

At the local cemetery, we are entranced by that autumnal shift, when trees are denuded at the top, the sun in its decline lighting up colorful lower branches which still hold onto bright yellow and gold leaves, stunning to the eye. Some trees have carpets of gold; others are still in full ‘bloom.’ We forget the time, until it is almost dark, when a bold and beautiful buck appears, to run and meander among tombstones. It takes on a regal, yet mirage-like appearance, as if in a dream, an almost mystical being. This is the season of the rut; soon after, bucks drop their racks, growing new ones to complete the cycle.

The next day dawns misty and gray, lending a softness to the city as well as natural settings. The river flows against a hazy backdrop of muted colors, as ducks shiver off droplets. The air feels saturated with dew drops.

On a brisk, windy day, shiny, crisp oak leaves fly helter-skelter, like birds, butterflies, or bats on the wing. One grazes my shoulder on its way down. I learn that this is one of those unusual years when these leaves very greatly in size, some two or even three times larger then the small ones. I spend some time exploring leaf piles and am amazed at the phenomenon. This can occur depending on varying conditions during the previous seasons, such as variations in weather and climate, and is called phenotypic plasticity. Also, shading can cause leaves to become bigger, increasing surface area to capture more sunlight.

I am intrigued and enchanted, mystified, watching a spare grassy flat area in the cemetery, with its patches of weedy dirt. Honey and rose colored mourning doves with innocent eyes gather to feed on seeds and the occasional insect. They are intent on this behavior, almost obsessed, and I learn that these birds pair off during nesting season, but form large groups in the fall, most of which migrate south to tolerable temperatures. I wish I could camp out there for days to see what is happening, or that some birds could be banded and therefore recognizable.

I visit as often as I can, and the numbers increase from about 30 to 60 birds to 300 !, then begin to taper off to smaller and smaller numbers. My hunch is that this wide area is a stopping off place for migrating birds, which arrive to feed in the afternoon, fly up en masse to tall trees for the night, and take off southward in daylight, flying at a low altitude. I had never seen this before, maybe because I did not have access to an area which suits this purpose perfectly. As some days become frigid, or rainy, with wild winds and that wintry feeling in the air, the doves feed on, seemingly oblivious to the changes in weather. I will be curious to see how long some of them remain here, as we approach the solstice.

We now encounter those remarkable November skies, with stark branches dark against radiantly cloudy skies. One day, in the late afternoon, we spy a falcon on the top of a dead tree, despite its camouflage, which makes it look like part of the tree. This exquisite bird, with its spotted breast and decorative head stretches one wing, then the other, then preens each wing luxuriously.

Along the river, there is a raptor/predator moment, when a bald eagle soars overhead; a hawk flies high; and a Great blue heron flies down the center of the river, just a few feet above the water, on massive wings, feet and legs trailing behind. A juvenile cormorant on a log spreads wide wings to dry them off.

One morning dawns icy, with white frost on roofs. The sun hits yellow leaves on a dainty tree, and like an alchemist, turns them into gold coins; one can almost hear them clinking as they shimmer in its light. The day warms up, and at the riverwalk, three little kids spill out of the back of a camper, start to fish immediately, and catch one before the parent can join them!

This is an exciting season for nature watching, as the world turns toward winter.

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  1. What a beautiful tour of the changing season. I truly felt as though I was walking with you! I await the next column when all will be white and still (unless climate change has altered that as well).

  2. Elsa is an amazingly talented woman, in light of her loss she can sum up the ambition to write. I find her words very descriptive, to the point of visualization and, also, educational, thank you for her posts and letting me comment!

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