Volume 12, Issue 45 ~ November 4 - November 10, 2004
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Burton on the Bay
by Bill Burton

Autumnal Fields Suit My Mind

Baseball begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rain comes, it stops, and leaves you to face the fall alone.
—Bartlett Giamatti (1938-1989), Commissioner of Baseball:

The Green Fields of the Mind

Pardon me Mister Commissioner. The first chill rains have come, and baseball has folded up its tent for the year. Despite my renewed interest in the National Game, I do not face fall alone. There are other fish to fry.

Up here in North County on the shores of Stony Creek a short cast from the Patapsco and Chesapeake Bay itself, there is much of interest to keep me occupied. I don’t even have to go down to the creek, the river or the Bay to find it — though the Patapsco has tuned out to be one of the best upper Bay fishing holes of late, keeper rock soon will be available in the creek, and in the Bay the big sea-run stripers should soon arrive.

On a fall afternoon, if not pressed with things that must be done, I can watch out the bay window overlooking the east lawn and witness play as fascinating as the World Series. If the weather is accommodating I can have a box seat outdoors on my green-and-white swing seat amidst all the goings on. What better place to be?

Some days, I decide that household chores inside or out, writing and even the fish can wait. I’ll spend an hour or two on the cushioned glider next to the curved flower garden and take in the panorama of nature. No tickets, tackle or computer needed; it’s just sit quietly and observe.

Autumn Reveries
What a time of year after a hot summer and a string of tropical storms. Not infrequently, I think that fall beats spring as a time to join the wildlife in the yard skirted by the treed cliff that falls down to the creek and its resident mallards. Fall suits me better than winter, nowadays, for when the weather gets colder, those birds will be targets for waterfowl hunters who set up shop at the big rocks near the creek’s mouth.

I can read the paper while listening to the honking of Canada geese, and by ear or sight, try to determine whether they are new birds working down from the Arctic or so-called nuisance geese — those year-round fowl that no longer make the long strenuous flight to the Far North to hatch their young. The newcomers, I find, wing by in larger numbers, higher and in a more distinct V-shaped formation. Migratory or non-migratory, all are welcome. Never are honkers nuisances to me.

This is a time of change on the east lawn; summer birds are taking leave and winter birds are beginning to arrive, while the year-round robins, doves, finches and others remain for a bit of continuity. I never know what I’ll see next.

Who’s Here
It had been a couple of years since I had seen my two flickers with their bright red heads. But the other day one appeared — and not grubbing insects, as woodpeckers do, from the old dead trees on the steep slope to the creek. Instead it flew directly to a bird feeder and, from the mix of cracked corn and sunflower seeds, it took one of the latter and flew into the trees for its snack. Soon it returned for another and another. It probably made 25 or more trips, presumably for the sunflower seeds. Then as the late afternoon shadows fell, it came no more.

Where had it been? Why hadn’t it come to the lawn for years? Why had it chosen a bird feeder to dine? And where was the other one? Ah, the sweet mysteries of nature-watching.

I find it satisfying that while hunters (I remain one, though I rarely choose to shoot) are now getting squirrels, rabbits and mourning doves for table fare, in my yard these creatures find sanctuary. But, I’m a little concerned; of late I’ve not seen a single cottontail. I realize even in yards, rabbits that are so obvious in spring and summer are not so in fall. I learned that in the wild many decades ago when I was a hunter and the main ingredient of a fricassee became quite elusive as fall arrived.

Where are the bunnies that fed at times on scatterings from the bird feeders or enjoyed the greenery of the lawn? The doves are always around, a loyal bunch, shy but not easily frightened. Like the rabbits, they eat well on cracked corn and sunflower seeds scattered by birds and squirrels from the feeders. What a tranquil bird the dove is. I regret all the dove potpies of my younger years.

There hasn’t been a catbird in the lawn for months, even with the grape jelly set out for them in the garden, yet this morning I heard two call from a distance. In summer, these brazen birds dine on jelly only a few feet from my perch on the glider.

This morning, from the freshly filled bird feeder, seeds were scattered to the grass below, and I watched squirrels, doves, finches and a cardinal feeding on them on the ground, when in swoops a blue jay. All scattered as if it were a hawk. Do blues jays intimidate everything, even squirrels?

Though the brilliant yellow finches are gone, the drab others are still welcome— though they were scarce until the other day. In the interest of easier and less frequent filling, last spring I switched from a small mesh bag of about 10 inches to one twice that size to hold thistle. Few finch dined on it, which puzzled me. More thistle, bigger area to accommodate more birds at once, same mesh, but many fewer birds.

Within hours after I hung the smaller bag to the shepherds’ hook in the garden, it was loaded with finches. How come? Isn’t bigger always best?

My next lawn project is to research the conclusion of friend Alan Doelp, who says he has found that two bird feeders close together draw more birds than two situated farther apart from each other: the more feeding close together, the more that will come. I have nearly 20 feeders with which to experiment.

What’s up?
There are the squirrels, bold and plentiful, always looking for a handout, especially one that will come to me for a hand-held peanut. Upon hearing me on the porch, others will come to the brick steps and beg. When I toss a nut out, a bushytail will grab it in its mouth. When I toss another it will — with the first still in its mouth — rush to look the second one over, then dash away with the first nut, leaving the second behind.

Only a couple of times have I witnessed a squirrel — in fact, two squirrels over the years — drop the smaller first peanut to play hog and take the bigger one. I also wonder why all squirrels roll a peanut around in their mouth with their paws many times before dashing away with it? Why do they romp such a distance away — and usually far out of sight — before they consume the nut? Are they shy eaters?

The big old black walnut was barren of nuts this year; the younger one in the front yard had few, but all were almost as big as baseballs. What’s up?

Yes, baseball season is past, fish are biting and there is much work to be done hereabouts. But none of it will take a back seat to nature watching on the east lawn.

Enough said …

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