Volume 12, Issue 47 ~ November 18 - November 24, 2004
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Earth Journal

See What You can See in the Woods

The leaves have fallen and the landscape changed. Summer’s green monochrome is a hard-to-conjure memory. October’s multi-colored hues have been replaced by the dry browns and tans that dominate the winter palette. White-throated sparrows, juncos, winter wrens and kinglets have taken up residence in woodlands and thickets. It’s a good time to get out to see the changes.

On a November walk in the woods at Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary, my getting out was amply rewarded. It was a good day for woodpeckers. Seven species of woodpeckers winter in Maryland, and I found six of them within 15 minutes: the northern flicker; yellow-bellied sapsucker; downy (illustrated), hairy, pileated and red-bellied woodpeckers. The uncommon true red-headed woodpecker was the only one missing. The species I saw were part of a mixed flock of woodland birds. The sudden cold had perhaps stimulated their appetite and activity. In the overcast light, their brighter colors — white, red and yellow — seemed to glow.

Later, with dusk encroaching, I paused in the woods. Suddenly a woodcock shot from the ground a mere three to four feet from where I stood. I heard the sudden sound of wings and watched the round silhouette disappear. If I had not stopped, surely the well-camouflaged bird would have stayed on the ground. I stared at the leaves and wondered how many others I had walked past; then, as if to answer, another bird took off.

I rebuked myself for all that I had missed that day, but then I thought again. I had noticed a lot: Have I mentioned the eagle, red-tailed hawk and the flock of blue birds? I had to hurry to get back before dark.

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