Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Roving at Dusk

August 21st, 2011, 7:30pm
by Tom Spofford

I’ve mostly walked the West Eugene wetlands during the daylight hours. As a change of pace I headed out close to dusk on a recent Sunday to both view the area activity late in the day and to avoid the heat that has come to the valley.

The ground is dry and hard since we haven’t had significant rain in months. Grasses are quite brown and many plants are dropping their seeds. Swallows have been a constant all summer and they are out this evening, perhaps feeding on the insects I can see in the low sunlight. The stream is down to a very slow flow with much algae growing in areas of the sluggish water.

Blackberries ripening along the bank reminding me of a few years ago when we were hiking in Northern California. We had been warned that a bear and her cub had been seen in the area where we stopped for a quick hike. A ranger was at the trailhead but had yet to see the animals that day and was allowing people into the area. We hiked the trail and, on the return to the parking area, as we came around a bend we came upon the pair heading toward us at 25 yards. We calmly turned and headed back to where we could safely watch where they were going, which was a thick patch of blackberries. We were able to get back to the parking lot. Days later we read a story of a couple who surprised a bear and the wife had to fight it off with an ink pen as it attacked her husband.

I picked some berries in the wetlands and as usual some were perfectly ripe and others were still sour. I’m curious to know which birds and mammals eat these berries. It’s a fleeting yet abundant food supply.

A nutria makes a big splash in the creek then waddles back up the bank scratching it’s side and making a high pitched grunt. A kingfisher flies along the stream making it’s telltale call and flight pattern, not a subtle bird at all. I enjoy the kingfisher. It’s a large and handsome bird, easy to identify by call or sight. Some chickadees come through the low bush. I hadn’t seen any out in the wetlands or our yard for a few months. They must head to some elevation in the summer to breed, escape the heat or maybe find a different food source. I recently saw a few mixed into a gang of cheerful bushtits who swoop through our hedges every evening hunting for spiders.

As the sunlight begins to fail I can sense that the season is shifting. The sound of the leaves in the trees is much different. They sound drier in the wind compared to the lush young leaves of spring and summer. The light is changing as well, appearing slightly muted to my eye.

Down the path the setting sun is seen through thistle that is dropping it’s seed in a slight breeze. It’s not autumn yet as the crickets are still chirping a high note. For years we had generations of crickets outside our bedroom window and their tune slowed more and more through September and October.

The sun tucks in behind the west hills glowing orange while the clouds in the east picked up a striking pink tone at the same time. I take many photographs of the sunset through some plants and I try to capture the pink clouds.

Swallows appear again as I head back towards the car. I make a mental note to learn the difference between swifts and swallows. I can hear birds now but it is too dark to be able to see them. This is when I wish I was more adept at identifying by calls.

This fall I’ll be sure to come to the wetlands at various times of the day. I’ve been more apt to walk in the afternoons. The more difficult will be a sunrise visit but I’m sure it will yield more surprises. The birds will be returning as the rainy season begins and I look forward to noting the changes to the landscape as nature’s wheel turns.