Winter woods, fluffy birds

With the past couple of weeks below freezing, Winter has certainly made its presence known, blasting into the region with icy temperatures and light snow showers.  Temperatures during the day have been in the low 20s but feel like single digits with the wind chill factored in.  The river has mostly frozen over leaving just a ribbon of moving water winding down the center. A mid-week dusting of snowfall was still trimming the sidewalks and grounds yesterday frozen in places where hurrying footsteps had not worn them down.

Finally yesterday presented a chance to visit the woods on one of these frosty cold days.  Bundling in layers is the best way to avoid feeling the cold, and a wool first layer against the skin will continue to retain heat even if it gets wet.  Three layers of pants including a fleece lined first layer; two shirts and two long wool sweaters and then a fleece and outer shell. Two kinds of gloves, one that allows finger movement and one set that doesn’t but keeps the wind out.  A thick hat, and a fleece “turtleneck” which can be brought up over the face and ears.   Once walking, this is quite warm!

The woods were clear and cold, and the whole landscape had settled into a kind of quiet winter rest.   Part of the trail was a mix of snow ground together with leaves and wedged frozen between stones and pebbles. The sun was shining through the branches and gave a warm glow in the late afternoon despite the frostiness of the air and ground.

The tree branches were starkly bare!  Some beech and oak leaves remained dried on the branches, but the tall trees were all twisting branches and contrasting bark tones.  The edges of the woods are also visible. Affluent homes line these woods, and in the winter the houses and new construction is visible. During the rest of the year the leaves and undergrowth provide blinds and colors to give the illusion of thick woods and allow us to briefly escape these visual reminders of urban pressures and disparity.

There were many lively birds in the woods yesterday, flitting and flying from branch to branch, and singing!  The woods practically echoed with bird songs.  It was so easy to watch them because their flight paths and landing places were all exposed in the bare winter branches.  There were a variety of birds and woodpeckers flying around and searching for food including what looked like a Red-bellied woodpecker, and a bright red male Cardinal.  Viewed through the camera zoom (if they sat still long enough) they were as fluffed out as could be, rounded into little balls of downy feathers on their cold perches.

In a small meadow area, tall grasses had yellowed into dry stalks.  Fluffy brown sparrows flew and hid in the stalks, perhaps pulling seeds from the delicate curling seed heads.

Further on, dense brushy patches were safe haven for many fluffy birds searching for food on the ground, more sparrows and Eastern towhee. They were quickly able to fly into the low branches.  Black and grey squirrels searched among the fallen leaves and ran back to tree trunks at the slightest sound.

As for green plants, evergreen holly bushes were standing by in the cold with cheerful green spiky leaves.  A small holly bush looked like it had suffered a shock due to the sudden cold weather.  And several young pines appeared damaged perhaps by deer.

The wind picked up in various places throughout the woods.  Along one stretch of trail  the trees swayed as the wind rushed through their branches.  Creaks and cracks! came from the swaying trees, sounding like they were straining to stay upright in the cold.

A short ways uphill from the frozen creek, a male wood duck flew along the trail and landed on a fallen tree trunk. He sat for a few moments in his handsome feather coat.

Fallen tree trunks held sugary snow crystals in their bark.  One fallen tree had several large ruffled fungi frozen in place.

The evening was setting in and it was the sunset and not the cold temperatures which cut this walk short.

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The trail was a mix of snow ground together with leaves and frozen between stones and pebbles
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The sun shone through the branches and gave a warm glow despite the frostiness

 

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Trees were bare

 

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Tall trees were all twisting branches and contrasting bark tones

 

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Red-bellied woodpecker
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Male Cardinal

 

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Tall grasses had yellowed into dry stalks and fluffy brown sparrows flew and hid in the stalks

 

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Perhaps pulling seeds from the delicate curling seed heads

 

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The evergreen holly bushes

 

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Black squirrel

 

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Eastern towhee finds haven in a dense brushy patch

 

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Birds rounded into little balls of fluffy feathers on their cold perches.

 

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Creaks and cracks! came from the swaying trees

 

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A male wood duck in his handsome feather coat

 

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Fallen tree trunks held sugary snow crystals

 

 

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Ruffled fungus frozen in place

 

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Evening set in

 

 

Wood ducks (Aix sponsa), according to Cornell’s All About Birds online Bird Guide, live in wooded swamps, where they nest in holes in trees or in nest boxes around lakes. They are one of the few duck species equipped with strong claws that can grip bark and perch on branches.

 

Post script. For this walker, the month of December included a move out of the city and across the river.  The high cost of renting cramped and dysfunctional housing was too absurd to stay another year.  But the irony of moving to a suburban location is that there is no comparable wooded reserve.  Visiting this wooded park now means a long travel time to and from.  But how important it is to be able to visit a natural area!

 

 

 

 

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Santa of the woods

The holiday season is such a busy time!  Visits with family, friends, errands to do, packing, and not much daylight left for walks!

During a Christmas visit to the home state, we visited an historic house to see the annual  Christmas decorations.  One room was full of Santa figurines and I particularly liked this group of Santa figures with owls, evergreen trees and other woodland friends.

 

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These Santas had spent time travelling through the woods along with forest friends to deliver trees and gifts.  I had never noticed Santas with owl companions before, but this collection had many such Santa and owl figures. Wherever these Santa figures came from, it must have been a place with beautiful winter forests.

 

Snowy woods

Temperatures dropped into the 30s and 40s this past week bringing the first snow of the season!

The snow fell steadily throughout the day on Saturday, and after finishing errands there was finally time for a quick walk just before the day darkened into evening.

The woods were coated in a white blanket of beautiful crystals.  The leafy carpet poked through in places, and the footfalls on the trail mixed the snow and leaves into mush.

Bare tree branches were outlined with snowy white, and patches of sugary flakes clung to tree bark.  Tree fungus shelves collected stacks of exquisite snowflakes.  The snow kept the woods brighter than usual as the daylight faded.   Elaborate tree root patterns were highlighted as distant lights twinkled in the evening’s gathering darkness.

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First snow of the season!

 

 

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Bare tree branches outlined in snowy white
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A white blanket of beautiful crystals; the leafy carpet poking through
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On the trail, snow and leaves mixed into mush
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Sugary flakes clung to tree bark
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Fungus shelves collected stacks of exquisite snowflakes

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Elaborate tree roots were highlighted by the snow as distant lights twinkled in the evening’s gathering darkness

 

Woods open up

Two weekends ago, over the Thanksgiving weekend, we ventured back to the woods for a walk.  Construction along the roads was still underway which blocked several trails, so our walk went a long way around.

The leaves have been falling by the hundreds!  Less leaves on the branches opens the woods up  to the sky and lets more direct sunlight through to the forest floor.  Although the days are shorter, the light in the woods is less filtered.

Late fall colors in the woods surrounded everything with oranges, browns, and splashes of yellows and reds.  Green holly bushes and English ivy contrast sharply against the fall backdrop of the woods.

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Late fall colors in the woods
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Leaves have been falling by the hundreds
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Splashes of yellow
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Direct sunlight hits the forest floor
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A green holly bush contrasts sharply against the fall backdrop
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Less leaves on the branches opens the woods

 

Thanksgiving dinner…for a hawk

Autumn advances at a rapid pace now. The days are growing shorter and the air is very dry.  The temperatures have remained fairly steady in the 50s and 60s with some days going up to 70.

Last week, after a cozy Thanksgiving dinner at home, we took a brief walk along just a few city blocks.  It had been a long day of cooking and catching up with distant family members, and the light was already fading fast.  On our walk, we passed a neighborhood elementary school with a small yard in front and stopped to watch as a rat and a few squirrels moved about in the open yards.  After commenting on seeing several rats out in the open during our walk, we started to move on when I noticed a single grey bird alight on a top branch of a tall tree within the schoolyard.  We were peering up at the bird because it was alone and an unusual shape. Suddenly, the bird dove down into the school yard with broad grey wings and a fanned-out tail and landed directly on the rat, which gave out a loud squeak!  It was a lovely bird of prey, a small hawk, and took us all by surprise!  We stood there motionless watching the hawk as it stood on the rat and looked all around blinking its beady eyes.  The squirrels meanwhile, after scattering away from the oncoming bird, went about their business hopping around and eating small things from the ground, a few feet from the hawk sitting on its prey.  The hawk stood on the rat for a short while, and then, just as suddenly as it had arrived, it flew off with the rat in its talons up over the rooftops until we couldn’t see it anymore.

Setting Sun

This past weekend there was a beautiful windy day for a walk in the woods.

Leaves had been piling up since the previous week and they covered the trail in a great crunching and shuffling carpet.  But the loudest sounds came from the leaves still on the branches being blown around in the gusty winds.

There was not as much wildlife visible that day compared with previous walks. A chipmunk was spotted, and a woodpecker overhead.

In some places the trees were nearly all bare, but along the trail there were still leaves overhead and surrounding the trail.  The dominant leaf color on the trees had a yellowish tint.  There were new colorful leaves on the ground throughout the woods as leaves have continued to change color and fall.

Near the end of the walk, the sun was setting and the leaf canopy put on its colorful vaulted ceiling display.  We took photos but they could not capture the way the leaves were illuminated in warm tones and how the colors glowed from the towering treetops all the way down to the near horizon.

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Leaves have continued to change color and fall
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Leaves covered the trail in a great crunching and shuffling carpet

 

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In some places the trees were nearly all bare

 

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The leaves were illuminated in warm tones

 

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 Colors glowed from the towering treetops to the horizon

 

 

 

Fall Fox

This weekend experienced the first daytime temperatures in the 30s, wintry temperatures to be sure! But it was a fine day for a walk in the woods, dry and calm.

The fall has been at swift work in the woods. A thick carpet of leaves on the ground, and the overall color is a burnt orangey-brown. There are still a few trees with lovely color on the branches, and some with leaves looking ready to fall, while several trees are simply bare branches by now.

It is fun to see how the forest carpet changes its pattern as we walk. At this time of year, the evidence of the variety of trees around us is all over the ground. Lovely red and yellow maple leaves, oaks, beeches, large yellow leaves, poplars, even green leaves mix together to create a handsomely decorated forest floor.

The trail is hardly visible but for a line of trampled leaves among the newly curled and dropped leaves.

There are a few cautions for walkers and joggers. First, the leaves are dry and as they get trampled, layered, and smoothed they become slippery. Rocks and roots visible above the leaves may offer no-slip footing, however rocks and roots invisible under the leaves are not your friends and will bring you face to floor with the meaning of fall as they can easily cause walkers to slip, trip, and fall!

Just a few steps into this week’s walk, this walker was struck with the spirit of Fall. A nasty brown root sticking straight up in the middle of the trail was so well blended into the leaves that this walker tripped and fell hard onto the trail. Scraped hands, scrapes and bumps on the knees, a bruised lump on the elbow, it was startling, but luckily not serious. Another walker and dog were there to help assess the damage. Fall! It is the season.

After a few minutes of walking on, the injuries felt ok to continue, and the beauty of the woods was well worth it. Like a tapestry or a colorful quilt, the leaves overhead and all around were layered in rich beautiful colors. The light changed as it filtered through so many varied leaves so that colors were enhanced all around.

Much of the ground cover plants had disappeared so that there seemed to be more space within the woods, and only the colorful leaves around. There were a few green plants standing out, such as the spiky-leaved holly. Another shrub with twisting branches also held on to green leaves. A lovely young pine with long graceful needles stood verdant along the trail.

Up atop a hill, there were sounds of rustling. A rusty colored animal was moving through the trees to cross the trail. It looked a bit like a dog, but moved differently, and it’s rich dark orange coat was no dog’s coat. It was a fox!  A fox with a beautiful fluffy coat and a very long beautifully bushy tail. It was large, yet moved swiftly without a sound! The fox stopped as it crossed the trail and looked down the trail just for a second, then stepped off the path and continued it’s way into the woods and continued to move swiftly among trees, with hardly any sound at all, until it disappeared over a small rise going in the opposite direction.

What a spectacular animal to see in these autumn woods!

The noise of a family of three deer shuffling and browsing through the leaves drew our attention just off to the right of the trail. The fox must have passed between them before crossing the trail. Suddenly a chipmunk with an acorn in its mouth scampered up a tree trunk and froze upside down to survey the scene. The chipmunk descended the tree and then returned up the trunk without the acorn.

High above, a woodpecker searched for snacks in a tall tree.

After starting again down the trail, suddenly, there was the fox on the trail way ahead loping down the trail away from us. It must have circled around and got back onto the trail ahead of us! Sneaky fox!  The fox kept moving swiftly. Suddenly it stopped on the trail looking ahead. A soft noise from behind made the fox turn it’s head just enough to give a side-eyed glance to the trail behind. Then it continued along the trail and turned off into the woods moving quickly, with hardly any sound, and that large tail floating behind it.

Further down the trail, a buck was alone grazing in the leaves. He posed for a few photos, and calmly continued along. A chirruping male cardinal was a fluffy brown from head to tail.

The light fades quickly in the woods in autumn. The sun sets early, but the woods become quite dark even before sunset. The return walk went quickly, to return home for dinner and spend the evening musing about the fox, its stealthy soundless gait, its sharp featured face, and its fine fall coat.

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Red maple leaves
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The trail is hardly visible but for a line of trampled leaves
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Roots under the leaves can cause walkers to slip, trip, and fall!

 

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A variety of leaves mix together to create a handsomely decorated forest floor.
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A lovely young pine with long graceful needles
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A fox moved swiftly among the trees with hardly any sound at all
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Deer shuffling and browsing through the leaves
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A chipmunk with an acorn in its mouth scampered up a tree trunk and froze upside down
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Leaves overhead in rich colors
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A woodpecker searched for a snack high above.
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Sneaky fox was way ahead on the trail (super zoom)
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The fox side-eyed the trail

 

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A tapestry of leaves layered in beautiful colors
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Colorful leaves all around

 

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A lone buck grazed in the leaves.
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and continued on his way
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Leafy canopy filters the light

The red fox (Vulpes vulpes) is one of five fox species in North America.  According to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (OhioDNR) online, the red fox typically eats mice, rats, rabbits, groundhogs, and other small mammals; also birds, fruits, and some grasses. They are solitary creatures during the fall and early winter.

 

Autumn canopy

Autumn arrives gradually then swiftly rearranges the woods in changing colors, and falling leaves, nuts, and seeds.

The weather cools, the green undergrowth fades away and the woods surround us with visible change, and loss, in autumn. Autumn is a season attuned with our reflections and contemplation of life’s changes.

On a late afternoon last week the woods were layered in oranges, yellows, and rusts. The whole canopy above was a colorful painted ceiling with endless variations. Occasionally the glowing yellow or red leaves of a maple shone among the burnt-orange leaves of the beech trees and oaks.

Individuals trees contrasted against each other in layers of various colors far into the distance. The woods have a new depth due to the vibrant coloring.

A trio of deer were trekking along a slope, they were nearly invisible but could be found easily by the sound of crunching leaves as they walked.

As the late sun set, its rays touched only the upper-most leaves of the canopy; the dark interior of the lower woods was backlit by a glorious vaulted ceiling of brilliant yellows, radiant reds, and fiery oranges.

 

Early Fall, continued

A rainy day is good to catch up on posting photos from last weekend’s walk.

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Patchwork of early fall colors gathered on the creek’s surface
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Nice spot at a bend in the river
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Mossy patch with new fallen leaves
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Moss and lichens covering stone
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Log with gleaming white fungus
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Signs of something drilling into a fallen tree trunk
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Log filled with leaves
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Deer browsing
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Birds flew from one side of the creek bank to the other
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Chipmunks visiting each other
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Common flicker

Early Fall Settles In

It was a gorgeous autumn weekend, and after several weeks away from the woods, it was well appreciated weather for a visit to the woods.

With temperatures in the 70s, full sun, and a free afternoon, the conditions were perfect for seeing how the early fall was settling in.

The woods have cooled and dried, decorated with a crunchy new layer of dried leaves. The colors are muted browns and oranges, with spots of yellow and red. It’s lovely to see the forest floor change throughout the fall. As leaf colors change, so the light changes.

The woods were still.  In the silence small noises were so clear.  The fallen leaves were so dry that every shuffle and rustle was loud and crisp.  Voices from clearings beyond the trees echoed throughout the woods. “Hey, Dad! Over here!” echoed off the drying leaves.

There was a slight smell of autumn, the dry leafy, almost smoky smell.

At points on the walk, one uphill section, there were tiny tapping pops coming from the dry leaves all around. Were there small seeds or falling items hitting the leaves? It was similar to the sound of first rain drops, but it was a sunny day, and there didn’t seem to be any rain falling.

Later, the sound again. Total stillness and the sounds of taps and pops on the dry leaves. Finally a few tiny drops of water appeared on nearby leaves. It was rain, but we didn’t feel it.  This strange phenomenon happened in a few places along the trail!

Dead wood had decayed throughout the summer.  In an old rotted stump small round balls of fungus bubbled quietly the same colors as the trunk and soil.  Other wood had rotted and filled with leaves.  A downed trunk had small piles of shavings on top and underneath it.  Something must have been drilling.  A standing dead tree had been serving as a dinner buffet for woodpeckers.

Occasionally birds called, cawed, or flitted above and out of sight.   At the entrance to the woods, a red cardinal seemed curious to know who was coming down the trail and eyed these visitors for a minute or two.  His feathers were not the bright red of late winter, but more subdued and fitting with the early fall.  A few woodpeckers went about knocking on branches looking for treats, hardly standing still.

Squirrels seemed pleased with the abundance of acorns on the ground, and their searching in the leaves seemed to result in an upright seat and a snack.

Many chipmunks were seen in the woods.  With squeaks and the rustling of dry leaves, chipmunks were energetically running along the networks of logs, hiding within the hollows of trunks and logs, gathering food and visiting each other.

At a bend in the creek, there was a nice place to sit where birds were passing from branches overhead from one side of the bank to the other. Across the creek there was a flat gravely shore protected by a steep bank, which meant no access for humans or dogs.  In the small pools among the pebbles, robins bathed and dunked their heads, ruffled their feathers.  A blue jay joined the scene for bathing and drinking.  The water was perfectly clear.  Other birds touched down on the gravely shore line to bathe and drink before flying back into the leafy branches above.   A common flicker stopped down for a few moments, dunking its head quickly and keeping a watch before flying back to the trees.

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A curious Cardinal at the entrance to the woods
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A crunchy new layer of dried leaves
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The colors were browns and oranges with spots of red
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Balls of fungus growing in a decaying tree stump
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Squirrel enjoying a snack
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The fallen leaves were so dry, small noises were so clear
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Standing dead tree serving as a dinner buffet for woodpeckers
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A Downy woodpecker looking for treats
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In small pools among the pebbles, robins bathed
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A blue jay joined the scene
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A robin dunked its head and ruffled its feathers
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A common flicker stopped down, dunking its head quickly and keeping watch
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Birds flitted above
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Fall was settling in

 

Common flicker ( Colaptes auratus) – According to The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American birds, the common flicker is a large brownish woodpecker.  Eastern birds have a red patch on the nape and males have a black “mustache”.  They are the only woodpeckers in North America that commonly feed on the ground.