The Wax Myrtle and Yellow-rumped Warblers

Much of the yard’s fall and winter activity takes place in the wax myrtles. (I believe ours are southern wax myrtle. Other names include Southern bayberry or candleberry.) I’ve never bothered to count, so I don’t know how many individual plants make up the barrier between our fence and the sidewalk. Enough to create a unique habitat in the yard.

More tree than shrub, the wax myrtles are distinctly male and female. Only the females produce berries. (Technically, their fruit is considered a drupe.)

The berries aren’t in high demand. Few of the yard’s visitors bother with them, which leaves more than enough for the yellow-rumped warblers that come each fall and stay until spring.

According to The Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s All About Birds website, yellow-rumped warblers are the only warbler species able to digest the berries.

The warblers stay through pear-blooming time, when they spend a few weeks feasting on nectar and soaking up sunshine. Then they disappear.

Today I saw fall’s first flock of warblers flitting through the wax myrtle. For me, their arrival is as certain a sign as the Harvest Moon.

From the Sparrow Archives

My day is too short, my list too long. Books and projects tug at my attention, while bills and guilt lurk in every shadow. I wonder if this is how sparrows feel as they forage and flirt, keeping their constant predator alert…

Squirrel in the Bird Feeder

I photographed this little visitor in the first week of February last year. A full year has passed since then, a remarkable sequence of months that have been some of the most productive of my life, and the saddest. I suppose the same might be said of any twelve month span, as I tend to measure time by milestones of success and loss. But what if there is another way? What if I should learn to measure time as the distance between meals, as the difference between hunger and a handful of seed?

Chickadees and Downy Woodpeckers

Early last year, while walking at First Landing State Park, I noticed a small flock of chickadees foraging alongside a pair of downy woodpeckers. The chickadees seemed like amateurs in such practiced company, but all of the birds appeared to enjoy success.

It was the first time I had seen chickadees exhibit this particular foraging technique, and the already beautiful day brightened. The euphoria of my new knowledge followed me home. It lingered for days, sending me back to the Park for another walk much sooner than I might otherwise have gone.

I was able to capture a few seconds with my camera, a fleeting glimpse that words alone would never convey. I find this difficult to admit, as I love words and am reluctant to acknowledge their limits. I find it even more difficult to accept that the moment can never be reproduced or shared in full. How unfair, that time and space conspire to render memory so singular and personal.

Pileated Woodpeckers

Oversized, loud, and brilliantly crested, pileated woodpeckers command my attention like few other birds. When I hear their call, I find it impossible to keep walking. Curiosity (or is it obsession?) forces me to stop and listen for their foraging raps, creep a few steps closer, then stop and listen again. Each time I catch a glimpse of them, I feel as if I have accomplished something wondrous.