Reviews | Signs of climate change in my own backyard



Every afternoon, our young red-tailed hawk comes back to the neighborhood crying while flying. He’s been crying for so long that at least one blue jay has learned to copy him. I saw a blue jay make an imitation hawk appeal to rid a bird feeder of its rivals, but I took all my seed feeders apart weeks ago. This jay appears to be primarily entertained, calling out desperate baby hawk cries, just for the fun of it.

I took my feeders apart because I don’t need them at this time of year. Withered zinnias and coneflowers and black-eyed Susans provide plenty of seeds, and beauty berries, arrowwood berries, and pokeweed berries are also ripe now. They feed all of our resident birds and all the migrants that light up in these trees on their long journey. Soon the acorns will be ripe, and the cones of eastern red cedar and the berries of American holly – enough for the squirrels and everyone.

I especially like blueberries, which I haven’t planted. The pokeweed seeds are planted by birds, falling to the ground in their droppings. I have two stands of polka dot plants, and they are beautiful, with magenta limbs and 10 feet tall. Blueberries attract chicks that haven’t quite figured out capturing insects yet, but almost all backyard songbirds help themselves from time to time, and hummingbirds that fatten for their own migration find pokeweed branches a convenient perch above nectar feeders.

Already, the fall wildflowers are starting to bloom. The goldenrod throws its yellow feathers into the air; ironweed and asters purple fields and roadsides; the snake root covers the undergrowth of the forest; The flowers of anise, hyssop and elephant’s foot call the bees to the naturalized side of our yard. All of them feed the insects that feed birds that need fuel for migration or to survive the winter at home.

Not everyone will survive. A basilica weaver spider has built its cathedral in front of our front door. Her web has been pounded by the rains over and over again, but her pearly egg sacks, all chained to each other, are safe. Every day I check them to be sure, and every day their mother watches me suspiciously while I check.

She’ll keep them faithfully until her death, and the last thing she’ll do is secure the guy ropes they’ll need to guide them when they pop out of their bags next spring. I’ve never seen the translucent spiders emerge to run along these strands to safe shelter, but I’ll watch when the time comes. Still hoping.

Margaret Renkl, an Opinion writer, is the author of the books “Late Migrations: A Natural History of Love and Loss” and “Graceland, at Last: Notes on Hope and Heartache From the American South”.



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