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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 took all my seed feeders apart weeks ago. This jay appears to be primarily entertained, calling for 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 particularly like blueberries, which I haven’t planted. Pokeweed seeds are planted by birds, falling to the ground in their droppings. I have two stands of polka dots, 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 grow fat for their own migration find that the branches of the phytolac are a practical perch above the nectar feeders.

Already, the fall wildflowers are starting to take on their full meaning. The goldenrod throws its yellow feathers into the air; the iron grass and the asters crimson the fields and the 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 mom is watching 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 in safe shelter, but I’ll watch when the time comes. Still hoping.

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



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