October 2012

The melancholic nature of fall, with darkness spreading its long cloak over dusk and dawn, presaging the hibernating mode, is relieved by many splendors. The eye bright colors of changing leaves, the golden rays of sun lazily beaming from cloudless blue skies, the stirring energy of autumn rains and wind, the movement of the vees of geese, and road-daring squirrels carrying nuts are all part of the landscape of fall that we learn from our youngest years to anticipate and relish.

Yet, as with all seasons, there is much subtlety that asks us to hone our observational skills. Autumnal recrudescence is one concept that I have been considering. A search on the Internet reveals this is a favorite phrase of many naturalists and has inspired poetry and other flights of fancy. I love the words and I love the effect. Little small bits of song time emerge from thickets and brush in response to day length that causes the brain to “mistake” this dark/light equality as breeding season . The brain is stimulating glands to release hormones in a period that mimics spring. It has been a month or so since we have heard territorial birds declaiming from prominent perches, so these murmurings stir a glad response in me.

It also makes me wonder. More and more is being discovered about how baby birds learn song, that it is identical, in many bird species, to the way human children learn to speak, with exposure to the language, then babbling, leading to correct communication. Do we ever actually hear the birds doing this though? When we hear Whitethroated Sparrows doing very lopsided and weird singing or see other fall sparrows at the Freese Road Gardens almost whispering very garbled song, do we know if these are young birds practicing or some broken sounded song due to a lesser amount of hormones? Is recrudescence perhaps a hormonal surge that stimulates young birds to practice? How could we determine this? Why don’t we hear many more songs that are inspired by the equal day and night balance? There seem to just be scattered moments. Is it mostly resident birds that engage in this, perhaps because they are not feeling the restlessness that migration impetus creates? Are the hormones that trigger migration similar or the same to the ones that inspire fall singing? There was a Common Yellowthroat in Sapsucker Woods this past week that was chipping loudly, then sputtered out a truncated and high energy version of song.

Each season inspires in me an intellectual restlessness responding to all the changes occurring around me. Answers come to us all through much research and scrutiny; and, joyfully, there is always so much to just ponder. Fall also brings changes to our club. Don’t forget the club officer and director election will be held at the October meeting. It would be great to have a big turnout of members for this.

-Linda Orkin