This morning when I had coffee on my deck I did not hear the hooded warbler that nests in the tangles in the young woods below my yard. I did not hear a northern parula singing from the tops of the tulip poplars. There was no buzzy black-throated blue song emanating from the rhododendrons along the little creek. I did not hear a single raspy “chickbuuurrrr” anywhere in the forest. There were no schizoid red-eyed vireos talking to themselves as they bounced from tree to tree and no wood thrushes graced the early morning with their sweet flute song.
It’s hard to believe but since August billions (that’s with a b) of Neotropical migrants representing more than 330 species have left their nesting grounds in North America for wintering grounds in Central and South America. Researchers at the Yucatan Peninsula Partnership in conjunction with the Central Hardwoods Joint Venture program estimated that as many a 1.5 billion Neotropical migrants pass through the peninsula each fall as they migrate from North America.
Researchers estimate that around 70 percent of the birds that nest in Southern Appalachian forests are Neotropical Migrants. When they are gone things are sure a lot quieter. Now the chickadees, titmice and nuthatches at my feeder this morning were chattering away and one lonely Carolina wren cut loose once or twice with a somewhat half-hearted attempt at song. But it doesn’t come close to that spring and summer early morning choir composed of hooded warbler, black-throated green, black-throated blue, northern parula, black-and-white, scarlet tanager, rose-breasted grosbeak, wood thrush, ovenbird, blue-headed vireo and red-eyed vireo that I can usually pick out by the time I finish my early morning coffee.
Of course this is not to say that winter birding is boring. Purple finches and pine siskins are sure to make an appearance at my feeders and who knows, we may even get lucky one winter soon and see an irruption of evening grosbeaks, though I don’t think I’ve had any since 1999. And Lake Junaluska will be strutting its stuff as fronts bring different waterfowl throughout the winter.
So, I’ll just enjoy my coffee in solitude for a few short months and sweeten it with anticipation of next April.
The Sounds of Silence
With apologies to Simon & Garfunkel
Goodbye wood thrush my old friend
You’ll have to wait to sing again
Because a season softly creeping
Has appeared while I was sleeping
And that season full of cold n wind and rain
Within the sound of silence
Drinking my morning coffee all alone
Missing that flute-like song
From the woods that have grown so bare
Where no song now fills the air
And my ears and heart can no longer hear
That liquid voice that isn’t here
It touched the sound of silence
And as the dawn began to grow
The missing songs were all around
Parulas and tanagers were missing
No hint of grosbeaks or buntings
The only thing that blared
Was just the sound of silence
Oh, said I, I do not know
Cause silence with the winter grows
Can I wait till spring to hear you
I’ll have to wait till spring to hear you
But my words like silent raindrops fell
In the woods of silence
But we believers must believe
Winter came and it will leave
It will go with Spring’s warming
It will go with leaves forming
And the forests will fill again with joyous sound
They will abound
And quench the sounds of silence.