6:54 a.m. 48 degrees, wind SSE 2 mph. Sky: a smooth, continuous cloud
sheet, tucked and drawn tightly along the horizon. Permanent streams:
leaf-clogged but moving. Wetlands: somber, a theme of brown, vague
suggestions of green (except for alder, which still sports summer look).
Pond: glass surface; without mist and mergansers. Pale, blue-colored asters
bloom in the woods along the edge of the road; milkweed leaves turn yellow,
some seedpods open; seeds beat down by rain clump on the ground, meadow
dust bunnies; goldenrod flowers have gone by, dogs unwitting seed
A broken record: red-breasted nuthatches' tin-horn toots fill woods. One
hairy woodpecker, en route to my bird feeder, calls sharply from the oaks.
I pause at the white spruce and search for golden-crowned kinglets.
Instead, a ruby-crowned kinglet pops into view, bounces around the white
spruce branches, and wings flicking. Nearby, in the alders, several
red-breasted nuthatches join a mixed flock of chickadees and
golden-crowned kinglets. Ruby-crowned kinglet moves from spruce to alder;
mixes in the *loose *flock; a food fest, harvesting small caterpillars from
the backs of green leaves. Ruby's crown, well hidden (I've only seen the
crown when birds are agitated), but broken eye-ring and pronounced wing
. . . and, of course, compulsive wing-flicking, and hyperactivity.
Kinglets, I could watch them all day, jazzed and energized, animating a
sober October woodland.
When Penguin Books published Eliot Porter's *Birds of North America: A
Personal Selection* (1972), the large-format, coffee-table book—a landmark
ornithological publication; a world-class photography book—included a
photograph of a ruby-crowned kinglet flying into its nest in the spindly
crown of Englemann spruce. To get the photograph, Porter hired a
cherry-picker to cut off the top of the tree, nearly one hundred feet off
the ground, clamp it to the picker; then, day after day after day, lowered
the crown and nest by increments, until the kinglet nest was at eye level.
The birds accepted the activity, fed, and eventually fledged chicks. From a
ground-level blind, Porter got his photograph. My oh my, how times have