Sunday, October 3, 2010

Dogwood Berry Breakfast

We've had a cool snap lately, with pristine air and high barometer skies, the change we've all been waiting for. Our recent hot, wet  summer has been producing a lavish harvest for the wildlife.  Hickory nuts have fallen in abundance, persimmons are ripening early, as did paw paw, and acorns are larger than any in recent memory.  The dogwood tree in our front yard, recently loaded with berries, is now nearly devoid of them and their faded remains carpet the ground.

In my journal of two years ago, I note that the berries from that same tree didn't ripen until late November that year.  Two days after Thanksgiving, on a cold gray morning, as Don and I were just getting ready to pour milk on our Grapenuts and granola, we heard a raucous commotion in the front yard.  We looked out to see a Pileated Woodpecker squabbling with some squirrels over a tree full of ripe dogwood berries. It seemed to me that there were plenty to go around.  For the next half hour I stood transfixed by the window as birds and squirrels feasted on this late Thanksgiving dinner.

Two Flickers arrived for the feast, decked out in their finery, right down to the bright orange triangle on the back of their necks.  They looked like little stuntmen, as they twisted and turned, and reached over backwards to grasp the tasty Dogwood morsels.  They were followed by a flock of Robins, who bolted the berries down in one quick gulp.  Blue Jays were next.  They would carefully pick the berries, one at a time, then fly to a sturdy limb where they would dismantle them, discard the shiny red exterior, and eat out the center seed.  Then the squirrels were back, running along the limbs and stretching out to reach the berries and doing a flip-turn back to their branch, were they savored their treat, before diving for the next one.

One year, a flock of Cedar Waxwings swooped down and stripped the tree of berries in one day. At that time I assumed,  since they knew where this great tree was, they’d come back for the harvest every year, but we never saw the phenomenon again.

I'm not sure what the creatures will be having for Thanksgiving this year, but chances are, they'll have plenty in their pantry.

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