Turn the Page: A Salute to the Fall Migration

By Brian Kluepfel

Many people see autumn as a dark time – the days shorten as we prepare to face certain winter ahead, full of snow and freezing temperatures.

I prefer to view it as an exciting time – my favorite season – when the color palette of Mother Nature changes by the week and the foliage explodes in a red-orange-yellow-brown-purple variety too amazing for words. Squirrels and other animals make haste to collect enough food for the winter ahead, but even their manic activity is inspiring.

Likewise, people see this month’s holiday, Halloween, as something sinister, a day to honor witches and satanic brews, a time when people hide their true faces behind evil deeds and a night when ghosts and goblins haunt our landscape. I take the contrary view. Day of the Dead, All Soul’s Day, Samhain – whatever different cultures have named it over the centuries – is a salute to the spirit of our ancestors in our everyday lives, an effort to keep them vibrant in our memory by praying to them, bringing them offerings of food and flowers and generally acknowledging their presence among us.

Crows and ravens face a similar blacklisting as Halloween. Seen as harbingers of death and evil, I merely see them as the most intelligent birds in the world, which they almost certainly are.

Clever corvids notwithstanding, birders face the same good-versus-bad decision as autumn leaves start to fall. It’s getting cold, we’ll see fewer birds at a greater cost in the winter (the economic cost of buying seed for the feeders for some; the physical cost of venturing into the snows for a day of birding).

I like to see fall as an opportunity to bid goodbye (temporarily) to the beautiful birds which have graced our spring and summer, and now head south. Beautiful warblers and majestic raptors alike fill the skies, often hundreds at a time, in a synchronized movement to wintering grounds in the Caribbean and Central and South America.

Like the changing foliage, each week brings different sizes, shapes and colors of migrants on their way out of town. It’s a reminder that some beauty is temporal and passing, and that we should appreciate it while it’s here.

This week, too, I was reminded via a Zoom call (the only way to fly these days!) of the great work many conservationists are doing in Latin America to make the avian habitat there safe for incoming flights. Audubon’s branch in Panama is busy counting raptors at one of the world’s top sites for viewing this astounding migration – one of the few places where more than two million migratory raptors were counted in a single day – while Asociación Calidris in Colombia gets ready for the imminent arrival of the Canada warbler, a bird of special interest whose health can be an indicator for many other avian species.

Finally, this column gives me a voice to encourage you to vote for our future in November (or earlier). When you’re casting that ballot, remember that this world and its abundance belongs not just to us but to future generations. In fact, it doesn’t really belong to anyone at all; we’re part of the natural cycle, and as much havoc as we sow, so shall we reap.

Allow me to quote from Eric Lomax, held as a prisoner of war by the Japanese during World War II and forced to endure inhumane, crippling torture for three years. The last sentence of his autobiography: “Sometime, the hating has to stop.”

Brian Kluepfel is a member of Saw Mill River Audubon and encourages support of its various activities. (Buy some seed for the winter!) A correspondent for Lonely Planet travel guides throughout the Americas, he lives in Ossining. Find him at  www.birdmanwalking.com or www.brianbirdwatching.com.