In May 2011, after four years of life on McNutt's Island, we moved to Montreal. This blog remains, though, as a (sort of) daily record of our time on the island, and a winding path for anyone who would like to meander about among its magical places. For additional perspectives and insights I recommend Greg's book, Island Year: Finding Nova Scotia (2010), and my Bowl of Light (2012). I'll continue to post once in a while. If you do want to read this blog, one option would be to begin at the beginning of it (which is, as we all know, in blog-world, at the end), and read forward, concluding with the most recent entry. It's a journal, really, so it does makes more sense if you read it that way. But, you know, read it any way you like.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Quiet time for birds

The song birds are quiet these days. Once in a while, during the day, a thin and sketchy version of the white-throated sparrow's song floats across the air. Its volume has been turned down, and the song stops and begins again at random. It is as if a bored dj is idly lifting the needle from a spinning record and replacing it further down the groove. The summer dance party is winding down. The white-throated sparrow does not need to announce his presence or defend his tree any longer. His babies have hatched and passed the first dangerous hurdles of life -- crows, gulls, et cetera -- or not. But in any event he is preparing to move on, which does not require much in the way of singing.

The matter of babies can be confusing for somebody like me who does not know what to look for. By the time the young are out and about they are nearly as big as their parents. The other day I watched a yard full of robins searching for insects and worms. Looking, I realized that it was a sight I had not seen for some time. The robins had disappeared in July, when they were nesting. Except for that hypervigilant father who guarded the nest in the grape arbour and loudly scolded me every time I came into the garden. Now I saw that many of the dozen or so robins in the yard had the speckled breasts of juveniles, though they all seemed pretty much the same size. If I had not looked at them more carefully I would not have known I was seeing babies.

It was the same with the great blue herons. For a couple of weeks in July the sky seemed filled with them, flying back and forth in their diagonal flight pattern from the eastern side of the island toward the cove. I did not understand what I was seeing. Where did they all come from? I wondered then. It did not occur to me that the babies would by then be as big as their parents, even though I had seen that one tentative young heron in the backyard, enormous and gawky. Then the sky emptied of herons and they were gone.

This silence and emptiness will continue to settle slowly on the island over the next month or so. It's a via negativa that gives clarity to the summer's jumbled intensity, like a developing photograph emerges from the emulsion bath of the darkroom. But secretive little birds will continue to flit silently through the spruce forests, and many of the robins will remain over the winter, along with the gulls and the crows, who will party on.

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