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By Sigrid Sanders:
Several days ago, on the last morning of October, a thick quilt of gray-white clouds almost covered a chilled blue sky. The colors of fall, though not spectacular this year, had changed the mood and light from sunny green to orange, rust and wine. Yellow, brown and dark-red sweet gum leaves and brown pine needles littered the ground. Brown patches splotched the green of white oaks, and pecan trees were turning their usual crusty, withered and curled gray-green, showering leaves in the wind …
The fading, mellow colors and the cloud-gray light of the morning formed the perfect backdrop for the whistled songs of White-throated Sparrows, drifting up from hidden spots in shrubs and thickets – a plaintive, bittersweet fall and winter music.
No chuck-will’s-widow sang this summer near our home. The absence of its song in long warm twilights and sultry summer nights felt like the loss of an old, close friend. There’s a hole in the world where it used to be.
A chuck-will’s-widow is a southern bird of night and twilight that feeds on insects caught as it flies, often low over the ground. Like its close relative, the whip-poor-will, it sings its name – a quick chuck! followed by a warbled hiccupping WI-ill’s-WI-dow. The song has a bright glowing quality, and shines like a ray of moonlight across a shadowy background of katydids, crickets, the snort of a deer, the rustle of grass and leaves, and soft, padding footsteps in the dark. It’s a familiar song in the country here, a natural part of a southern summer night.