Nature’s surprises in a warm and mostly dry autumn

Cluster of fungi seen at Mason Farm Biological Reserve. Photo by ©Maria de Bruyn.


By Maria de Bruyn

Growing numbers of people worldwide are vigorously advocating for the preservation of “green space” as urbanization and environmental losses exacerbated by climate change are decreasing the natural areas available for animals, plant life and human enjoyment. Hopefully, their efforts will produce increasingly favorable outcomes so we can enjoy unexpected delights and surprises as we go outdoors and observe what is around us.

For a couple of the past weeks, a topic of conversation for some other walkers and myself was the beauty and variety of fungi that we were seeing. Despite an overall lack of rain, mushrooms emerged in more significant numbers than I recalled seeing in many parks and reserves. My knowledge of fungi is minimal, but it didn’t diminish my enjoyment of the varied shapes, sizes and colors.

Viewed from the left, the killdeer are birds 1 and 3 and the dunlin birds 2 and 4. Photo by ©Maria de Bruyn.

In the autumn, many local birders travel to larger lakes and the ocean to see waterbirds arriving during migration. At Jordan Lake, I was happy to see two dunlin that were hanging out with a group of killdeer. Dunlin are shorebirds that breed in arctic and subarctic areas; they come south for the rest of the year. It was a treat to see them here without having to drive three hours to the coast.

A fairly large bat flying over a pond around noon. Photo by ©Maria de Bruyn.

A second unexpected sight at a local pond occurred less than a week ago. Few birds around when I got there so when I saw a dark flyer zip overhead, I took a couple quick photos as it disappeared behind some trees. It might be a blackbird of some kind but when I enlarged the photo, it turned out to be a bat. This was a big surprise as it was only 12:20 p.m.

This bat was larger than those I have seen flying in my neighborhood after dusk. Some kind biologists are now looking at the photos to see if they can identify it as a species. My reaction when I realized what I’d seen was: “Oh, a big brown bat!” That is one of the species in our state but there are several others as well.

Likely male Canada geese battling over feeding turf. Photo by © Maria de Bruyn.

A third surprise came at the same pond where a flock of Canada geese were foraging and resting. This bird species is known to go after people who come too close to their nests. It’s also not uncommon to see one goose go after another in an aggravated manner; this is often a dispute between males. One bird will swim after another while holding his neck and face low to the water and honking vigorously. The scene I came across, however, was the first time that I had seen two geese locked in an actual physical battle.

The fighting ganders were flapping their wings hard and trying to bite one another.  I read later that male geese who want the same feeding area will engage with one another to establish dominance. The relatively long-lasting commotion they were causing apparently also alarmed the other 20 or so geese who had been sitting and swimming calmly — they all flew and swam to be near the fighters while also honking loudly. The intervention seemed to work as the combatants finally separated. I had not expected to see some geese breaking up a fight between other geese!

Top left: hermit thrush. Top right: Northern flicker and American robin. Bottom: American robin and cedar waxwings. Photo by © Maria de Bruyn.

Back at my yard, the drought was leading the visiting yard birds to put aside their differences as they shared access to my bird baths. The creeks in our area are quite low and the birds have obviously been having a hard time finding places to drink and bathe. Whereas a few months ago, I only needed to refill the baths once a day, the past weeks I’ve been refilling them 3-4 times daily.

I have put out some shallow water-filled plant dishes on my porch for them. This has attracted birds that don’t often come so close to the house such as hermit thrushes and cedar waxwings. Being able to see them so well brings home the beauty of these creatures.

The rain we had on November 21 was welcomed by the birds and I was pleased that some new autumn-blooming plants were getting water as well. Hopefully, the remainder of our fall season will be mild and have some more rain to offset the drought conditions. Hope all you readers will have a wonderful holiday weekend and if you have any unusual nature sightings, it would be cool to read about them in the comments section below!

Maria de Bruyn participates in nature-oriented citizen science projects, volunteers for Mason Farm Biological Reserve, NC Wildlife Federation and the Orange County Senior Center, coordinates a nature-themed book club and posts on Instagram ( and at

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