A yellow-shafted flicker lights on a bare branch of a tall prairie willow to my left. In a moment she is joined by a male flicker. And now, by another male—what is going on here? This is hardly the mating season. No. These are likely her grown up broodfrom this breeding season.

The trees all along the Red River here are festooned with bright autumn yellow now. A young sugar maple with large leaves smiles at me with her bright red, caught in the afternoon sun.

As I sit under my favorite big old American elm I am entertained by one yellow leaf after another yellow leaf falling on me almost constantly. In the advent of a light breeze I am treated to such a shower of colored leaves upon me, that it makes me chuckle.

The air and temperature of this autumn equinox afternoon is so perfect that I am also entertained by a constant parade of small birds darting back and forth throughout the low-hanging limbs of this old elm. However, they are backlit so completely, and they dart about so constantly, that I am unable to identify them; at least that’s my excuse.

A bumblebee enjoys a nice lunch on a white aster four feet to my right. He is a treat, because I am not seeing many  sights on this pleasant afternoon. One mosquito visited me when I first sat down, and that was it. I am a little concerned, because local birders remark on the dearth of insects for the insect-eating birds this year, perhaps from spraying.

A flight of 18 Canada geese pass overhead just now in their orderly, leisurely way. They are heading north, which suggests they are looking for open water or a field for the night.

A moment later two mallards head by at rocket speed, silently skimming the surface of the river. They are all business, and hell-bent at getting to where they are going.

Eight Americn crows gather in some old dead tree limbs high  up in the air on the Minnesota side of the river far off to my right. In leisurely fashion they are enjoying the updrafts, soaring and sailing about, and occasional lighting in the trees.

I was curious how the yllowed autumn leaves of the green ash and the American elm are almost identical when one of each falls to the earth beside me.  They are both toothed on their edges and alike in shape.

The green ash, however, is a bit  farther in the middle, The elm has a more elegant shape.

But the distinct difference is that the green ash leaf has only about seven leaf veins, while the elm has around 15 veins. Of course it is seen on the tree when it is a green, the green ash has compound leaf, as we’ve discussed before, whereas the elm have a single leaf. So, autumn offers us occasional puzzles, like similar shapes and color.

James Alger, who lives in Fargo, N.D., has been a summer resident of the Leech Lake area with his family for over 45 years. Over that time he has grown to love and appreciate the people and the woodlands of this area.


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