This Morning Outside

Swainson's Thrush

Swainson's Thrush

Fairfield, Iowa, October ~

It is an arduous journey that Swainson's Thrushes must undertake. When I see one coming through my backyard in fall, I wish I had a way to tell it how I empathize with its urge to survive and reproduce. How much I wish it success.

This bird does not nest in Iowa. Either it nested far north of here, or it was hatched far north in the nest of its parents and is making its first migration south.

It's on its way to Central or South America for the winter. If it survives the migration both ways, I might see it again next spring. That is, if it can find food and shelter to go all that way on its own muscular effort.

On migration, if flies by night. During the day, it rests and refuels. 

The fuel? Virginia Creeper and other native plants that make berries are the stuff of life. Virginia Creeper makes a lacework of leaves up the trunks of trees. It blooms high in the canopy. By fall, the leaves stand out pink and red against tree trunks. The flowers turn into berries, which now turn a deep, rich blue. The color signals ripeness. To a Swainson's Thrush, they are the color of life.

I've had people ask me how to get rid of Virginia Creeper. The plant leaves marks on a wall that it climbs. It comes uninvited into gardens. And some people get a rash from skin contact with the leaves.

How to defend this plant that gives life to the birds I love and long to help? I advise my questioners: It doesn't grow in my sunny prairie flower garden. It climbs up trees in the woods. It is outstanding for birds. Also it covers the ground and protects the soil. It competes with plants that I love less, such as creeping charlie. If it starts to grow in a spot I don't want, it's easy to pull off. So what's not to like?

But if Virginia Creeper grows in a place you cannot abide, then with rubber gloves you can safely pull it up, especially when the plants are young. If you don't let it stay on the house too long it will also come off from there with surprising ease.

And maybe just thinking of the Swainson's Thrush will make Virginia Creeper's existence easier to bear.

— Diane Porter, Fairfield, Iowa, October 14, 2021