I was sitting under an old beech tree, my back comfortable against its elephantine trunk. It was a crisp, sunny late autumn morning, bright yellow leaves six inches deep all around me. Grackles and starlings scratched for the tiny beechnuts hidden under those leaves, just as I had been doing a few minutes earlier. The racket they made was ironically peaceful, and I was dozing off.
I stared absentmindedly at a family of large hackberries in front of me across the clearing. The trees stood naked, deep ridges in their mica-like bark standing out like hardened rivulets. One lone leaf fluttered down from an upper branch and came to rest at the base of the hackberry's trunk...and then started creeping up the side of the tree. Up the tree went that leaf, a tiny kayak nudging its way in fits and starts upstream. When it reached the first low branches of the tree, it fluttered abruptly down to the bottom, and started its way upstream again. I had never seen a leaf do that before.
I learned later that I was watching a Brown Creeper, and it was doing what Brown Creepers do--creeping. As it worked its way up the trunk of the tree, it would cock its head left and right, its long curved beak probing the cracks and ridges in the bark. When it found a small insect, it would pause barely long enough to gulp it down, before resuming its march upstream, as if it feared getting washed back down the trunk if it stopped moving.
Since that day, I have been a big fan of the little Brown Creeper. I admire its agility, its spunk and its persistence. To find this tiny bird, look for the biggest trees in the forest. The bigger the tree and the deeper the crevices in the bark, the happier the Brown Creeper. And once you know to look for a leaf crawling up the trunk of one of those huge trees, you'll be surprised how easy it is to find, and how common the Brown Creeper is.
Another good way to find the Brown Creeper is to listen for it. As it creeps, it also cheeps--a high, thin seee that is not loud, but is surprisingly easy to pick up, if you know what to listen for.
Autumn is here. Leaves are flying. But look carefully, they might not all be leaves.
Dan's Feathursday Feature is a weekly contribution to the COS blog featuring the thoughts, insights and pictures of Chicago birder, Dan Lory on birds of the Chicago region.