Bright Berries, Bright Birds on Gray Days

This time of the year (the very end of October and early November) is the best time to see House Finches in Eliza Howell Park. It is one of two good times to see Cedar Waxwings. And it is the only time to see Purple Finches here. These are fruit-eating birds in this season and Eliza Howell Park has berries that they enjoy.

As I walked the path from the road toward the river recently, I began to hear American Robins. Robins, too, are primarily fruit eaters in this season, so I knew to look in the patches of honeysuckle in this area, shrubs now loaded with red berries.

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This is Asian bush honeysuckle (Amur honeysuckle), with lovely white flowers in the spring and red berries in the fall. It keeps its leaves longer than most deciduous plants, and is right now, in early November, mostly green with abundant berries. Robins, in the dozens, are one of several bird species feeding here.

Cedar Waxwings are a little less predictable than robins, but also present in good numbers most days. This is an adult.
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      Photo by Margaret Weber

Cedar Waxwings are always a joy to see. Some Waxwings still have immature features in the fall, but they also sport the very adult-looking yellow at the tip of the tail. The other time waxwings are common in the park is in August, when the fruit of the wild black cherry trees is the attraction that brings them.

One bird that can take my attention away from waxwings is the Purple Finch, for two reasons. 1) It is only present in the park, in my experience, in small numbers during a couple weeks beginning at the end of October. It breeds to the north and migrates through; for some reason, I do not see them in spring migration. I always try to get good looks while I can.

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     Photo by Margaret Weber

2) The second reason for focusing attention on (what appear to be) Purple Finches is that it is often necessary to look twice to see if the bird really is a Purple Finch. House Finches are also present and it is often difficult to tell the two apart when they are not posing out in the open.

The males within each species (these pictures are of males) vary from one to another in color, in how much red they have. Females are very different from males (no red at all) and there is also a definite resemblance in the females of the two species.

House Finches are in this region throughout the year, but this time of the year is by far the best time to see them in Eliza Howell.

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Photo by Margaret Weber

There are also other birds attracted to the berries – and there are other berries attracting the birds. One of the most common vines growing in the park is Oriental Bittersweet. Bittersweet can often be found along the edges of wooded areas, where it is can cover small trees and shrubs.

Bittersweet fruit is yellow looking until it opens in the fall to reveal the red berry inside. Then more birds come.

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There are many dark cloudy gray days in early November in Detroit, but the berries and the birds they attract make the days brighter.

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