Reminder of what flies over unseen on autumn nights

A sora, dead on the road outside the post office in Sewanee, Tennessee. These are wetland birds of the north. A dry road gutter in a town built in the southern forested uplands is a far cry from the sora’s usual marshy home.

img_20160912_133918895 This is not the first dead rail that I’ve seen on Sewanee’s roads during the autumn. Their nocturnal migratory flights carry them over the Cumberland Plateau. Perhaps they are lured then confused by the “security” lights that festoon our small downtown area. An early morning driver must have struck this bird as it wandered the road.


Those stubby wings are well adapted to movement in the dense vegetation of marshes. They’re also powerful enough to carry the birds — those that escape our lights and tires — over the Gulf of Mexico to their wintering grounds in Central and South America.

Listen as you walk in the evening: autumnal migrants are streaming through the skies every night, calling as they fly. Chirp, tzup, zzip, the sound of hundreds of thousands of memories of wetland, forest, and prairie, winging bird-thoughts south, away from the leading edge of winter. We’re hearing part of the landscape’s mind in motion. On the roads, in the morning, tiny flecks of lost understanding.



12 thoughts on “Reminder of what flies over unseen on autumn nights

  1. Kay MacKenzie

    Thank you, David. Takes me back to days when I paid more attention to the non-human world. Urges me to return to that state as I retire soon. Beautiful last paragraph.

  2. Scott

    I want to add my appreciation to those who wrote earlier for your lyric elegy. We have created 160 acres of native grassland on a former hay farm in an attempt to attract meadow nesting birds in southeastern Pennsylvania. So far, we have not been able to entice Eastern Meadowlarks or Bobolinks to breed, but we have gotten notoriously fickle Sedge Wrens to breed two years in a row, and the grasslands offer habitat for Soras during migration. Our staff uses an off-road Gator for maintenance, and we have found two dead Soras over the last few years; I suspect they were struck by careless or speeding staff members. Even off road “sanctuary” habitat isn’t safe!

    1. David George Haskell Post author

      Thank you! Your native grassland sounds like a great success so far. Sedge wren is a fabulous bird! Evidently the sora has a hard time with vehicles everywhere. The silver lining is that they are still quite abundant.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s