My favorite time to hike in the woods is in the fall. I don’t care much for beating the summer heat by hitting the trail at 6am, and, regardless, in summertime the wildlife is a bit more languid during the daylight hours. But, ah.. the fall! Mild temps all day long, wildlife scurrying to prepare for winter, and just enough dampness on the ground to make walking a bit more clandestine. Of course you already know about the beautiful fall foliage…

Whenever one sees an impressive raptor on a limb or ledge, one naturally conjures images of the fierce beast making an aggressive dive towards you with its stiletto talons ready to rake your face off. But, all of the hawks and eagles and falcons I’ve ever come across have simply disregarded me. I am too big to eat and not worth their effort when it comes to harassment. They know that their looks alone will keep me from disturbing them.

But one doesn’t naturally expect any hostility from songbirds. And so, as I crept along slowly through the fall woods just last month, I came upon a clearing where I was delighted to see a nesting pair of red-bellied woodpeckers flitting nervously about a large tree stump, apparently establishing a nest. Naturally, I stopped to watch their fascinating aerial dance with much delight.

But, just moments later, the pair took a quick turn and started flying towards me. “Wonderful!” I thought. “I will get a really good close-up look at them as they happen to pass by…” Or so I thought. They accelerated towards me with such speed that they were just a blur. And…they nearly took my cap off! I could easily feel the gust of their wings as they dive-bombed me!! And then I realized that these seemingly docile creatures had me way outmatched with their speed, pointy sharp beaks, and territorial fervor.

Luckily, they only made the one pass. And I got the message. But, I stood my ground for a few minutes longer, just to let them know I wasn’t intimidated. Then, I quietly moved away, out of their private space.  I left them to their marvelous undertaking, feeling just a bit awestruck by their bravado and territorial instinct. It was the highlight of my entire fall outing!