Sports editor

Les Winkeler is sports editor and outdoors writer for The Southern Illinoisan.

March is a green, muddy month down below. Some folks like it. Farmers mostly.

— Bear Claw, Jeremiah Johnson

For those of us living in temperate climates, months certainly have colors attacked to them.

January is white, February gray, and as Bear Claw so eloquently noted, March is green.

Until this past week, I saw September as a brown month, a precursor to the inevitable bleakness of winter.

The corn in the fields stands withered and brown, its inevitable state as harvest nears. The leaves have fallen off some soybeans, leaving barren stalks and the brown pods. And, despite its best effort, the grass in the front lawn is succumbing to the late-summer heat and dryness.

For years, the brown of September seemed to be merely a placeholder for the vibrant oranges and reds of October.

But, a drive through Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge last week proved me wrong.

September is yellow.

If you haven’t visited a natural area recently, please get in your cars, on your bikes or on your feet. The world is literally ablaze with yellows.

Daisies so tall and bright they should shine at night are blooming along the roadsides. Goldenrod is virtually everywhere. And, dozens or other species unknown to me are making this September one of the most vivid months in memory.

If the yellows weren’t spectacular enough, thistle is in full bloom right now, adding a pinkish-purple contrast. There aren’t enough crayons in a box of 64 to capture nature’s current palette.

This array of color caused me to pull off the roadway just west of Pigeon Creek late last week. Sitting there quietly, simply letting the colors sink, I received a bonus.

A male American goldfinch, arrayed in sunshine yellow, lighted on a drying thistle plant. The goldfinch aggressively pecked at the drying pod, pulling down from the spent flower. The bird enthusiastically spit, or tossed aside the down.

Once the plant had been sufficiently stripped of down, the goldfinch started feeding on the seed hidden in the pod.

Seeing a goldfinch perched on thistle is common, but I had never witnessed this behavior before.

Apparently, goldfinch are a lot like humans. When there is good food around, word spreads quickly. Within seconds of the goldfinch hitting the seed jackpot, a female landed on an adjacent thistle. In short order, two or three more goldfinches joined them.

I watched them feed long enough to convince me that September is not a brown month — far from it.

LES WINKELER is the outdoors writer for The Southern Illinoisan. Contact him at les.winkeler@thesouthern.com, or call 618-351-5088 / On Twitter @LesWinkeler.

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