Spring is slow coming this year, but as a result we recently had on our carport/roof/feeder a huge flock of redpolls, the sparrow-like birds which “irrupt” every other year or so from the far north. They have a red top knot (hard to see in poor light) and the males have a pink breast.
We’ve never had as many migrating juncos, which everyone knows because of the white-sided tails that flash when they fly. As of April 21 a number of them are still coming in every day. If you look with binoculars at the beak you will see that it is clearly pink! And even without binos you can tell the dark grey, almost black ones, the males, from the females which are lighter grey/brown.
On that nasty day of “winter mix” a couple weeks ago it was amusing to watch the juncos skating on the invisible ice covering the sloping tin roof. There was a great flapping of wings and spreading of tails as they tried to keep their balance, but they managed to keep feeding, not seeming to get irritated as most of us would have. When the sleet got thick the redpolls did a two-foot hop back to scrape down to the seed. A song sparrow, that very hardy, early singer, took advantage of the seeds that day too.
A brilliant-white-morph white-throated sparrow has been visiting too, unusual for us. Today a tan-morph fed at the same time, the stripes on the head being buff instead of white. Both have a beautifully white bib. These two are probably a pair as they breed here in the spring, but the very odd thing about these two versions of the species is that it is not a case of the male having the brilliant white stripes, the female being duller. (The stripes, that is.) Both genders can be either morph, but they always choose the opposite form for their mate. How do they know which one they are so they know to choose the other morph?? I don’t think this puzzle has been solved.
Another puzzle this winter was a brown and white mystery feeding under a friends feeder. After much page turning of the Sibley book with its excellent plumage variations, the answer was a solitary, lonely snow bunting male starting to change to its summer colors. I hope it found its friends before heading for Baffin Island where I once saw a pair nesting in a cliff.
The rest of the birds this winter, except for a brief visit by a Cooper’s hawk that dashed across the roof scaring the birds up, have been the usual chickadees, the two nuthatches, and two woodpeckers, with their friend the brown creeper which is always with them, creeping up the trees and flying back down to the bases, and for the first time ever I have seen a golden-crowned kinglet, the midget of the winter birds, also hanging out in the background with the chickadee crowd while they are feeding. A treat also has been regular visits by two titmouses/mice/whatever.
Another advantage of a slow spring is there is more time to notice and enjoy the emeralds of the forest—mosses and liverworts. They are every shade of green, many sizes, textures, and growth habits, growing on rock, dead logs and stumps, live trees, dirt—and every species, hundreds of them, have a name. In the past many did not have common names but a new field guide called Common Mosses of the Northeast and Appalachians has invented a name for every one, so now the Latin-challenged can use a name, often a descriptive one. An excellent “key” helps the beginner figure them out.
I love the natural world; but thanks to a modern technology I am going to try to lead nature rambles in this area in a stochastic (unpredictable) way. If you phone me once (251-3772) to talk about your physical ability limitations and preferred days and give me your email address, when the weather looks good and the time is right for me, I will email everyone giving the day, location, and time to meet, and other details such as whether the focus will be birds, flowers or other natural features of interest. Our breeding birds are on their way so if you want to learn or at least hear some of the trickier ones, let me know right away!