Farewell, Winter Companions

On my walk on April 8, I again watched Dark-eyed Juncos in Eliza Howell Park, a common occurrence over the last 6 months. This is one of the last times this season; they will soon be leaving, heading north to breed, probably in the forests of Canada.

The juncos usually arrive in Detroit in early October and return north sometime in April. Nicknamed “snowbirds,” they are the most common of the birds that spend the winter, but not the summer, with us. For the bird watcher in this geographical region, winter means juncos.

junco

After seeing at least a dozen juncos on April 8, I reviewed my records to see how much longer in April they might be around. During the last 10 years, the latest date I have seen juncos in the park has been April 17 (in three different years). In two other years, the latest date was April 16 and April 15.

 

Even keeping in mind that I do not visit the park every day and that I could miss them when I am there, the pattern from past records is still quite clear: I am not likely to see them after April 17.

20180409_102921

The juncos have been our companions through the cold and snows of winter. It is now time for them to continue their annual life cycle.

I hope to see a few juncos in the park for another week or so and to wish them a safe journey. By October, I will be eager to see them and/or their offspring here again.

Photos by Margaret Weber

Another Visit to the Footbridge: The Familiar and the Unexpected

It was 17 degrees F with a light snow falling in the morning of the Martin Luther King holiday when I arrived in the park.

As is my typical practice in winter, I headed to the footbridge; it is always an interesting view and often a key location of avian activity. A few years ago, a group of neighborhood kids painted the metal railings of the bridge, making it stand out as one of the brightest spots in the park on a gray day like this.

20180115_121355

As I walked onto the bridge, I looked upriver and saw a coyote trotting away along the left bank. Though it is not unusual for me to see signs that coyotes are in the park (see my December 2017 post, “After the Deer Died”), I rarely actually see them. This glimpse is the first in months.

Attending to movement at the edge of the river close to the bridge, I see that the birds that I have come to expect in this locale are here – Dark-eyed Juncos, Black-capped Chickadees, and Northern Cardinals. At this time of the year, female and male Cardinals are often together, as they are today.

20180116_085023

Photo by Margaret Weber

20180116_092023

Photo by Margaret Weber

Changing weather can change the appearance of the Rouge River drastically. Following the cold spell in late December and early January, the river was completely frozen over. Then came warmer weather with rain. The water level rose rapidly, with water flowing both under and over the ice. When the weather turned cold recently, the river began to freeze again, before the water had fully receded. The result is uneven freezing and broken ice.

20180115_121605

This stop on the bridge has included both the familiar/expected and the unexpected. These bird species are expected; the coyote is not; the appearance of the river surface is not typical, but it changes frequently with the winter weather, so it is difficult to know exactly what to expect.

The walk beyond the bridge included more of the familiar, including a visit to an old “friend,” a dead beech tree along the path, one of the landmarks I use in my notes for remembering the location of something observed (“near the old beech tree”). The top portion of the tree fell last summer.

20180115_131315

The small bird that flitted up as I returned to the footbridge was no junco or chickadee. It was a Song Sparrow. Song Sparrows are summer residents in Eliza Howell and migrate south for the winter. Since the northern end of their winter range is not too far south of Detroit, they sometimes do show up in the park in the winter, though not often. This is the first one I have seen this winter is definitely unexpected.

Song Sparrows are well named; they do sing frequently from a branch perch. But they are not likely to sing before March here. Nevertheless, seeing one in winter can remind us that the singing Song Sparrow, as in this picture, will be the expected in a couple months.

20180116_085155

Photo by Margaret Weber

This was my 1043rd documented nature walk in Eliza Howell Park and, as on so many of the others, I saw some things that I expected to see and I saw some things that I did not expect to see. I am eager to take the same walk again.