Birds of the Western Slope Jan. 4, 2017

By Evelyn Horn

Birds of the Western Slope Jan. 4, 2017 | Birds of the Western Slope, Evelyn Horn,

Photo by E. Horn

Ice Cycles

No snow today -- clear sky without a single cloud, and I always wonder, "How long will this last!" But after yesterday's storm, this change is most welcome!

There's movement in the ornamental pear tree . . . white and black . . . it's a white-crowned sparrow! I watch with the binoculars, and now I can see the distinctive pinkish bill and the striped black-white head. What a handsome little bird! I first met white-crown along Spring Creek above Gunnison. I guessed they had a nest; they were very distressed if I approached their willow! But now I can watch them easily because they come every winter -- welcome visitors!

There's always a good "floor-show" if I take time to look out of our dining room window. Watch a bit. A little bird flits in from the east . . . three . . . five of them. They're heading for the pear tree, and I see a flash of white-margined tail. Our wintering juncos have arrived. They're quite obvious among the barren branches. They're all called "dark-eyed juncos" and there are about six populations, distinguished by their plumage, except for the tail which always has white margins.

The name "junco" is from the Latin for a small bird that lived in the reeds (juncus = reed), while their scientific name is Junco hyemalis from their winter habitat. They're all seed-eaters with broad, sparrow-like bills nesting in coniferous trees (think high country).

As I watch, there's one with a black head and orangish flanks and back -- Oregon junco. Another one is paler, gray head and pinkish sides. A pink-sided junco. Suddenly they flit away toward the west. I've lost them, and my white-crowns have vanished too. But seeing them brightened this wintery day!

The sunlight is bright and the sky is a brilliant blue. but I remember icicles that we've had in the past. They would hang from the roof for days . . . even for weeks. And as it slowly warmed, there would be the most interesting shapes with the older ones remaining and then smaller and smaller ones formed. Finally, only lacy-looking frozen snow remained.

Interesting. But I'd rather look at summer birds!