February 9, 2016
In winter when the lakes are frozen and the landscape is snow covered, most of us humans feel grateful for–and a little excited about–encounters with vibrant animal life. For a sense of cheery feistiness nothing quite matches a flock of foraging Slate-colored Juncos. The Slate-colored Junco, bird guides are quick to point out, is more properly identified by its species name, Dark-eyed Junco. Slate-colored is only a subspecies, but it describes the juncos we see during the winter in Maine quite well.
While out on cross-country skis in the afternoon John and I paused to take in Lapham Brook flowing darkly and melodically through the snow. Suddenly I noticed a flicker of movement on the far bank…a junco had flown in to forage in the small patches of exposed leaf litter on the steep, wooded slope above the stream. This individual was soon joined by four or five others. Clearly there was something there that made the brisk effort of probing, digging, and hopping through the snow worth it for these small birds. Watching them, I thought that this was surely a hard way to make a living. (Apparently it is only the younger males who push to stay as far north as they can during the winter, braving the snow in order to be as close as possible to the summer breeding grounds come spring.) But the energy and sprightliness of this group did not suggest a sense of hardship—quite the contrary.
Abundance in snow—
Flocking juncos announce this
with bright, seed-size chirps
The juncos were foraging in the middle of this slope
but by the time I got my camera out, they had moved on.
Slate-colored junco. Tony Northrup Photography