Ripples from the Dunes: Arrival of the Juncos

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Dark-eyed Junco

The following article was written for the Ripples from the Dunes series through Woodland Dunes, by Kennedy Zittel, Assistant Naturalist.

As I was sitting at my desk I glanced up to look at the bird feeder I just happened to place directly within view of my window, to see some familiar little birds hopping around the shrubs that I haven’t seen in a while. Juncos! To be specific, dark-eyed juncos. Though I was delighted to see the little grey birds once again, I couldn’t help but think that if the juncos are back that must mean… winter is coming!

 

Though it seems that fall just started, all around us are signs that winter is not too far off.

Fall is my favorite season, so I am in no hurry to rush into our freezing cold winter just yet. It just seems that fall always goes by so quickly given that things are constantly changing. Fall is filled with beginnings here at Woodland Dunes though, so there is a lot to keep us all busy during this whirlwind of a season. School programs have started, the owl banding season has begun, and birds have started to migrate through. Each day it seems new birds are coming and going, what we see here one day may be gone the next. It is truly a surprise each day stepping out of my car to hear what birds will be singing out in the trees just outside the nature center building. One day it could be catbirds, the next a whole group of white-crowned sparrows, or even some rusty blackbirds.

 

With the arrival of the juncos, I decided to put out a suet feeder to try and help the migrating birds (and the chickadees too it seems) put on some extra fat before they take off on the next length of their journey. I am not joking when I say that before I could even get the feeder hung up I had multiple chickadees surrounding me on nearby branches just waiting for me to get out of their way so that they could eat some of the suet. Besides the chickadees, I have had cardinals, house finches, and some downy woodpeckers all stop by the suet feeder so far.

 

Woodland Dunes is a wonderful stopover habitat that allows migrating birds to rest and refuel before continuing on their migration path. Sometimes those birds will stay for longer than a week and sometimes only a day or two. Though there are a lot of things here naturally that the birds could munch on, it certainly isn’t a bad thing to offer some help by putting out fatty foods like suet and black oil sunflower seeds to give them the fat supply they need to fly as far as they do.

 

The birds coming and going aren’t the only signs that winter isn’t too far off either. The prairies once full of colors from the different wildflowers are now mostly grasses, the leaves above have begun to change their leaves into different shades of reds, yellows, purples, and oranges too. A lot of trees have already even begun to drop their leaves for the winter, covering our boardwalks in a sea of crunchy foliage that the children coming to our school programs have loved stomping over.

Fall and winter are good reminders to myself as to why I love and appreciate the conifer trees so much. As the other trees and shrubs lose their leaves the conifer trees stay green and add a bit of color to the brown and grey landscape.

I am excited that winter is on its way, though if you ask me again once it is in full swing that might change, as winter offers a whole new experience to our preserve. Animal tracks are easier to see on the trails, different kinds of birds reside here, frost crystals on branches make the sides of the trails truly look like a winter wonderland, and of course…no mosquitoes! Though I will miss the flowers, leaves, and warm weathered bird friends…I welcome our winter friends with open arms and full bird feeders.

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