Monday, December 24, 2012

Holiday Greetings

Merry Christmas and warmest wishes at this special time of year, when the light begins to return but months of cold still lie ahead for those of us in the northern realms. I so appreciate my readers, and I love getting your notes. Thank you for following Penelopedia and letting me share my observations with you.

May your days be merry and bright, and may all your Christmases be white!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Dark-eyed Junco

I write today to celebrate the junco. Dark-eyed juncos are members of the sparrow family that are seen only in the colder months here in southern Minnesota and in much of the middle part of the U.S. For this reason they are sometimes called snowbirds. They breed in Canada and Alaska, as well as in year-round territories in northern parts of the Great Lakes states (including northeastern Minnesota), the West and the Northeast.

The junco's pale pink beak is a key identifier, as is the strong contrast between the dark gray or brown top and the white belly. Males and females are similar, though the females' color is more muted. There are regional variations in coloration -- so much so that until the 1980s they were treated as several distinct species. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology notes:
A field guide is the best place to look for complete illustration of ranges and plumages, but in general there are two widespread forms of the Dark-eyed Junco: “slate-colored” junco of the eastern United States and most of Canada, which is smooth gray above; and “Oregon” junco, found across much of the western U.S., with a dark hood, warm brown back and rufous flanks.
Juncos eat seeds and insects and usually feed on the ground, as is typical for sparrows, and so they don't often come to our feeders, though they are often to be seen foraging underneath them. They are regular visitors to our yard, though typically not in large numbers.

Yesterday morning we got a few inches of new snow from the edge of the big storm that shut down Iowa and other midwestern states. The snow covered the typical seed litter under our feeders, and while I was at home at lunchtime, I saw a junco trying to get a peanut from our peanut feeder. That's not a sight I've ever seen before. So I swept away the snow from a section of our front walk and put out some seed on the ground for the juncos.

They are cute little birds, and we're always happy to see them.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Snow Snow Snow!

Wow! Biggest snow in a year and a half. We had about eight inches here in Northfield on Sunday, and a foot or more north of us in the Twin Cities and beyond. I'll just let the photos tell the story.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Red-bellied Woodpecker

We've been seeing a red-bellied woodpecker in the big maple in front of our house and sometimes at our peanut feeder in recent weeks -- several days in a row a few weeks ago, and occasionally since then. This photo is a bit grainy, but otherwise not a bad capture for a foggy morning, which it certainly was this morning. In fact, there was a freezing fog advisory - not a common occurrence.

It wasn't until uploading this photo just now that I realized that this is a female - her red cap sits more on the back of her head, rather than extend over the top of the head as it would with a male. Below is a photo of a male that visited one of our suet feeders one cold morning in 2011. You can see that his bright red cap comes all the way over the front of the head to the top of the beak.

I'm not sure if we have been seeing only a female in our recent sightings, or sometimes a male. I'll have to look more carefully from now on. We just noticed quite a large (maybe 3-4" in diameter), rather fresh-looking hole in a branch in the tree that's shown in the top photo, and are wondering whether this/these red-bellied woodpecker(s) is/are responsible. We'll keep an eye on it and give an update if we get additional clues.