Talkin' Outdoors

Seasons change and as they do, transitions identified with each season slowly begin taking place. As winter begins losing grip on our world, bits of pale green slowly emerge from tips of branches and tender shoots make their way through dead drab gray of grass on the lawn. The morning chill is replaced by subtle warmth.

The increasing temperatures and full-blown greenery of spring give way to summer with its shimmering heat making waves across the pasture. Air conditioners run full tilt making living conditions bearable.

Autumn follows as leaves on oaks and hickories begin taking on a tired, tinny look as they flutter to the ground. Mornings again take on a more comfortable feel; a light jacket feels right.

One morning you wake to frost on the pasture across the road as a frontal passage changes everything. Soon, frosts and chilling winds become the norm as the weather transitions to full blown winter.

As weather patterns change throughout the year, so do the visitors to our yards. With the turkey and trimmings of Thanksgiving giving way to Christmas trees and Jingle Bells, different species of song birds arrive from the frigid north.

When I was growing up, there was one little bird that could always be counted on to show up. One day he wasn’t there; the next day he and his kin were all over the yard, busily pecking at grass seeds.

We called them “snow birds.” As I grew older and became more interested in bird identification, my bird book revealed that these little birds with black or slate gray backs and wings and white underbellies were in fact juncos.

My dog-eared Birds of North America book reveal five sub-species of this little wintertime visitor but only one winters in our area, the slate colored junco. The song of the junco is nothing to brag about; it’s a simple slow trill.

Arriving in my yard about the same time as the junco is another slightly larger bird, the white throated sparrow. These birds are easily identified by several field marks with the most telling mark being the white throat from which the bird gets its name.

White streaks running from front to back on the head along with a small yellow patch above the eye is also telling. If you hear a bird singing with a distinctive “Old Sam Peabody Peabody Peabody,” this time of year, you’ve nailed the white throated sparrow.

Another winter visitor seldom seen except when we get snow, sleet or ice during winter, is the rufous-sided towhee when these shy secretive birds often emerge from the thickets to feed on the ground under the feeder. Often when on my deer stand next to thick undergrowth, I’ll hear the call of the towhee before I actually see it. The call is a distinctive slurred “che-wink.” The back, head and throat are black, the under parts white with a rusty of rufous stripe running along the margins of the breast.

The hermit thrush is another bird that shows up in our part of the world in fall and winter. This bird resembling a smaller version of brown thrasher sports a rusty tail, olive-brown back and spotted breast. His most telling characteristic is the habit of slowly raising and lowering its tail several times a minute.

There is another species of winter-visiting birds I have only seen a few times. The fox sparrow has shown up under the feeder on icy, snowy days. Featuring a bright orange-brown tail and rump and heavily streaked breast. A good field mark for identification is a central breast spot.

With winter weather waiting to invade our area, keep your bird book handy and your eye out for birds you won’t see until the weather turns cold and blustery.