Sunday, January 12, 2020

Winter Plums, Winter Wildlife: Part I (Birds)

Bird Runner Wildlife Refuge,
from McDowell Creek, looking west.  Winter
is settling in!  

I used to feel sad when the "growing season" ended, as it meant the end of blossoms and pollinators.  

But I am learning that winter just means a different kind of growing.

For example, plum thickets in winter are Life Central!  

A plum thicket along McDowell Creek
after an ice storm, January 2020
Birds newly arrived from the tundra overwinter here and love to roost in the reddish branches of Prunus americana, American Plum, and Prunus angustifolia, Sandhill Plum.  (Both species grow here.)

The plums host Harris's Sparrows:

 Tree Sparrows:

An occasional Lincoln's Sparrow:

And our year-round resident Song Sparrows:

The thickets provide protection from the cold and from predators, such as this female Merlin:  

She sits above the plums and would love to grab a sparrow-meal.  

If she succeeds occasionally, the remaining sparrows are still numerous.  They crowd noisily into the plum thickets as the sun sets.  Their chatter and whistles as they settle in to roost are among the loveliest sounds of a winter dusk.  That clear whistle is coming from the Harris's Sparrows.  But all the species are cheeping and chirping!

Many thanks to Tom Ewert for confirming bird identifications.  All photos and videos by Margy Stewart, unless otherwise indicated.

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