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.



Twenty years ago we planted two kinds of native plums in the riparian buffer along McDowell Creek, American Plums and Sandhill Plums.  


Sandhill Plums on the edge of the creek.















Now they have formed thickets.   















The thickets are full of life!

Birds newly arrived from the tundra are drawn to the plums.




There are Harris's Sparrows:






 Tree Sparrows:








An occasional Lincoln's Sparrow:




And a Song Sparrow:

For all these birds the thickets provide protection from the cold--
and from predators.   

For example, this female Merlin is sitting above the thicket, waiting for a sparrow to venture out.   (Thank you to Tom Ewert for confirming the ID.)    



She would love to grab a sparrow-meal!  

But if she succeeds occasionally, the remaining sparrows are still numerous.  As night falls they crowd into the thickets and strike up quite a chorus of cheeps and whistles.  The long whistles are coming from the Harris's Sparrows.    But all the species are chiming in!
Overwintering sparrows 
settle in to roost in this thicket of American Plums.  
These plums were planted by our neighbor, Al Alspach.
To me these vocalizations are among the loveliest and most touching sounds of a winter dusk.


Many thanks to Tom Ewert for confirming bird identifications!   All photos and videos are by Margy Stewart and were taken in the Creek Field, a bottomland prairie restoration along McDowell Creek, at Bird Runner Wildlife Refuge, in Geary County, Kansas, December 2019-January 2020.

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