Ah! the slate-colored junco! Always a pleasure to see you again, my friends.

Although I am sure that my observation of the junco is incomplete, and that you would correct what I have observed, at least that observation seems to be consistent. He is here on schedule.

So, for what it’s worth, let me recount what I have seen of the habits of this little fellow. At least it helps me to review it in my own mind.

First, he is migratory. He comes through this part of the planet on schedule, year after year, but he does not stay, and that scheduled time is November and March. He is one of the first migrators in the spring, and one of the last in the fall. However, I do see him in the Christmas bird count.

He likes temperatures that are cooler, but not too cold. It is too hot for him here in the summer. It is too cold for him here in the winter. He’s fussy that way.

Second, he is a ground feeder. I don’t know what he finds on the ground in March and November, seeds? Perhaps. I rarely see him up in trees.

Third, he is social. I rarely see him alone. Of course that may be because I only see him migrating, and all birds seem to flock when they migrate. Why do they do this? That may be for consideration another time.

Fouth, he is a handsome son of a gun (I just had to throw that in). Of course, what bird isn’t, except maybe the turkey vulture, which only a mother could love.

Curious about the state of the Red River, I went down to the river bank early this morning. The temperature tends to get above freezing in the daytime, and below freezing at night. So what does a river tend to do with those figures? It makes ice at night, and then floats it on toward Hudson Bay in the daytime. A little fleecing of snow adorns an otherwise snowless woods this morning, as snowflakes fall idly down through windless air, as if not quite sure whether to hang up above us or fall to the ground.

Nine Canada geese fly by in front of me, headed north. They seem content to hang around here with the juncos for the time being.

I am impressed with how, as we are near Thanksgiving, every windless day looks like a snapshot. It is as if we said to nature, “Hold it!” and it stood still for a microsecond, while we snapped the shutter.

I know it would be rather pedestrian to do this, but if we took a thousand snapshots over three years or so, one a day, would such snaps in the deep woods of the same spot give us a picture of nature? Nature is elusive.

American crow lands to my left, apparently finding something on the ground. Four wild turkeys trot toward him at high speed like storm troopers, challenging his right to whatever he seems to have found. There is something very human about this behaviour: if you are larger or more numerous you have a Manifest Destiny to simply move in and take over. American crow being more adept at flight than fight, politely retires to the lower branches of a nearby hackberry tree to live to fight again another day.

James Alger, who lives in Fargo, N.D., has been a summer resident of the Leech Lake area with his family for over 45 years. Over that time he has grown to love and appreciate the people and the woodlands of this area.


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