Post started out as a quick email to the always affirmative Jennifer, who's a fan of snowbirds, but it got out of hand.
Juncos are the "snowbirds" of the middle latitudes. In the eastern United States, they appear in all but the most northern states only in the winter, and then retreat each spring. Some juncos in the Appalachian Mountains remain there all year round, breeding at the higher elevations. These residents have shorter wings than the migrants that join them each winter. Longer wings help the migrants fly long distances.
Technically, I live in one of the most northern of the eastern states. But it's a long way between here and any part of New York that's as far north as the most southern reaches of Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. Drive straight east from here and...well, you drive off a cliff into the Hudson River...Drive south a bit and then make a sharp left, cross the bridge, and then drive straight east and in no time at all you're in Connecticut, at a point where there's a whole lot of Connecticut north of you, a bit more than half the state if you divide it horizontally. Which means that there is a space the size of the top tier of Connecticut and the entire height of Massachusetts at its shoulders between our front walk and any other front walk leading up to a house that could be said to have been built in the most northern parts of this part of the eastern United States. And that means I shouldn't be seeing juncos on the front walk yet.
Juncos---snowbirds---are common around here, when there's snow! I don't keep track of the comings and goings of our feathered friends on a calendar but I usually note their seasonal movements with enough attention and memory that I'll say to myself, "Robins showed up a little late this year" or "Middle of August and the geese are flocking, right on schedule. Guess summer's winding down." Yeah, I am that banal when I talk to myself. Can't recall a time before today when I said to myself, "What the hell are the juncos doing here already?"
The only times in the past I remember seeing juncos in the neighborhood without snow under their feet were during a thaw.
There's no snow. There are still leaves on the trees. Green leaves.
What the hell are the juncos doing here already?
They know something? Time to break out the snow shovels? Nah. I'm sure the bird brains at Cornell know what they're talking about and I was hallucinating.
Second frost this morning, but it's all gone now. Sun's out. Sky's blue. You've figured out by now I have nothing much to say here. This post is an excuse to introduce a poem by Robert Frost, that's all. It's always struck me as a coming on to spring poem more than a moving into winter poem, despite its melancholy theme of "the slow, smokeless burning of decay," because of the way his foot goes through the snow now and then where the hard snow isn't hard anymore and can't hold him. But there's a junco in it. At least I think it's a junco. I've never been sure. I've just gone by the white feather in his tail.
The Wood-pile by Robert Frost.
Out walking in the frozen swamp one gray day
I paused and said, "I will turn back from here.
No, I will go on farther--and we shall see."
The hard snow held me, save where now and then
One foot went down. The view was all in lines,
Straight up and down of tall slim trees
Too much alike to mark or name a place by
So as to say for certain I was here
Or somewhere else: I was just far from home.
A small bird flew before me. He was careful
To put a tree between us when he lighted,
And say no word to tell me who he was
Who was so foolish as to think what he thought.
He thought that I was after him for a feather--
The white one in his tail; like one who takes
Everything said as personal to himself.
One flight out sideways would have undeceived him.
And then there was a pile of wood for which
I forgot him and let his little fear
Carry him off the way I might have gone,
Without so much as wishing him good-night.
He went behind it to make his last stand.
It was a cord of maple, cut and split
And piled--and measured, four by four by eight.
And not another like it could I see.
No runner tracks in this year's snow looped near it.
And it was older sure than this year's cutting,
Or even last year's or the year's before.
The wood was gray and the bark warping off it
And the pile somewhat sunken. Clematis
Had wound strings round and round it like a bundle.
What held it though on one side was a tree
Still growing, and on one a stake and prop,
These latter about to fall. I thought that only
Someone who lived in turning to fresh tasks
Could so forget his handiwork on which
He spent himself, the labour of his axe,
And leave it there far from a useful fireplace
To warm the frozen swamp as best it could
With the slow smokeless burning of decay.
Recommended: Fun site where you can listen to The Wood-Pile and other poems by Frost read out loud.