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8-14 November 2001

You Can't Depend On Calendars

The way things are going, we may have yet another mild winter here at Hilton Pond Center. Almost all our recent days have been balmy, with none of the blustery November rains we vividly remember from our childhood--back when we had to trek in bad weather to and from school, 20 miles uphill in both directions, while carrying ten pounds of books.

Okay, okay, already. So what if it WAS only 25 yards to the bus stop--along flat ground--and we usually left our books overnight in lockers at school. The fact remains that winters DO appear to be getting milder, so with cold months turning warm in recent years, how will we ever know when winter has truly arrived?

Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis)

All photos, graphics & text © Hilton Pond Center

Most chronologists and astronomers would probably give a simple answer to this query, saying that autumn is over about the third week in December as the winter solstice comes to pass. But we know better here at Hilton Pond Center; winter arrives in the Piedmont when the first Dark-eyed Junco shows up--and that happened this week (see photo above). Now that these "snowbirds" are at our feeders, it's only a matter of moments until the temperature plummets and the first frozen precipitation starts to fall.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, immatureIn reality, of course, juncos don't mark the actual arrival of winter, but--along with several other migratory bird species--they DO drive home the concept that summer is finally gone and it's time for frosty weather and the annual maintenance on our trusty wood stove. This week at Hilton Pond Center, the juncos were joined by several other "winter species," including the first Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers of the season (immature female, above left), and only the seventh Red-breasted Nuthatch ever banded locally (below right). Red-breasted NuthatchBoth these birds nest primarily in Canada and New England, perhaps hanging out in the same summer locales as our other current winter visitors--such as Hermit Thrushes, Yellow-rumped Warblers, and White-throated Sparrows.

During the 1980s and early 1990s, the first Dark-eyed Juncos (Junco hyemalis) typically showed up at Hilton Pond Center the last week in October, but the chart below shows there may be a trend toward later arrival. The most common first banding date over 20 years has been 10 November (four occurrences), while 27 October was the early date for three years--1985, 1989, and 1991. (No arrival date is charted for Fall 1988, when we were away from the Center did very little banding.)

Chart: First banding dates for Dark-eyed Juncos

Click on chart above for larger view

With the exception of an 8 October arrival in 1998 (that being the earliest date ever for a Dark-eyed Junco at Hilton Pond Center), all first banding dates over the past seven years have been in November or December (including the latest-ever "first date" on 29 December last year).

Lots of variables may affect when we capture the first junco each fall--including local precipitation, abundance of natural foods away from the feeders, and whether or not we're running traps and nets every day. (The situation is complicated further because two subspecies of Dark-eyed Juncos apparently occur in the Carolina Piedmont, one of which breeds in the Southern Appalachians and even into South Carolina's mountain region.) Over the 20 years since we began banding at Hilton Pond Center, these kinds of variables should even out--which is one big advantage of conducting an on-going, long-term study. Thus, our banding results seem to indicate that during most recent years the juncos have been able to hang around their breeding grounds a few weeks longer before migrating south, perhaps because winters are arriving later in eastern North America.

Is this more evidence for global warming? We wouldn't be surprised if that's the case, and widespread collection of similar data about other migratory birds might help convince skeptics who don't want to admit that Mother Earth is getting progressively hotter under the collar. Dark-eyed JuncoAlthough we aren't opposed to slightly warmer winter weather here at Hilton Pond Center, we couldn't take much more in the way of hot, drought-ridden summers. And, with global warming, we'd certainly miss those Dark-eyed Juncos that would spend their winters 'way up north, basking in January under a tropical Canadian sun.

All photos, graphics & text © Hilton Pond Center

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8-14 November 2001



Yellow-rumped Warbler--27
Dark-eyed Junco--4
Red-breasted Nuthatch--1
American Goldfinch--1
Song Sparrow--2
Northern Cardinal--2
Eastern Towhee--2
White-throated Sparrow--4
Eastern Bluebird--1
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker--3
House Finch--5
Hermit Thrush--1
Sharp-shinned Hawk--1

(with original banding dates)
Yellow-rumped Warbler (1)
Carolina Chickadee
White-throated Sparrow (5)

This Week at Hilton Pond
is part of the

Eastern Bluebird, male

Eastern Bluebird (male)

Although this species migrates from parts of its northern
range, most Carolina birds are
year-round residents

13 species
54 individuals

74 species
1,326 individuals

(since 28 June 1982)
122 species
39,609 individuals

All photos & text © Hilton Pond Center

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Made With MacintoshHilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History is a non-profit research & education organization in York, South Carolina USA; phone (803) 684-5852. Directed by Bill Hilton Jr., aka "The Piedmont Naturalist," it is the parent organization for Operation RubyThroat. Contents of this website--including articles and photos--may NOT be duplicated, modified, or used in any way except with the express written permission of Hilton Pond Center. All rights reserved worldwide. To obtain permission for use or for further assistance on accessing this website, contact: WEBMASTER.