Answering a Call in the Woods

by Dave Hanks

I was first introduced to the WHITE-THROATED SPARROW in the deciduous woodlands of the Green Mountains of Vermont. In the freshness of mid-morning springtime, the clear, high whistle of “Old Sam Peabody-Peabody-Peabody” resounded through the underbrush. As if it were a ventriloquist, one could never be certain from whence the call came. However, I quickly mastered the mimicry. For about a half-hour, that bird and I exchanged words through those woods. That bird (one of the finer singers of the avian world) and I both finally tired of our game and went our separate ways.

Crisp facial markings make the White-Throated Sparrow an attractive bird. It has a black eye-stripe, a white crown and supercilium (eyebrow), and yellow lores (between eye and upper edge of the bill), and a white throat. Look for this species at forest edges, and especially in re-growth areas caused by logging or fire. Here they forage on the ground under or near thickets or in low vegetation. They can be seen scratching through the leaf litter searching for seeds, insects, and berries. They nest, either on the ground under shrubs, or in low trees, in deciduous or mixed woodlands where they lay 3 – 5 eggs that are either brown-marked with blue, or greenish-white.

These forest sparrows breed mostly across Canada, but we have seen them in the late autumn and winter in more southerly climes. On a couple of occasions we have been in Arkansas at Petit Jean State Park in November, and we have always seen and photographed them there.

The moments when one can step into the inner world of our wild associates are precious. They are impressionable times that reach into your very soul to find a place to permanently reside.

A White-Throated Sparrow in the leaf litter

A White-Throated Sparrow in the leaf litter

Taiga: “Land of the Little sticks”

Taiga is Boreal forest, or in Russian perspective – “the land of the little sticks”. It is so called because the tree growth is stunted and skinny. Permafrost prohibits deep root development and trees usually only grow to around 15 to 20 feet tall. This Biome is the largest in the world – covering the northern areas of Canada, Russia, and Europe. The major trees in the Taiga are Black and White Spruce.

This Biome is characterized by many forest fires, but the trees recover quickly and re-growth is fast. Summers are warm, rainy (12 to 30 inches), and temperatures stay around 70 degrees because of the continual daylight. Winters, however, are another story. They are dark, snowy, and very cold. At this time temperatures range between 30 to 65 degrees below zero.

Taiga animals either migrate south or hibernate. Only a few withstand the harsh winter conditions. Caribou come south, from the Tundra, to winter amid the trees and to get some protection from the wind. Lynx, Snowshoe Hare, Wolverine, and fox are some other species that withstand the weather. Grizzlies and Black Bears are snuggly ensconced in their hibernation sanctuaries.

Summer invites many species of birds to nest, reproduce, and use the continual summer daylight to give them more time to hunt the food for the never satisfied appetites of their young.

We have experienced the vastness of this part of the world on four different occasions when we were in the Yukon Territory. Once we traveled 900 miles north on a dirt road and into the Arctic Circle. The broad expanse of the landscape makes one realize just how insignificant one is!

Black Spruce amid the wet – permafrost causes poor drainage