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First juncos arrive from Canadian breeding grounds

Juncos have returned to the meadow. I thought I saw one at the birdbath a couple of times this weekend, but I took a walk Monday morning, Oct. 1, and definitely saw a small flock of juncos poking and scratching under the spruce and balsam trees n...

Juncos have returned to the meadow.

I thought I saw one at the birdbath a couple of times this weekend, but I took a walk Monday morning, Oct. 1, and definitely saw a small flock of juncos poking and scratching under the spruce and balsam trees near the house.

According to Janssen's "Birds in Minnesota," October is the time of the heaviest migration of juncos.

These juncos may have spent the summer in Manitoba or Ontario, but they may also have come from as far away as Alaska, the Yukon or the Northwest Territories. Female dark-eyed juncos migrate the farthest.

I'm happy to see the "snowbirds," but I'm also relieved their arrival didn't signal the arrival of snow.

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Leaves

In the Saturday, Sept. 22 column, I wrote about the gorgeous color of leaves along Highway 71 to Bemidji. I'd been enjoying the colors that entire week, and it's a good thing I did, because by the following week, the brilliant reds had faded.

I'm not sure why that happened so quickly, but the only crimson vegetation now is sumac. Even the maples are russet brown.

Scott Lamont must have gotten a glimpse of the colors right before they faded, too. In his e-mail he also said he and his wife enjoyed the peak colors around the same time I did. They also spotted a pair of bald eagles that landed for a break on a pine tree south of Emmaville.

Late

I have one other bald eagle story. This one comes from Bemidji State University, where a few of my students came late to literature class Tuesday, Oct. 2.

"We have a good reason," Vanessa Bannert told me. "There was a bald eagle in the trees right outside Birch Hall."

The eagle was perched on a low branch, and it really got the attention of Vanessa and the other students. For some, it was the first time they'd seen an eagle so close and so still.

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Vanessa showed me the photo of the eagle she took on her cell phone. It was a mature bird with a white head.

The students' experience made me remember two days I was late for work when I lived in the Cities. Once I stopped to watch a snowy owl off Highway 169 in Crystal, and once I stopped to carry a large painted turtle across the Medicine Lake road.

My supervisor wasn't angry that I was late for work, but she could hardly believe my stories.

"I've never even seen a turtle down here," she told me.

"You might have seen one and didn't know it," I said.

Moth

A fuzzy, lemon-yellow caterpillar showed up on the patio last Friday, Sept. 28. This caterpillar had a face only a mother or a phenology columnist could love, with six black and white tufts or "hair pencils" sticking out from his head.

A little poking on "What's This North American Caterpillar?" Web site ( www.whatsthis

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caterpillar.co.uk/america/) revealed the identity of this fellow as a banded tussock moth caterpillar, also known as a pale tussock moth or Halysidota tesselaris. These caterpillars range in color from cream to bright yellow. Here are some other tussock facts:

n Banded tussock caterpillars are relatives of woolly bear caterpillars and belong to the Arctiidae family.

n Banded tussock moth caterpillars feed on birch, hazel, oak and willow, along with many other plants. They do not cause serious injury to trees.

n Mature caterpillars can be found from July onwards.

n A banded tussock moth caterpillar tastes bad, but its bright coloring is what really protects it from predators. The color serves as a warning flag, according to Himmelman's "Discovering Moths." (The bad taste wouldn't do much to protect the caterpillar if birds only found that out after eating it.)

Thanks to all who wrote with news. When sending your reports, be sure to give your name and a little information on where you made your sighting. Send to maureeng@unitelc.com .

This column is brought to you by Park Ace Hardware.

It's fall improvement time and Park Ace has all your improvement needs including Ace Royal Interior and Exterior paint on sale now.

Open seven days a week, Ace is located on Highway 71 south, Park Rapids, 732-4513. Ace is the place with the helpful hardware folks.

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