Slate-colored juncos were described as nesting in the north, from the tree limit in Canada south to the northern states of the U.S., farther south in the mountains of the east and a common winter bird over most of the states of the U.S. south to the Gulf of Mexico. That included the area where I lived. Yet I had never seen one, or I thought I hadn’t.
It was winter when I received that book, snow covered the ground. Just a day or two later I was outside, walking through the snow behind a neighbor’s garage, watching chickadees in some bushes I remember, and there, on the snow around the bushes were several little gray birds. I stopped, stood and watched them with and without the field glasses I had then. Those little gray birds were exactly like the juncos in the picture in my new bird book. They were even on the snow.
After what I remember as some time, though it was probably only a minute or two, I started moving closer. The juncos let me get within a few feet before they flushed and when they flew the white feathers on the sides of their tails flashed just as they had been described in my book.
For the rest of the winter every time I went out, it seemed, I saw juncos. They really were common in winter, as common, as robins in spring and summer.
I’ve know robins forever, or so it seems, and blue jays and mourning doves and chickadees and house sparrows and crows. I probably saw juncos as early as I saw those birds, or nearly as early, but it took a picture of a junco in a book to make me recognize them.
There are many other birds like that, birds that I must have seen before I recognized them. I remember clearly and with pleasure the first time I ever recognized a chipping sparrow, a song sparrow, white-throated sparrow, white-crowned sparrow, indigo bunting, great horned owl. Since it was the first time I recognized those birds I think of it as the first time I ever saw them.
I have also seen many birds by going to the area where they occurred, places where I was the visitor. I have seen birds that were rare where I saw them, that were out of their normal range, a Wilson’s phalarope in northern Iowa, black-necked stilts in northern Indiana, a white gyrfalcon in upstate New York, a pine flycatcher in Texas, a cinnamon teal in Florida. But I remember with particular pleasure the first time I ever saw a slate-colored junco, now a dark-eyed junco, though I must have seen thousands since the first.