Thunderstorms and heavy rain in February?! This is really turning out to be a very odd and changeable year. And March looks set to continue this lack of pattern. But we must make the best of it and so I am suggesting some things to look out for. After the last two columns devoted solely to trees I am back to my usual hobby horse of birds. I hope you’ll read on even if birds are not your thing.
First let me deal with an issue that many people have been asking me about: the flocks of robins that have been around all winter. It is strange to see large flocks of robins at any time of year, but it is especially strange during the winter. There’s something unsettlingly Hitchcockian about it! But don’t be too worried; this is part of a trend that has been observed for at least the last 25 years. The only particularly odd thing is the number. A small percentage have always braved out the winter. I think this year’s phenomenon is due to a very high birthrate for robins last summer. I had never seen so many nests, even though it was a hot, dry summer. So it appears many of these juveniles have elected to risk not flying south.
If robins are no longer a sure sign of spring, Red-winged Blackbirds still seem to be. And they are back already! My records show that this is the earliest they have returned in the 7 springs since I moved here. The next earliest was March 2nd, while the latest was March 18th. The males always return a couple of weeks before the females. The males stake out mating territory and call out their distinctive “conkaree” from branches. Listen for it.
On the open water of the millpond the other day I saw a pair of small ducks landing. Even without binoculars I could tell these were too small to be our usual mallards. They were a pair of Hooded Mergansers. This attractive little bird is one of the “diving ducks”. Like its larger relative the Common Merganser, and like our Common Loon, these birds dive below the surface and stay under a remarkable length of time hunting for fish. To the casual observer it can be quite unnerving to be watching a bird only to have it vanish. You think your eyes are playing tricks on you.
And finally yet another reminder that winter is nearing its end, the sap is running in the maple trees. I expect our various syrup producers are very busy. Let’s hope this year turns out to be as profitable for them as last year. In 2016 the season got off to an uncertain start but turned out to be record breaking. Here’s to that tasty treat that’s so thoroughly Canadian!
We have no idea what the weather will be like tomorrow or the next day, especially this weird winter. And what with ice and mud the trails are often not an attractive option. Nevertheless, even if we can’t get out we can at least stand outside for a moment, breathing the fresh air and hearing the first birdsong of the year. Get out! And enjoy!
By Glen Spurrell