The doldrums of these winter days lead me to wonder about animal behaviors. On our quarter-acre plot, what creatures are alive and where are they hanging out? I am guessing there’s more than we think. Right now I am reading a novel by Jim Lynch called Border Songs. The protagonist is an awkward man called Brandon who is preternaturally attuned to birds, especially their calls. He automatically keeps a daily running total of the species he hears calling, and that total usually exceeds 20, often many more. He’s a Border Patrolman in Washington State, and while his supervisor and mentor thinks he’s carrying binoculars better to see criminals with, he’s really more interested in scouting the flocks of water birds on his daily patrol route. So far, good read.
Brandon might have a field day on our suburban lot too, but his range would be most limited. A couple of weeks ago as I went out to get the newspaper just post-dawn (young readers might need to be reminded that some of us elders are addicted to getting our news each morning in hard copy, rolled and bagged and flung into our yard around 5 a.m. by a delivery “boy” with a polysyllabic unpronounceable surname, but if the Caps are playing in Vancouver there’s a big picture of early game action where the game report should be) I startled a pair of Cardinals from the front-stoop-side bushes. And about the same time I noticed that in a band of 25 or 30 Starlings carpeting our lawn there were 5 or 6 Robins, hopping on the fringes of the flock, looking for the same grubs. Many Robins evidently do not migrate, but stay around all winter, riding out the few really miserable days in some kind of sheltered roosting spot.
But “the cold wind doth blow / And we shall have snow.” Or shall we? So far this winter our total snowfall must be 3 or 4 inches, accumulated in 4 or 5 very light snowfalls resulting from rapidly passing frontal boundaries, or “Clipper Systems.” They apparently were first called “Alberta Clippers” because of their origins in central Canada and their rapid movement (the first “clippers” were fast ships designed to sail “around the horn” of South America between the American east coast and the west coast in relatively quick time). Despite, or perhaps because of, the cold temperatures, far below our low-40s normal highs, we’ve had no major coastal storms, the “nor’easters.”
Yet the birds are present very sporadically. When it stays below freezing all day I can watch for considerable stretches of time and see nothing. Then one morning, three days ago, in very rapid succession about 9:30 a.m., we were visited by our neighborhood gang of 3 or 4 Blue Jays, a Starling flock with several Robins again, and a Northern Flicker, who flew around the bushes a while, perched in a high tree, and then came down to sit for at least 15 or 20 minutes right in the middle of the back yard.
Then nothing. No visible signs of avian presence for two days. This morning, a flock of several Robins. That’s it. I have a feeling I am missing something, and I’ll be on patrol inside and out over the next several days to try to determine what’s going on with the local birds.
©Arnold J. Bradford, 2013.