Late winter, or second winter, or whatever you want to call it, continues its slow march into March. A week ago, a classmate eagerly told me about his sighting of an American Robin near his home. Spring, surely?
Of course, one Robin does not make a spring, and I told him about the hardy individuals who winter in the north, even in such a harsh north as this one. He took it in good spirits. But two days ago, this Debbie Downer got her comeuppance!
You see, as I walked across the park with Muir, my attention was drawn upwards by a large flock of birds coming in to settle in a mountain ash. It wasn’t the biggest flock I’d ever seen – murmurations of starlings still hold that honor. But these were no starlings. By the calls and profiles, I was quickly able to determine that the majority were Bohemian Waxwings, while the rest – still a significant portion, perhaps 30% – were American Robins. It was the most of either species I can remember seeing in one place, and they were hyped about the berries that the mountain ash still bore. A good thing about those berries, too, since the ground was still covered by not only a layer of fresh snow but also, in many spots, the crusty ice of previous freezes and thaws. Definitely not spring.
I haven’t lived in Montana long enough to feel jaded about Bohemian Waxwings, so I concentrated on them at first. But the Robins kept drawing my attention. They were less shy, took the lower positions in the tree. One buzzed me, barely a foot above my head. They bounced from one mountain ash to the next, and then on to other trees, and then for no reason I could see they rose up and flew away across the park towards the river.
So one Robin does not make a spring, but do one dozen? One score? One hundred? It turns out that flocks of that size are turning up in several locations in and around Missoula lately, and may not be that unusual for this time of year — at least, not in the brave new world of climate change.
Larry Weeks of the Five Valley Audubon Society points out that these are probably Robins destined for points north, not the one who will be singing and nesting and feeding young in the park this summer. Nevertheless, they seem to give a lot of people hope.
And who knows what signs of spring will turn up next?
Robin photo courtesy of the US Fish and Wildlife Service and Dr. Thomas G. Barnes