Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Avian Advent

25 December 2012 - Lake Shastina, California

I often spend Christmas in solitude. In recent years this has meant house/cat-sitting for friends in Northern California while they were off visiting relatives in Oklahoma. Christmas day morning, I was happily ensconced at my laptop working on a scene for my novel when I glanced up to see a dozen robins in the yard. I have noticed small flocks of robins in previous visits to this area. My childhood memories, however, are of single or pairs of Robin Red-Breasts, I didn't remember small groupings or flocks of robins at all back in Michigan.

Much too easily distracted from my writing I googled 'flocks of robins' and discovered that during the spring and summer robins are very territorial because of breeding season and then raising the youngsters. Flocks of robins are common in the late fall and winter but there are fewer reports of such occurrences because the flocks often take to the deep woods and other areas uninhabited by humans and their pets. The majority of robins also migrate to southern climes.

Interesting, I looked up to see a much larger gathering of robins and noticed they seemed to be flying in from the north of the property and flying out to the south. I headed for the far side of the house to discover that area full of robins as well. By now my estimate was of well over a hundred birds. 

Back to google. 'How big do robin flocks get?' I queried. Turns out that robins may migrate as a single or in flocks that can number in the thousands. Also males often do not migrate and flocks that do head south will stop much further north in a mild winter. Robins do not have a destination winter ground like so many other birds and butterflies.

The birds seemed to be congregating in and under fir trees that had not been lollipoped (lower branches cut off for aesthetic purposes). By now the sheer number had my interest  so I pulled on the parka and took a walk around the neighborhood.

My friends live on the fringe of a long ago failed golf resort development. Over the years the neighborhood has added new homes but still at least half of the lots are undeveloped and filled with trees. Apparently trees full of pine nuts, grubs and other yummy treats.

The full Hitchcockian invasion covered a quarter mile square with my friend's house for some reason the nexus of the feeding frenzy. My semi-scientific estimate is that between 2,000 and 3,000 robins in all make up this flock.

I eventually got back to my writing but kept looking up the rest of the day, the band of birds stayed around for over four hours devouring whatever morsels had brought them by for their holiday visit.

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