Robins have made their way back to Evergreen

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By Sylvia Brockner

As I was coming home from a late trip to the library and grocery store, it was almost dark as I came up the hill when an American robin flew across the road right in front of me. I braked and he landed in a ponderosa pine in the yard, the same tree that a pair of robins has nested in for the past several years.

This made me feel it was my old friend. Of course, this is impossible to prove unless the bird had been banded, but it is more than likely, for robins are known to nest in the same area year after year. However, this pair has not been very successful at nesting since crows, ravens and red squirrels have taken their young from the nest for the past three or four years. If they are going to nest again this year, I hope they choose a different location that is more protected.

Their habit of flying very low at dusk is also a threat. They stay out later than most birds, singing their evening song, then flying low to their night roost. They are difficult to see and are often hit by cars. Our beloved American robins are, unfortunately, one of the most common dead birds picked up along highways by researchers.

Robins are not as common here in the mountains as they are in the metropolitan area. The ground freezes deeper here and therefore thaws later than it does at lower elevations, so this means that angleworms do not surface as early up here. There are also more angleworms in the many watered green lawns of the flatlands.

Robins also have a problem finding mud with which to line their nests. The hot spring sun dries up mud puddles very quickly, and they can build only within the distance they can carry a beak full of mud. This means most robins nest in creek valleys or near lakes where there is a mud supply.

I have for many years kept a little puddle in our driveway from drying up by adding a bit of water to it every day. This encourages them to nest nearby. Barn swallows, cliff swallows and a few other birds use mud in constructing their nests; thus, they never build too far from a source of supply.

I was at Evergreen Lake today. The ice is breaking up rapidly, with strong winds shifting big loose sheets of ice around the lake. Nearly half the lake was open water, and birds were beginning to return. A small flock of green-winged teal, seven Canada geese and a pair of gadwall were swimming in front of the Lake House. Gadwall are beautiful ducks, not sporting flashy colors like wood ducks but with muted shades of black, brown, taupe and tan.

If they are close enough for you to see details, they are incredibly beautiful, with light feather edges forming scalloped patterns on their breasts and back. The white inner secondary feathers can be seen in flight and also when the bird is swimming far out in the lake. It makes a good field mark on what appears to be an otherwise all-dark duck.

I spent a bit of time sitting on Bill’s Bench today. What a wonderful place this is to view the lake, look for some of its many denizens and for remembering. At one time I heard the first hesitant note of a northern chorus frog. Then someone came running along the boardwalk and it stopped, and I didn’t hear it again. To protect themselves, they almost always stop singing when anything approaches, for they can feel the vibration of footsteps through the ground and water. They also sing more frequently as the temperature of the water increases.

The little northern chorus frogs are what most people call spring peepers. The true spring peepers are found singly and are tree frogs, so they are found up among the leaves in a tree. They have a single-note song, which is quite different from the chorus frogs.

Chorus frogs are difficult to see because they are so tiny. One could easily sit on your thumbnail, and if they don’t move, you are likely not going to see them among the dry weeds and grasses submerged in water. They have a creaking call that can be imitated by running your thumb over the teeth of a comb. They may be very small, but there are often many of them in a small pond, and they can make a very loud chorus.

I am writing this on April 15, which is, of course, tax day, and it is also the usual date for an osprey to appear at the lake and the date for the first broad-tailed hummingbird to be sighted this spring, reported by Anyh Owens from Indian Hills.