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The Daily Bucket is a regular feature of the Backyard Science group.  It is a place to note any observations you have made of the world around you.  Rain, sun, wind...insects, birds, flowers...meteorites, rocks...seasonal changes...all are worthy additions to the Bucket.  Please let us know what is going on around you in a comment, and do include, as close as is comfortable for you, where you are located.
Seattle. January 13, 2014.
This essay was originally part of the one I published yesterday, The Daily Bucket - first of the year wetland bird count. Its original intent was to compare the timing between this year and previous years of the earliest signs of song development and territorial displays for the Wetland's Red-winged Blackbirds, Song Sparrows and Bewick's Wrens, but I couldn't find a segue that pleased me. Then I got distracted by the Robins. There were so many of them.
- I've added notes from today's count.
Over the years I've found seasonal patterns when I go out to count the birds - coming and goings that no longer surprise me, mid winter changes in the usual voices.

I know when the Red-winged Blackbirds are due to arrive when I cock my head at a familiar voice that's not quite right, fooled once again by a Starlings' mimicked glug-a-whee? Most of the year the Starlings pretend to be Killdeer or Red-tailed Hawks or Bald Eagles. They don't pretend to be Red-winged Blackbirds until the Red-winged Blackbirds make their presence known. The real voice finds me within a week or two when I see a Red-winged Blackbird singing for the first time.

From my notebooks, The Wetland. Red-winged Blackbird/Starling:

(2011-2012 winter)
4 Jan 2012 - RWBB. heard? starling?
18 Jan 2012 - RWBB. 3.

(2012-2013 winter:)
1 Jan 2013 - RWBB?? heard.
14 Jan 2013 - RWBB. heard. 12. Male.

(2013-2014 winter:)
23 Dec 2013 - Starling. *RWBB glugawee.
30 Dec 2013 - RWBB. 12. Male.
13 Jan 2014 - RWBB. Heard, singing.

About the same time that I'm puzzled over just who is singing the Red-winged Blackbird's glug-a-wee, I begin to hear the songs of the year round residents. These are perhaps either too modest or too complex for the Starling's mimicry. There is never any confusion.

From my notebooks, The Wetland. Song Sparrow:

(2009-2010 winter)
10 Jan 2010 - SOSP. singing.

(2010-2011 winter)
11 Jan 2011 - SOSP full song

(2011-2012 winter)
12 Jan 2012 - SOSP. Full song.

(2012 -2013 winter)
11 Mar 2013. SOSP full song.
He was late in 2013, or I wasn't there when he was singing.

(2013 -2014 winter)
6 Jan 2014. SOSP. fragments of song.
13 Jan 2014. SOSP. Full on song!

More from the notebooks, The Wetland. Bewick's Wren.:
(2010-2011 winter)
18 Jan 2011 - BEWR. Trill.

(2012-2013 winter)
9 Jan 2013. BEWR. Song.

(2013-2014 winter)
6 Jan 2014. Two BEWR, buzzing back and forth. territorial display?
13 Jan 2014. BEWR. buzz call.

I've not heard any part of a Bewick's Wren's spring call yet - no trills, no fragments.

But I'm thinking about Robins today. I have no detailed notes about Robins in any of my notebooks, probably because Robins are ubiquitous in the Pacific Northwest. All I have are numbers. From the numbers in my notebooks I understand that I can count on seeing or hearing at least one Robin any day of the year. The only thing of interest is that their numbers swell from time to time, growing from singletons to flocks of 15 or 20 to the bird counter's nightmare, "TMTC" - "too many to count". The swellings seem to come in late autumn though early winter, numerical evidence of migrating flocks that move through this neighborhood on the way to somewhere else, leaving in their wake the smaller numbers that call this landscape home. I don't know where the travelers come from, or where they go. In fact, I've never thought much about Robins at all.

Here in the BYS group we speak of birds "ripening", especially with respect to the Goldfinches as they shed their drab winter plumage to glow bright yellow when spring approaches. I've seen no Goldfinches this winter, but ripening is already happening here in the PNW: the Ring-billed Gulls that arrived last summer clothed in modest, post-breeding grey and black and white have begun to sport very sexy red eye rings; the Pied-bill Grebes gathering down at the Marina have become quite fashionable with their newly russet sides and stripey bills.

But do Robins ripen? Do males Robins go through one last winter moult to emerge with the just-right orange tinted breasts that makes at least a few of them irresistible to their female counterparts? Does their song change? Do they act differently as spring approaches?

I don't know. Robins are ubiquitous here in the PNW, and I'm embarrassed to say that their familiarity has made it too easy for me to overlook the details of their lives.

I wonder if this is true of other happenings in our natural neighborhoods, if there are things that might speak to all of us if we could take the time to see beyond the usual and wonder at the most common things that we have always taken for granted.

Seattle. January 13, 2014.  At the Wetland, Starlings have been mimicking Red-winged Blackbirds for about three weeks. Male and female Red-winged Blackbird have arrived. Song Sparrows are practicing singing their spring song. Bewick's Wrens may be beginning to stake out their breeding territories, but have not begun to sing. Robins are present.


Please chime in with your notes about what's happening in your natural neighborhood. All are welcome here.

I'll be in this morning, but must be off during the afternoon. Will return around dinner time PST.


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