Sunday, December 1, 10 am.
The day is grey, with low clouds covering the hillsides and drizzle as I am walking near Mill Creek, on the east side of Highway 101. Since my rain gauge showed it rained over 2.50 inches during the last week, I am curious to see if any flooding has occurred. What a relief it is to feel the moist air! Across the empty pastures, I can see there are only small amounts of standing water on the narrow access roads. The fields are not flooded yet.
Everywhere I look there are American Robins. They are in all the fields, in the trees, flying over me, and especially in the muddy paths and puddles. This is the quintessential bird to me, with its brick-red breast, bright yellow bill, and a white broken eye ring that makes it look inquisitive. I am always cheered by its presence. The robin is a resident bird here in the Willits Valley, nesting in apple trees, oak, and firs; but during the fall and winter so many other robins migrate and congregate in this area that suddenly everyone notices them. I hear many comments on how there are literally hundreds of robins on all the lawns, fields, and open valley lands. Some years I have seen large oak trees full of them singing loudly between winter rainstorms.
You might ask why do they come here and what are they doing? As I watch them running along the muddy paths, I see them poking their long bills into the grass, taking a moment to cock their heads and listen or look sideways at the ground. This is because American robins have exceptionally keen eyesight that allows them to see the tiny disturbances in the soil that indicate where worms are moving. It is the main technique that robins use to find worms, though they also use their senses of hearing and touch as part of their hunting as well. We have large tracts of open grassy areas in this valley which is ideal for them! Congregating together in the hundreds may be a way to be safer from predators such as hawks or bobcats.
American Robins are omnivorous birds, eating about 40% insects and 60% fruits and berries but are flexible and will eat what is available. It is common this time of the year to see flocks of robins eating the red berries of the madrone trees and the Pyracantha berries that ferment and cause the birds to get a little intoxicated.
I watch as many of them take baths in the puddles and in Outlet Creek, heedless of the rain that is now sounding louder on my umbrella. It seems they are perfectly comfortable in this weather, but I am ready to sit in front of a warm fire.