VIEW: FROM MY BACKYARD & BEYOND – December 2014

By Buffy Calvert

On Columbus Day snowflakes drifted from a cloud-shrouded sky, tested the earth and melted away.

But today, November 8th, a soft sun shines on the first real snowfall.  A subterranean colony of moles has tunneled every inch of my backyard. The wet snow lies like a layer of melted mozzarella, pocked and crumpled over the runnels, with tufts of green poking through.

Birds flock to the feeders hung in the lilac. Chickadees, nuthatches and slate colored juncos vie with faded goldfinches at the tube feeder. Cheeky jays, in their greed, flip sunflower seeds from the swinging dome. A mitered cardinal, with ecclesiastical calm, plucks them up while his modest mate stands guard above. Side by side, mourning doves meander up the walk to share the feast.

Last night a bear clawed the big maple stump to drag down the heavy, wooden, bark-roofed feeder. It sits waiting on the porch. I know, Jack, I jumped the gun. When will Bruin have denned so I can set it up again?

The storm has knocked the robins’ nest from its perch on the inside corner of the porch column capital. It is cracked in two. I carry the two halves inside and place them gently on a plate.

Yes! It confirms the story I have often told: about how the robin gathers sticks and dried grasses to weave the bowl and cements them with mud. I have watched robins gather and pile up the dried stuff, even weaving in the blue curling ribbon I was using to rope off the steps with a sign: “Robins nesting! Use other door.”  But the mud part I took on my complete faith in the close and accurate observations of my friend, Ed Duensing, who used to live on the Tremperskill.

He wrote in his book, Backyard and Beyond, page 44,

“The mud is so important to the robin that, if none is around, the bird will make some by dipping its feet in water and then standing on dry earth…The mud is used as the mortar of the nest. The robin sits inside the nest, rotating on its stomach to sculpt the right shape. The mud is then covered with softer plants…”

And here, before me, is our robins’ nest, the dried mud beautifully, tenderly sculpted to receive the eggs and young birds. I am awed.

Since the robins will not use the nest another season after raising two broods last summer, I am glad to have the little ledge cleared in readiness for next spring. Did you know that the male robin comes north first in the spring to scout out possible nesting sites for his mate? When she arrives he shows her his choices. She rejects some (“How could you think I would like that?”) and selects her favorite. I hope it is my porch!

November 15th _ New snow! Puffs of white clouds in a blue sky mimic the cotton balls that dot my shrubs. Here’s hoping we have snow for the Tree Lighting: children rolling down the little slope and singing in anticipation of Santa’s arrival, the blaze of lights on the garlanded fir, cookies and cocoa in the library, soup and crusty bread at the Hunting Tavern.~