For me, the first sign of spring is the arrival of the robin. I know they are a common sight in most places, but in Sand Canyon I only see them when they are passing through. Since we’ve been having regular spring rain and snow showers it makes for good worm hunting, and we have had more than the usual number of spring visitors. I have taken great pleasure in seeing the flash of their reddish-orange breasts as they fly through golden fields or perch on a stump or fence rail. Robins are a brave bird. One can get very close before they will fly away.
Although I adore the Sand Canyon winter in all its varied glory, I can’t help feeling excited when I see my first robin. This year it happened in mid-February, and I managed to snap a picture of one in the dry winter stubble. Since then I have seen at least a hundred. I recently watched a group of six foraging near a tree in the field I call my yard. The snow had just melted and I was astounded at the number of worms they were finding. After all, this is the high desert, and I rarely see a worm. But there they were, six fat robins, cocking their heads and pulling up one juicy worm after the other.
I couldn’t help but wonder how the robins were finding all these worms, so I consulted my oracle the internet. It informed me than an ornithologist named Dr. Heppner conducted an extensive experiment to determine the answer. He had concluded that robins primarily use their eyesight to find wormholes with worms inside. If there is no worm, they ignore the hole. If only I could see that well!
BTW: One of my favorite children’s books is The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Mary the heroine is led into the secret garden by a friendly robin and her life is changed forever. This was an English Robin, a much different bird than an American Robin but with a similar color on its breast. The English robin is actually a flycatcher, while the American robin is a thrush. Our red-breasted thrush owes its name to its European distant cousin, because it reminded the early American settlers of their own special bird back home.