The subject of this weeks most frequent question is Robins. I've been getting several calls and emails a day asking if they could be seeing Robins at this time of year or to report a sighting. While it's common to see a few linger every winter in Southern New Brunswick there seems to be more than usual. I've also had calls from farther north and there's been several reports from folks who've been birding the area for years and not seen Robins at this time of year.
I doubt it means anything other than a fairly easy winter and lots of fruit left on trees and shrubs from our wet summer. We could still get some expected winter weather so I wouldn't pull the boats and motorcycles out of storage just yet.
Another question I received this week was about the lack of an expected feeder bird, the Evening Grosbeak. If I was to go by my own experience I'd have to agree the numbers are down, when I first moved here Grosbeaks were one of the most common feeder birds in our yard. They gobbled up a disproportionate amount of my seed budget as well, they've been observed eating 96 sunflower seeds in 5 minutes, that's selecting the best seed, cracking the shell, dropping each half and swallowing the kernel every 3 seconds. It would be an understatement to say their bills were well adapted to eating seeds.
Although I don't get the large flocks coming to feeders like in the past there seems to be lots around, other folks are still getting them regularly and in North America, populations are high and their conservation status is listed as "Least Concern". They do eat a lot of insects, fruit and wild seeds, the flocks we had this fall didn't come to feeders, they were quite happy foraging in the maple trees. Keep an eye out though, as winter progresses we'll likely have more at feeders.
There're even more Bald Eagles around this winter, I received a picture today with 9 in one tree, at least 4 different stages of their plumage represented. The attraction...truck loads of fish arriving at the Cardwell Farms composting facility in Penobsquis. I often notice a few eagles from the highway on route to Sussex, I've always been rushing to get somewhere and it's a dangerous place to stop, the facility is actually accessed on route 114 (not the same 114 that takes you from Moncton to Alma, we have two, my luck when my wife calls the ambulance to come for me, it'll go the the wrong route 114).
Over the years the eagle numbers seem to be growing, a group of birders this January counted 90 and figured there were even more. Some pictures on Birding New Brunswick (birdingnewbrunswick.ca) show the large pieces of waste fish that were being eaten in the top of trees. If this keeps up we'll rival the Annapolis Valley's Eagle Festival.
The best Eagle watching is on days the fish arrives, you may rely on luck or you may want to give Cardwell Farms a call if you have a long drive.
There are always a few to be seen around our second most popular Eagle attraction, the Westmoreland Albert Solid Waste Corporation, which isn't all that far from the fish feast. I wonder if the fish truck drives down Berry Mills Road and the Eagles follow it out to the farm...it would be interesting to see how long it takes for 100 Eagles to arrive, from how far away they come and what exactly alerts them to the arrival of the chow.
At the end of last year I wrote about the best birds of the year and asked for you to let me know if I missed any and I'd include them in a follow up column, I was reminded of the Sandhill Cranes spotted last fall on the Tantramar Marsh. One or two of these guys show up every now and then in New Brunswick, sometimes when they find a field or lawn they like they stay put for quite a while, allowing lots of us who don't travel much, a first time look.
Not to be confused with the Great Blue Heron which isoften referred to as a crane, this is a true crane. The main difference would be noticed in flight, while the heron flies with its neck folded back on itself, the crane flies with the neck fully extended. A closer look shows a difference in standing and resting posture, (a Sandhill Crane looks like it's wearing a bustle.) If you can get close looks at the bill, the crane's is long but made more for probing, not the dagger-like weapon the heron sports for catching fish.
I was also reminded of the invasion of Red-bellied Woodpeckers, I hadn't forgotten this species, I left it out because I had just written about them and mentioned them in two other columns, but they should have been included in the best birds of the year, along with the good numbers of Red-headed Woodpeckers that moved up at the same time. I still have a male Red-bellied but no luck attracting a Red-headed to the yard. If you see any different woodpeckers, let me know.