Through the tunnels and fortresses created by a rare northwestern snowstorm, a familiar form has recently been flitting. Their sooty backs blend well with the silted snow, but the bright coal of their breast is a welcome contrast: The American robin, Turdus migratorius, is arriving in droves from Mexico and California in anticipation of a northern spring. Although some spend the winter here in our temperate town, most have wide migratory ranges. Some even overshoot their typical transects, and end up as vagrants in Greenland, Belize, Europe.
One flock has found solace and sustenance in the barberry bush that grows just outside of my kitchen window; I lately spend my breakfast on one side of the glass, coffee in hand, watching a robin, barberry in beak, peeking in at me. I like being privy to their layover; it seems fitting that Bellingham’s temperate clime is the intermediary between two climactic antitheses – we are the muddled, cloudy average between the hot blare of Mexican sun and the white spread of northern tundra. My local flock gains both barberries, and acclimation.
It may seem a bit premature, to fly north into the snow before anything appears to indicate the arrival of warmer weather. The robin, however is both one of the earliest nesting birds in the spring, and one of the first voices in the dawn’s avian chorus. They can often be found on the highest branch, singing their distinctive trill in the dark before dawn, caroling heartily to the possibility of the rising sun.