Red Crossbills enjoy an early spring seed snack in Masset. (Lorrie Joron/Submitted)

Red Crossbills enjoy an early spring seed snack in Masset. (Lorrie Joron/Submitted)

On the Wing: Spring’s tardy arrival with swans

By Margo Hearne

The robins are back in full force, 78 of them the other day out on the meadow. They also sit on the tip-top of the trees in the sun and sing. It’s been a long cold winter, and their arrival is heartening. The juncos are still at the feeder; they haven’t gone off to the bush to nest yet but will shortly. The family Song Sparrow is much in evidence; the cold mornings haven’t deterred it from its appointed rounds as it begins to set up nesting territory. It’s perky and alive and drives off the siskins that land in the garden.

In spite of the chill, a few salmonberry flowers have blossomed in sheltered places and all the deciduous plants are showing buds. A small flock of Red Crossbills floated gently onto the alder catkins, then our neighbour sent photos of crossbills feeding in their garden. They are lovely birds all dressed in pastel reds and greens. Crossbills will go where the seeds are and if there’s a good wild crop they will even begin to nest in winter, although, like most birds, they like a little warmth and sun. It could be a good crossbill year — seeing them now is a good sign.

A gardening chronicle is a handy thing to have. We try and keep temperature records from year to year, and looking back over the past 10 years or so the journal shows this chill is not exceptional for this time of year. It usually hovers between zero and five before it begins to warm up. It can be depressing, however. It’s hard to get out in the garden to clean up winter’s residue of fallen branches and leaves. The ground is too cold to work, although daffodils are showing quite strongly. Perhaps they’ll flower in time for Easter. Some of the smaller varieties have already flowered in sheltered places.

Out in Delkatla, the Green-winged Teal numbers are lower than they were. Many have peeled off to the north country or inland to nest. They like to get a head-start on their long journeys. Just this week a flock of swans landed across the inlet. Our neighbour had seen them arrive in the early morning, stark white against the blue sky. It was a small flock of 18, and although they were a little far off for identification, it is likely that they were Tundra Swans on their way to Alaska. They had left by late afternoon.

Small flocks of Tundras often come through this time of the year. They don’t stay long, they don’t usually winter over, and they need to get to the nesting grounds as soon as they can. It’s the miracle of migration. Geese should be coming through soon and maybe the occasional Golden-crowned Sparrow. They often appear around this time of year.

Easter is this weekend. Have a happy one.

On the Wing