Robins & Waxwings Invade!
I got quite a surprise this morning in Austin on an unusually frigid 32°F late morning. Until this morning, American Robins were not birds I had ever seen in our yard. Today, I got All The Robins…my initial count was over 80, but as the day has worn on, I think it was well over 100. Joined by a flock of 150+ Cedar Waxwings, this marauding horde spend more than an hour and a half rabble-rousing in our yard.
I had just finished cooking breakfast when my husband gasped, “What is going on?” It’s hard to do justice to the volume of birds we witnessed. We both sat riveted at the window over breakfast, lingering over our coffee as a constant rotation of 40-50 birds flew between the trees and the ponds, drinking, bathing, and socializing.
Ironically, the most popular spot in the yard was the “frog pond” – a big mud puddle that was supposed to be the future hot tub location, but quickly showed us that Texas clay is unrelenting in its ability to funnel water to the lowest spot and hold it. Never underestimate how much wildlife will love you for your ugly yard accidents…the frogs laid all their eggs there and now we have hundreds of tadpoles working their way to adulthood, in addition to it being a hot spot for this flock to play.
The coolest thing was the robins seemed to lend the cedar waxwings some boldness for being out in the open, and they also came down from the ligustrums in droves. They were much more tenuous, arriving and fleeing with their comrades, adhering to the age-old Safety In Numbers mantra.
Into The Fray
After 45 minutes, I realized there was no end in sight to this party. Warm with coffee and bird-nerdiness, I bundled up and grabbed my gear. As I snuck around the back of the house, I began to realize just how pervasive this flock was and that, while I merited a few alert calls, no one cared about the stalker among them.
I crept closer and closer until finally I was sitting in front of the frog pond, with a front-row seat to the fun.
I knew photos wouldn’t capture the visual spectacle that I was witnessing, so I tried free-handing some video with my 600mm lens. I have to tell you – all those years of Navasana (boat pose) in yoga came in super-handy as I propped the lens on my knees, leaned back to balance it and tried my hardest to lock my core and limit camera-wobble. I will never claim to be a videographer or video editor, but I managed a quick-edit of the footage. I wish it had sound, but those upgrades will have to wait for another day.
This encounter was a notable first for a few reasons.
I hadn’t seen a flock of robins this big before, and obviously NEVER in our Austin yard for the 4 years I’ve been paying close attention.
With the cold snap, it makes me wonder if some of these guys were starting their migration from further south and took a break to let the front pass. I know it’s a common occurrence for migrating birds to be “downed” by storms for a few days and that – despite terrible weather – those can be the most exciting birding days.
Also, while I’ve been seeing huge flocks of waxwings frolicking in the berry bushes and gathering in vast numbers, this was my first time ever seeing robins and cedar waxwings kicking it together. Perhaps it’s common in the winter, and it’s just that most of my experiences with the two species in the same zone is in WA, when everyone is out of flocking mode.
I’ll keep digging on these questions, and maybe I’ll uncover something new to add to the mental archives!