The American Robin is a migratory bird. After all, we’ve named it Turdus migratorius. Or is it?
Birds gather in flocks in the fall and fly to Texas or the Gulf states, often as far as Bermuda or Guatamala. They go to find adequate nourishment. Check any field guide and it will show you winter range and summer range.
Yet New Englanders like me, Wisconsin-ites, cold-hearty Canadians and others in cold northern climes report more and more frequent sightings of American Robins in winter. What is going on? Has something changed, or are there just crazy birds who linger?
Some of these winter birds might be more northerly populations that come southward to what is still a pretty snowy, cold place. If you see some robins with a nearly black back, brighter red breast, more prominent white eye ring and white throat streaking, you are probably seeing the northern race of the American Robin, coming down from Labrador or Newfoundland.
Also, research suggests that some resident robins simply decide to hang out for the winter if there is adequate food. They then have first dibs on the best territories before everyone else comes back. Fifty to 100 birds may flock together seeking food sources. Chances are, when you see robins in the winter, it isn’t just one or two, it’s a whole flock.
One thing going for these resourceful birds is their flexible diets. Summertime’s abundance of worms and insects suits their needs completely then. In the winter, robins change to an herbivorous diet, eating berries and other available fruits. Bittersweet, crabapples, rose hips, mountain ash, sumac, hawthorne, and other berries are eaten. If you put strawberries, raspberries, raisins, blueberries, apple pieces and other fruits out in the winter, robins might happen upon them and enjoy your bounty.
March is when the migrants generally return. Watch the weather and notice when the weekly temperature averages 37 degrees Fahrenheit. You’ll soon see robins if the snow cover is gone. Robins tend to appear with warm fronts, when rain drives worms from the thawing ground.
Are you a Cove-ophile? If you just can’t get enough of Cades Cove in Great Smoky Mountains National Park and go back time and time again, you’re a Cove-ophile. Maybe its the mountain vistas, the tranquil cabins, the prospect of seeing a bear or two, graceful deer grazing in the mist, or an appreciation of days gone by. There is certainly a mystique here. Like eating a single potato chip, one taste is often simply not enough.
Alas, starting March 1st, the Cades Cove Loop Road – one of the busiest roads in the National Park System – will be getting a face-lift. After having served an average of 2 million visitors every year for the past 30 years, the road has been sorely in need of major maintenance. No one, not even Cove-ophiles are allowed.The complete loop road, all the land inside the loop and up to a quarter mile outside the loop, including trails, will be closed from March 1st until May 21st. or so. Contractors are tilling the old pavement into the underlying roadbed to repave the entire eleven miles.So what is a Cove-ophile to do?
I have a suggestion.
Rich Mountain Loop Trail is still open. This is a good hiking choice roadwork or not, and is one of our favorites. The trail starts at the entrance to the Cades Cove Loop. Although it is within the ¼ mile exclusion zone, the NPS insists hikers will be allowed to use it.
Using your Cades Cove NaturePod to accompany you, you can get a rich Cove experience as you hike. After traversing about 1/4 mile from the parking lot, you’ll spot a big mound across the field. Many refer to this as the “Indian Mound.” A diviner once doused the mound and claimed there were 150 natives buried there. Archeological digs endeavored to substantiate graves in the mound but have determined it is nothing but dirt.
A native American known to have inhabited the Cove is Chief Abrams. Some claim that Cades Cove was named for his wife Catie even though there appears to be no historic record of her existence.
Moving along, you will come to the John Oliver Cabin at mile 1.3. As you investigate his cabin listen to the story of the Olivers on your NaturePod. It is much like the story of many Americans. The Olivers moved here in the early 1800s to begin a new life. Times were hard, especially that first year, but with grit and determination they not only flourished but helped establish the ensuing community. John helped build the Primitive Baptist Church where he and Luraney were quite active. The couple is buried in that cemetery. Although you won’t be able to access the church this spring, you can use your NaturePod to listen to a Harp Sing that may have filled the church’s rafters with a joyful noise.
The next quarter mile takes you past a chimney on your right. Look sharp because the forest is absorbing it. As the trail climbs Cave Ridge, listen to the story of Joe Gregory’s Cave that lies deep below you. Legend has it the cave was used for all sorts of purposes, some of which were better suited for underground activity – literally and figuratively.
As you approach the junction with Indian Grave Gap Trail, you will catch a glimpse across the Cove. You are now standing on the land once owned by Peter Cable and later his son-in-law Dan Lawson. Both men became wealthy land-wise and were prominent figures in this community.
So many stories to tell and so many people to “meet” in this Cove. Although the NPS has chosen this spring to undertake much needed road repair, it should not discourage you from learning more about the magic of the Cove. This valley is a spectacular place, and with your NaturePod, you can have a ranger with you as you travel in the footsteps of Chief Abrams, the Olivers, Gregorys, Cables, Lawsons and so many more.
Be aware of other closures in the Smokies for repaving:
Clingman’s Dome Road
Roaring Fork Motor NatureTrail
Parking area for the Sinks
These have been scheduled for closure from mid February until the end of May.
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