Harbinger of spring – Worms not Robins

The endearing American robin, also known as the “Harbinger of Spring.”  The notion goes so far back in my memory.   I fail to recognize the first time I became aware of the robin and its notoriety for marshalling in the welcomed, new spring season, which begins for me at the beginning of March.  We see robins all year long at our house.  So I began to wonder why robin earned such a dramatic reputation.

Consulting my Peterson’s, I quickly verified my assessment:  the American robin lives in the Blackstone Valley all year.  It winters here, breeds here and generally thrives here (and throughout most of the continental U.S.).  It is one specie that has benefited from the interaction of humans with the landscape.

Robins like short grass or bare ground as foraging areas for earthworms and arthropods.  They build their nests in trees or shrubs located near these preferable feeding areas. Despite resident predators like cats and raccoons or the occasional fisher cat, virtually any lawn area in the National Heritage Corridor is attractive to the robins.

The National Heritage Corridor also has the one other essential element for robins:  a supply of mud for nests.  The birds use a base of twigs, roots, grass and paper firmly molded into shape with an inner layer of mud.  While some may be built in conifers before leaves come out on other trees each spring, the nests are often relocated to deciduous trees and shrubs for cover the rest of the season.

Everyone is familiar with the startlingly beautiful blue eggs of the robin, usually laid in a group of six to eight.  They incubate for two weeks and hatch.  The resulting brood is watched by Mom, fed by Dad, and are off flying on their own in another two weeks.  Robins can produce two or three broods per season.

Distinguished by a bright orange-red breast, the American robin (Turdus migratorius) is a large thrush and one of the most familiar songbirds in the eastern United States.  It was named by early settlers because of its resemblance to the European robin, a somewhat smaller-sized thrush called Erithacus rubecula.

But let’s return to the question of “harbinger of spring.”  Where did that come from, if, in fact, the robins live in the National Heritage Corridor year round?

It’s the worms.  From March to May, earthworms (and other lawn “bugs”) constitute a major portion of the diet of robins, apparently because these foods are essential for breeding.  It’s easier to find the worms, et al, in shorter grass.  Hence, the preference for lawns.  Each spring, it seems like the robins have “returned” to our yards from who-knows-where, as they collect in numbers on our lawns and peck for worms.  The fact is they have just flown over from the tree next door looking for the season’s first crop of worms, as the wrigglers thaw themselves out and rise closer to the surface to do whatever it is worms do.

By June, robins begin to supplement their diet with fruit (such as honeysuckle) and the fruit takes on a larger portion of their food supply right through the fall.

So the next time you look out your window and see these birds in the yard, resist reinforcing the old falsehood by saying, “spring must be here, there are robins in the yard.”  It would be more accurate to say, “spring is here, the worms surfacing.”

BHC Seeks Participants in Strategic Planning Process

Woonsocket, RI (January 15, 2016)

Blackstone Heritage Corridor, Inc. (BHC) announces it is currently seeking participants for its three different mission-related committees. The non-profit that serves 25 communities between Worcester, MA, and Providence, RI, has defined three areas of focus: Environment (including Recreation), chaired by Donna Williams, Blackstone Headwaters Coalition; Historical and Cultural Resources, chaired by Anne Conway, Museum of Work and Culture; and Economic Development and Community Revitalization, chaired by John Gregory, Northern RI Chamber of Commerce. The purpose of each subcommittee is to facilitate the development of BHC’s new strategic plan. Each group will identify visions and strategies for achieving those visions.

“Blackstone Heritage Corridor is celebrating the 30th year of the National Heritage Corridor designation this year and we are excited to have many people at the table to help plan our future,” explained Charlene Perkins Cutler, BHC’s executive director. “This is an excellent opportunity for someone with a passion for the National Heritage Corridor to really get involved. We’re looking for great ideas. We’re planning how we will take the National Heritage Corridor from 2016 to 2026.”

If interested in participating, please direct a letter specifying an area of interest to Charlene Perkins Cutler at ccutler@blackstoneheritagecorridor.org by January 31, 2016. “In addition to providing great networking opportunities, time served on these subcommittees also can be contributed to our Volunteers-in-Parks program,” Cutler added. To learn more about BHC, visit BlackstoneHeritageCorridor.org.

The Smell of Christmas

The family tradition of cutting our own Christmas tree goes back to my childhood.  I remember walking for what seemed like miles with my Dad across the rocky fields of my grandmother’s farm.  My Mom had me wrapped up tighter than a mummy with heavy woolen snow pants, coat, mittens, hat and scarf, and rubber boots with multiple layers of wool socks – I walked like a zombie from The Walking Dead with joints incapable of movement.  Dad held my hand and helped me over the rougher terrain.  After all, I was only about four years old at the time of my first tree-cutting adventure.


It’s nearly Christmas and there are so many a special memories associated with the season.  My husband and I became engaged during the holidays many years ago, while enjoying a beautiful snowy escape in Old Quebec with its culinary traditions like tourtière.  So our holiday feast always features the French-Canadian meat pies.

Handwritten History

My mother used to start writing notes to friends and addressing Christmas cards the first week in December.  She had the most beautiful handwriting, having been schooled in the Palmer Method.  Even her quick “scribbling” was an attractive conglomeration of swoops and flourishes.  I treasure her knitting instructions, recipe cards and letters as part of our family history.

Eco-Friendly Wrapping Ideas

In a few months, Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor will celebrate its 30th anniversary.  As we designed our 2016 calendar, we used the opportunity to renew our commitment to our environment and to announce our Trash Responsibly™ campaign.  We hope you will join us to make some responsible choices that will have a positive impact on our Blackstone Valley during the holidays.  Let’s start with holiday gift wrapping.

Turkey Vultures

If you drive around the Blackstone Valley frequently, you have undoubtedly seen large black birds soaring overhead.  Not hawks, not ravines or crows.  Turkey vultures!

They could easily be mistaken for roosting wild turkeys as they are a like size and demeanor.  I saw one perched in a tree at the side of Route 102 in Burrillville a week ago.  However, up close, there is no mistaking turkey vultures for another species.  They are one ugly bird!

The Red Planet

I love watching the night sky and we are lucky that there are parts of our Blackstone Heritage Corridor where there is dark country, places sufficiently devoid of man-made lighting where one can still see the night’s sky.  Not really an amateur astronomer – more of a celestial cheerleader, I find it easy to get caught up in information about astronomical occurrences.