Yesterday afternoon a little crowd of robins made one of their regular foraging visits to our front yard and bird baths; they usually come through to feed and squabble in the baths in the afternoon. I have been building the “forest floor” of our yard for years and now it is thick, soft and healthy with lots of little bugs that break down the debris. The robins send hours bouncing forward, tossing the duff and gobbling down the insects they find. Then they take turns bathing in the bird baths. Some of them can be such little hogs about staying in a bath and chasing away any challengers. There were two that would stand face to face with their beaks open in threat toward each other, but neither would budge. Flickers and chickadees always come along with the robin crowd so it is interesting to watch what they do on the edges of the robin activity.
Even though our city Yard is blessed with 14 mature cedar trees, it has been many decades since this area was what one might call a forest. I once spent some time in 1979, while looking to purchase my first house, with an 80 year old real estate man. He talked and explained at length about how he remembered the Northeast area of Seattle as a forest and all the little cottages along Lake Washington as summer season get-a-ways on the lake for Seattle families. The house in this Yard was built around 1940 so maybe it was more of a forest before that. As part of my transitioning this little chunk-of-heaven to a Yard devoted to native critters through gardening with native plants, I began to replace alien plants with natives that would like the acidic soil produced by the big cedars. I started with sword ferns, hardtack, beaked hazel nut and other easy natives to get started. Then, after removing all remnants of unproductive lawn we put all the patio sweepings, some Booster Blend from Cedar Grove (not too much) and all the cedar tree fall-out back on the ground under the cedar trees. Over time there are areas that have gotten thick with the duff of native plant debris and the little things that decompose the plant material. These areas are some birds’ grocery store, because they provide the high quality protein of insects and worms for making eggs and healthy new baby birds. Here in our Yard, the robins and crows are the best birds to watch for their ground feeding behavior; the crows, in twos or threes, are studied and careful while the robins, in groups of five to seven or more, seem a little frenzied.