Posted by: Dave Neads | April 20, 2008

Redwings, Beavers and Spring

The Redwing Blackbirds are back. This year we have more than ever, a small flock of about ten to twelve birds. Now I know that for many of you this is tiny. I have friends in Anahim Lake who boast ( or is that curse?) groups of up to 100 or more.

Some feel they are noisy, territorial birds that disrupt others including those who want to lie abed on these spring mornings when the dawn arrives about 5:30 am.

I grew up with Redwings. We lived by a marsh on the north shore of Lake Ontario. Each spring the Redwings would arrive in droves and I would listen for hours to their liquid silver songs, enchanted with them and the new life they seemed to be serenading.

Now I know that the calls are just about territory, mating and all that practical stuff, but I still get a tingle at the base of my skull and a rush of pleasure when I hear these sopranos sing their hearts out, and I don’t believe it is just about practicality. If you have ever seen a male sitting on top of a small fir, overlooking the valley and giving full throat, then I think you would agree there is more going on than sheer mechanics.

When we first moved here there were no Redwings. Since the valley bottom didn’t have the marshy habitat they like, we were out if luck.

Until the beavers moved in that is. For years the previous owner had dynamited beaver dams, trapped the animals and burned their lodges. He felt that the dams would destroy meadows, cause flooding and otherwise interfere with his small scale ranching operation.

I must admit, for the first few years I dynamited the dams, but I never trapped or burned lodges. Why? Good question, it was just how you managed the place. Beavers were up to no good and they had to go.

One year I decided that the beavers were just as much a part of the valley as I was, so I stopped blowing up dams, the result being that after about three years, there were two big dams in place and the ponds behind them began to develop marshy edges and swamp habitat.

Well, you guessed it, about five years ago a solitary Redwing showed up. You can’t image the pleasure it gave me to listen to its call which peeled away half a century of life and took me straight back to my childhood.

He stayed around for a few days , feasted on black oil sunflower seeds and went on his way.

The next year he came back with a couple of buddies and the rest is history. Now, this year, there is an established flock. As I say, it is small, but they have been here for about ten days and the pleasure I get out of listening to them, seeing the scarlet slash on wing shoulder as they fly, watching the young males and the females joust on the feeder, the flock making this place their home, is immense.

All thanks to the beavers, who are still here, who still repair their dams and who still provide a home for the Redwings.

And I’m in the middle of it all. And what did I do? I just left things alone, left them to interconnect the way wild things do. To get the miracle of Redwings to serenade my Precipice spring, all I had to do was…nothing.


  1. Hi Dave,
    I was quite happy to stumble upon your blog via the Nuk Tessli website. I am the oldest daughter of David Gladden (as you’ll remember the former owner). It warms my heart to catch up on the news of the Precipice and am always interested to know how nature cycles in an area that was such a part of my beginning. You may be interested to know that during the years 1981-1984 there were redwinged blackbirds every spring at the 30 acres. For some reason they seemed to like hanging around the haystacks and the horses. My sister and I used to bask ourselves in the spring sun on top of the haystacks (dad put up loose hay) and enjoy the company of the blackbirds. I know they often like marshy areas but at that time the only wet bits would have been the river itself which was probably just enough for them? Otherwise we never had problems with beaver trying to dam the hay meadows although up the slope to the south there were some swamp grass meadows and beaverdams which I don’t remember dad ever breaking the dams of (he certainly would never have used dynomite). My dad and brother did small scale trapping, certainly not directly in the valley and to the point of controlling a beaver population. So I’m curious as to where the beaver dams that you mentioned are these days. Some summer I’d like to make a trip into the valley with my family, we’d be sure to stop by for a visit. Keep up the wonderful blog that you have going here, I’ll be sure to keep reading it!

  2. Rachel:

    What a wonderful surprise to receive your comment. I can picture you sunning on the haystack, basking in the spring sun,

    We did loose hay for the first couple of years. The Redwings probably were feasting on the seeds in the loose hay.

    The dams are now upstream around the corner from your Dad’s “upper” meadow, the small round one.

    You are welcome anytime, please keep in touch
    We’d like to learn more Precipice history.


  3. Dear Dave,

    I too stumbled upon this blog from Nuk Tessli site. I can only say thank you for the pleasure it gives me to read it every few days. I hope to start my own blog someday. I live in Ireland where its pretty green and wet in the summer – no hummingbirds, bears or redwing blackbirds – so hearing of them is interesting. Great work,

    Best Wishes


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