New Kensington bloggers spot signs of spring

Penn State New Kensington’s biologist bloggers Bill Hamilton, assistant professor of biology, and Deborah Sillman, senior instructor in biology, have posted the fourth installment to their blog site, Ecologist's Notebook: Reflections on the Natural World of Western Pennsylvania.

“Signs of Spring 4: The robins are coming,” was written Jan. 30. Traditionally, the American robin arrives in the area around Feb. 14, according to Hamilton. However, it seems that this new generation is an iconoclastic flock and is determined to be fashionably ahead of schedule. The robin’s diet of fruits and berries plays a role in their literal belief in the “early bird gets the worm" mindset.

“Birds primarily migrate out of northern areas because of the necessity of finding food,” said Hamilton, who earned a doctorate from Syracuse University. “Robins, turning exclusively to fruit for winter sustenance, have the opportunity to skip the long, energetically expensive and individually perilous migration flight south. With luck, and with abundant apples, pears and holly berries, they can survive the winter and potentially claim the best local nesting sites before the migrating individuals come back on the scene.”

The husband-and-wife team, who started blogging in 2008, have been publishing the first posts earlier and earlier. During the embryonic stages of the blog, evidence of the passing of winter was posted in March. Then February became the starting point. Now, January is the bellwether for Hamilton as his spring guests arrive for a yard party. If the pattern continues, just as the sun rises Dec. 20 for the winter solstice at Stonehenge, a “critter flash mob” will show up at Hamilton’s door.

Hamilton and Sillman oversee the maintenance of the campus Nature Trail that was constructed in 1985. Each year, they write about the birds, insects, mammals and flowers that herald the arrival of spring. They report on their observations around their Apollo house and on local nature trails, as well as the campus trail.

To view Hamilton's blogs and to make a comment, visit

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Last Updated February 13, 2013