Winter birds redux: Hermit Thrush

Posted: January 13th, 2009 under Wildlife.
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I have only four records in eight years for the Hermit Thrush on our place, including today, all in the creek woods.    In 2003, I saw one briefly near Main Ford, right in the middle of the woods, on January 27 and again on February 2…almost certainly the same individual.   In late October 2007, I saw one in the south part of the creek woods, and got a (not very good) picture.   We’re “supposed” to have them–we’re in their winter range–but these birds are small, shy, and easily missed among the winter sparrows.    They’re quiet and secretive.   I had read descriptions of the Hermit Thrush’s song but never heard it.

Until today.

I was headed for Owl Pavilion, on the trail through the creek woods, and had already scared up a deer (crash, bang, crash, crash, crash as it leaped off through the dry leaves.)   Periodically,  I stopped to listen for birds–the thin whits, tsieeps, tseets, of the winter-resident sparrows, mostly, and the sweet chatter of goldfinches, now gathering into larger flocks.   For the first time in days, it wasn’t windy, so the sounds of birds scuffling in the leaves, or their wings when they flew, were clearly audible in the afternoon stillness.

And I heard a song I hadn’t heard before.   Soft, sweet, but penetrating–it’s been described as ethereal, and it is, in a way.   I couldn’t spot the bird, but I could follow its movements as its song came from here…then there…

At Owl, I set up to photograph birds at the water–a goodly crop of wintering sparrows (Harris’s, White-crowned, White-throated, Lincoln’s, Savannah, Song), cardinals, mockingbirds…and then I heard a soft call, not the song…and spotted the thrush.


The eye-ring showed up much more clearly in real life, especially when it came to water.

Hermit Thrush

Hermit Thrush

This shy bird kept moving and really did not like being photographed–alerted at every click of the shutter and fled to impenetrable cover after just a few shots,  so it took awhile sitting very still in the cold to get enough pictures to show all the field marks I needed (these two don’t show the red-brown rump and tail–two others do.)

I hope to hear that song again someday.

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