Thursday, February 15, 2007

An Apple a Day

In spring and summer, one of the most eerie and memorable sounds of forests of the Pacific Northwest is the song of the Varied Thrush (Ixoreus naevius). Descriptions of this song vary considerably, and none does it justice, but it's a series of long, drawn-out musical notes of different pitches, loudest in the middle. I've been with folks who wondered if it were the call of a distant bull elk. This delightful sound is heard most often just before--and even somewhat after--dusk.

These Robin-like birds breed in coniferous forests from Alaska to northern California (their range is primarily the Pacific coastal states and provinces, but reaches as far as western Montana). Come autumn, Varied Thrushes move south and to lower elevations, with the vast majority of them wintering in Washington, Idaho, Oregon, and California.

Here in central Oregon, we've had a single individual in the yard all winter long this year. She's an adult--the gender is recognizeable by the gray (rather than black) breast band and her age can be told by the shape of the individual wing and tail feathers (in the hand). While she may have stayed with us this long solely because of the plentiful juniper berries in the area, she spends most of the morning eating the apple halves we faithfully put out for her each day. She's also rather proprietary about the bird bath, making individuals of other species wait each day until she's finished both bathing and drinking.

Spring will bring with it not only a rebirth of flowers and leaves but also a new cast of birds. When that time finally arrives, the "winter" bird we'll miss the most is our familiar Varied Thrush. But come next November, we'll be putting out an apple and watching for her or her kin.


Anonymous said...

"At once a voice arose among
The bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong
Of joy illimited;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt and small,
In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
Upon the growing gloom.

So little cause for carolings
Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
And I was unaware."

Thomas Hardy, The Darkling Thrush,
Stanzas 3 & 4.

This is one of my favorite poems, and I have attempted to imitate it on occasion, always unsuccessfully. The poem tells of the end of one age and the beginning of another, with the thrush the harbinger of the world to come. It is dated "31st December 1900."

Anonymous said...

who took the picture

Rick Gerhardt said...

My son, Nathan, took the picture.

Anonymous said...

Our juniper tree was full of robins (I think--red chest and brownish back feathers). They appeared to be eating the juniper berries--is that a part of their diet? I thought birds ate worms and insects.

By the way, that is a beautiful poem