Birding: Swainson's Thrush

The first summer I spent in Oregon, I heard this bird. It sang its song from deep in the woods, it sounded like a magical flute. My eastern ears were unaccustomed to this song. It haunted me for years afterwards... Some summers I would wander into the woods after it, getting somewhat lost or finding special places I wouldn't have found otherwise.

One day, after bring fed up of this unknown song bird eluding my sight, I sat down with a bird identification book for the Willamette Valley and poured over every robin sized bird I could find. I only ever caught a glimpse of its shadow high up in the poplar canopy. After looking for what felt like ages, there it was in print, next to a very plain looking brown bird... "Song - series of nasal whistles spiraling upward ... most often identified by distinctive voice ... Often near streams ... Summer migrant ... Secretive."  That was my bird alright.

I have spent most of my life on the east coast, so this elusive bundle of feathers was totally unknown to me. It felt strangely special finally knowing its name, like it was some sort of well kept secret that I was privy to. In a way, I believe it is. No one else that I have talked to has identified the bird.

Did you know that male Swainson's have territorial song battles? Apparently. Like some kind of bird rap battle... They also migrate at night.

The Swainson's Thrush is a keeper of secrets. They are a seekers bird, I believe. You chase and hunt and they lead you to things you would not have found if you hadn't been following their siren like call. There are places in the woods I know of now, thanks to this plain looking  but extraordinary bird.

I've only heard one or two distant calls over the past two weeks. They're heading out for the year and won't be back until about mid-May. They herald the summer and beautiful green things...