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...

Tiniest Skull & Bushtit Chatter.

A few weeks ago I found the tiny mangled body of a bird outside of our stoop. I imagine a cat must have gotten it, or it died of natural causes. I picked it up and placed it between my althaea and mugwort plants. Today, while examining my mugwort for upcoming full moon cutting, I noticed the little birds body was still there. I was surprised it didn't disappear by scavenging racoons and neighborhood cats that prowl our yard. It's little skull was sticking up neatly out of the dirt, well cleaned by nature.

This tiny skull belongs to the bushtit. It's the smallest bird in North America by weight, right next to the hummingbird. His little skull is smaller than the tip of my finger joint! I feel pretty lucky to have such a curio.

Birds hold a very special place in my heart, thanks to my wonderful grandmother who subscribed me to Birds and Blooms when I was about 10 years old. This imbedded in me a deep love of bird watching. Anytime I heard a call or saw a bird I couldn't recognize, I'd go on a hunt for information to learn all I could about its range and habits. I wanted so badly to see Cedar Waxwings when I was young, it wasn't until I was crossing a bridge in Iowa City, Iowa at age 22 that I suddenly realized I was surrounded by a huge flock of them! And I saw them for the first time in my life. If you ask my partner, I was ridiculously excited. Pretty sure bystanders thought I was crazy.

Depending on the species, birds are messengers, tricksters, symbols of purity and love. Bushtits to me, are the embodiment of joy, thriftiness, tranquility and a cohesive family. They often travel in large groups tree to tree combing for insects. Sometimes, if you're lucky, you'll encounter a massive flock of them while walking through the forest. One moment it'll be quiet, and the next you'll be surrounded by what feel like millions of the tiniest fluff balls. No matter when or where you spot them, they are merrily chirping away paying no mind to who's watching them. If you're still enough, they will let you get remarkably close to them while they're foraging. They have the brightest eyes and most content and happy expression.

Birding adventures are a constant. My current hope, is to find out who it is that makes this eerie trilling sound deep in the forests. I hear this call only in summer and I've never seen the culprit. With some binoculars and luck, maybe I'll find out.

Other birdy goodness: The Secret Bird Society by Candlesmoke Chapel.