Thursday, February 3, 2011

A curious case of Thrush

There have been a number of reports of some long-distance avian visitors in Michigan recently. In particular there have been two Varied Thrush that have been hanging around and providing local birders with great opportunities to see a bird they would normally have to travel a few thousand miles to see. Seeing as I had never before seen one of these stunning birds before, and the individual had travelled so far, it seemed rude not to drop by and give a hearty welcome.

The Varied Thrush is a close relative of the more locally common American Robin, and looks much like a robin dressed as a pumpkin for Halloween. Bright orange colours make this bird really stand out in a crowd. The bird I was heading out to look for was a male bird, so I'd really be getting to see the bird in it's full glory.

I headed down with Bruce Cohen, who didn't want me to get a year bird on him, to the house in Barry County, Mi, where the bird had been reported frequenting the feeders. The owners had generously invited interested birders to park in their drive to watch for the bird, and had already facilitated some fabulous views for a number of birders by doing so. Having a bunch of (creepy looking?) people sitting in your yard staring at your house with binoculars could be considered an imposition by some, so it really is appreciated when people open up their private space in this way. We parked up behind another optic wielding birder in front and started to monitor the area for our ginger vagrant. Bruce, as always parked so that the feeders were on his side of the car, forcing me to either look through curved glass or lean over on his shoulder. I can't decide if he wanted me to miss the bird, or was hoping for a sneaky cuddle.

The Feeders were buzzing with activity, and the first few minutes were spent enjoying the antics of Blue Jays, Dark-eyed Juncos, American Tree Sparrows, Northern Cardinals, Tufted Titmice, Downy Woodpeckers and Black-capped Chickadees.

Blue Jays
American Tree Sparrow and Dark-eyed Juncos
I'm not sure what these American Tree Sparrows are doing, but that Tufted Titmouse clearly does not approve.

American Tree Sparrows and Tufted Titmouse
The fact that many of the birds we were seeing were of the peak-a-boo variety was deeply concerning. Was our Varied Thrush hiding, happily feeding behind a pile of snow?
Blue Jay and Northern Cardinal
Eventually, after a marathon 10 minute wait, our much anticipated visitor was spotted. Feeding right out in the open, giving me a great view of my first Varied Thrush. We couldn't believe our luck, we could easily have waited for a couple of hours before he visited the feeder. By the time I had enjoyed the view of the bird well enough that I was ready to start trying for some photographs the bird had flown up into a tree and the following occluded shots were the best I could manage.

Varied Thrush
I really did want some better shots, so we hung around, camera primed, for the bird to return. Our luck at such a quick viewing was underscored by the lack of a second viewing over the next 30 mins or so. In the meantime I entertained myself with easier spotted denizens of the feeders.

The American Tree Sparrows were ever present, and I always try to make the most of these birds before they leave at the end of winter.

American Tree Sparrow
The same is true of the Dark-eyed Junco, with their all black plumage broken only by their distinctive white belly and pink beak. Their white outer tail feathers flashing as they take flight is a frequent sight through the winter months here.

Dark-eyed Junco
This Tufted Titmouse clowning around on a tree trunk was a highlight for me.

Tufted Titmouse
Eventually, I conceded that our time might be better spent looking for birds, such as Rough-legged Hawks, elsewhere. We scanned the roads and fields on the drive home, but failed to find any over-wintering Rough-legged Hawks. We did however get treated to some fabulous looks at yet another Red-shouldered Hawk.

Red-shouldered Hawk


  1. Glad you saw the thrush. I love the Varied thrushes, pretty cool birds. That's a pretty cute picture of the Jay and the Cardinal with their heads popping up out of the snow. Birds in snow make me smile! (thanks for following my blog, by the way!)

  2. There was a Varied Thrush at our neighbor's in northern Minnesota and I was happy to get several good looks at it. It is such a pretty bird against the snow. Your flight photo of the Red-shouldered Hawk is very nice.

  3. Thanks for the comments guys, and thanks for stopping by!