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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Forest spirit

Walking through the parking lot at work yesterday, I heard a loud "chuck" note and turned to see a Hermit Thrush (Catharus guttatus) perched on a shrub.

Hermit Thrushes are found throughout much of the U.S. and Canada and are uncommon migrants and winter residents on Bodega Head.  They're often associated with forests or shrubby areas.  

A few things to look for: overall warm brown coloration with a contrasting rufous tail and rump (see next photo); pale buffy eye-ring; and prominent triangular spots on the breast.

In the photo below, you can also see the dark malar (or moustache) stripes extending from the bill along the sides of the throat.

Hermit Thrushes often wing-flick when perched.  In the following image, look for the relatively short wings and the red tail.

Although we don't get to hear Hermit Thrushes sing on Bodega Head (they breed in Sonoma County, but not on Bodega Head), this sighting provides an opportunity to share one of my favorite Rachel Carson quotes.  She's writing about listening to Hermit Thrushes in Maine:

"It was during those early evening hours that the sense of mystery that invested the island drew somehow closer about it, so that I wished even more to know what lay beyond the wall of dark spruces.  Was there somewhere within it an open glade that held the sunlight?  Or was there only solid forest from shore to shore?  Perhaps it was all forest, for the island voice that came to us most clearly and beautifully each evening was the voice of a forest spirit, the hermit thrush.  At the hour of the evening's beginning its broken, silvery cadences drifted with infinite deliberation across the water.  Its phrases were filled with a beauty and a meaning that were not wholly of the present, as though the thrush were singing of other sunsets, extending far back beyond his personal memory, through eons of time when his forebears had known this place, and from spruce trees long since returned to earth had sung the beauty of the evening."

Although it's much nicer to hear them in person, if you'd like to listen to a recording, there are quite a few available online.  Here's one from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's Macaulay Library.

P.S.  The Rachel Carson quote came from The House of Life: Rachel Carson at Work (With Selections from Her Writings, Published and Unpublished) by Paul Brooks (1972).

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