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Monday, February 11, 2013

Eating berries in the shadows

During the past couple of months, this has been my nemesis bird.  Driving to work along Coleman Valley Road, I often flush them or see them in trees and shrubs along the side of the road.  But they seem to be incredibly wary and shy, and often stay hidden deep in the shadows of the forest.  I still haven't been able to get a good photograph.  Granted, I'm on my way to work, so I haven't had a lot of time.  Some day I'll do better, but because I'm so enamored with this species, here are a few images.

First, one showing how well they blend in with the forest setting:

A closer view, but still in the shade:

With a little more light, highlighting the steel-blue and tawny-orange coloration:

Varied Thrush (Ixoreus naevius) 

Varied Thrushes winter along the coast from Alaska to southern California (Ventura County).  Food may include fruits, berries, nuts, acorns, and arthropods.  One study reported the following foods during migration: blueberries, huckleberries, madrone, salmonberry, and thimbleberry.  Sounds pretty good to me!

Along with getting better pictures, some day I also hope to record their distinctive song.  There's nothing quite like it individual quavering notes, each one at a different pitch.  They occasionally sing in winter, so listen for their whistled vreee notes, each lasting about 1.5-2 seconds.

P.S.  The scientific name is intriguing.  "naevius" means spotted or varied, which is easy to interpret.  "Ixoreus" apparently refers to mistletoe and mountains...a little harder to see the connection here.  In The Dictionary of American Bird Names, Choate and Paynter (1985) explain: "Although the American bird is not partial to a diet of mistletoe, the plant has been associated from the time of Aristotle with a European thrush which breeds in mountains."

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