BIRD WATCH: Spring brings about a welcome greeting

A MORNING GREETING, especially an unexpected one, can get your day off to a good start.

Penny dog always starts our morning off with wiggles, jumps, stretches and a big grin.

She may have the ulterior motive of encouraging me to get her breakfast, but that’s little enough payment for the smiles and laughter her actions trigger.

A few days ago, another greeting rivaled hers.

When I opened the back door to let her out, my very favorite bird was calling from the depths of the woods.

A Swainson’s thrush was announcing his arrival.

I wait for it every May.

There was a time when hearing this thrush was always a part of spring and summer.

Growing up where trees and streams surrounded my parents’ farm this bird was attracted to habitat it preferred.

These wooded areas are shrinking over large parts of Western Washington, but we are blessed with hundreds of thousands of forests protected by our state and national parks.

Not only does this thrush nest in this type of habitat, but our resident varied thrush are also making the woods ring in places such as the Olympic National Park and the Olympic National Forest.

Most of us only see the varied thrush during the winter when it moves to the lowlands.

Snow in the mountains and foothills send them to the lower elevations.

Once the snowline begins to move back up the mountains, this thrush returns to its woodland haunts.

The Swainson’s thrush is often referred to as a “skulker.”

That’s a somewhat unflattering way to describe this bird but there’s a good reason.

It’s not shy about making its presence known but letting you get a glimpse of it is another story.

They sing their flute-like song from the depths of thick undergrowth.

They further taunt you with the occasional one-note whistle.

Try giving the type of whistle used for getting a dog’s attention.

That quick whistle — not the ear-splitting thumb and finger-in-the-mouth whistle.

Then soften it a bit. Do a good job and you can get a reply from the thrush.

When you do spot the vocalist, it’s almost impossible not to chuckle just a little.

He looks like he is playing a game of hide and seek with you.

Very bright eyes appear to watch carefully as he tries to figure out if you can see him.

His stance is perfectly still.

He’s not only watching you; he’s listening to see if another thrush responds to his calling.

It’s the best of both worlds if you (and he) hear an answer off in the distance.

Interested female or male challenger?

That’s what must be determined.

William Swainson (1789-1855) was an English writer-artist-naturalist who traveled the World discovering, documenting and collecting bird species.

His life and work was plagued by experiences that would have discouraged most of us.

He was always in need of money to fund his work.

He ran into a revolution in Brazil that stymied his collecting and on an expedition to New Zealand, he lost an entire collection of new specimens.

He was never far from misfortune — but he has his name preserved and shared for all time — Swainson’s hawk, Swainson’s warbler and, of course — Swainson’s thrush.

Fellow artists, naturalists and explorers honored him in the best way they could think of.

If you live near a heavily wooded area, you are familiar with the song and call-note of the Swainson’s thrush.

If this habitat type isn’t nearby, a visit to the nearest park, large or small, will give you an opportunity to become familiar with it.

Early morning and late afternoon into early evening offer the best opportunity for you to hear my favorite bird make the woods ring.


Joan Carson’s column appears every Sunday. Contact her at P.O. Box 532, Poulsbo, WA 98370, with a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a reply. Email: joanpcarson

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