Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Varied Thrushes -- Our Golden Visitors of Winter

I can't get enough of the Varied Thrushes that have been brightening the snowy landscape outside my window during this recent cold snap. When a late-afternoon shaft of light hits one of these birds, the effect is stupendous.

The thrushes appear in our yard just about every winter, drawn here I suppose by all the freeze-dried huckleberries we have to offer. Our many huckleberry bushes are a magnet also for Spotted Towhees and sometimes a Red-breasted Sapsucker.

But the real prize for the thrushes seems to be our Crabapple tree.  The tree blooms beautifully in the spring and then produces a bumper crop of fruit for which we don't really have a use.

As a result, hundreds of crabapples hang from the tree every year until about this time, when the thrushes and other birds show up and strip it. And from my standpoint, providing a winter meal for the wild birds is a perfectly good use for those crabapples.

Of all our winter visitors, the thrushes are the hardest to photograph because they detect the slightest movement inside the house, such as when I reach slowly for the sliding glass window to make an opening for my 400 mm lens. The click of the single-lens reflex shutter also drives them away. But the crabapple tree is just far enough from my office that they will continue feeding while I snap images.

Before I started watching birds, I had the idea our woods were full of mostly boring, brown birds of nondescript plumage.

The truth is just the opposite. Our woods are teeming with very colorful birds, incredibly specialized and with very different feeding and hunting habits. I have far to go in fully appreciating what is all around me and the dramas that take place every day in our yard. But I've learned just enough to to be dazzled and intrigued by the wonder of it.

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