A Hermit Thrush

The Spring Equinox came on a cool, calm, cloudy day that felt more like a farewell to winter than the first day of spring. The only sign of sunrise was a glow of orange that appeared and spread all across the eastern and southern sky for a few transcendent moments, then faded and was gone, leaving a moody patchwork quilt of clouds in many shades and shapes of gray.

The sunny song of a Louisiana Waterthrush rising from along the wooded creek was the clearest sign of spring, though many year-round resident birds also sang in the first light of the day – an Eastern Phoebe, Northern Cardinal, Pine Warbler, Carolina Chickadee, Carolina Wren, Chipping Sparrow, Brown Thrasher and Northern Mockingbird – and a few Canada Geese honked as they flew overhead.  American Crows cawed in the distance, and a Blue Jay cried. A pair of Eastern Bluebirds hunted together from low branches around the yard, and often perched on or near the bluebird box. A Mourning Dove cooed, two Brown-headed Nuthatches chattered, an Eastern Towhee called its rich chur-wheee, a Red-bellied Woodpecker called quuurrr, and a Downy Woodpecker drummed loudly on a large dead branch of a pecan tree. A Pileated Woodpecker flew across the road, the white in its black wings flashing, and a few seconds later I heard its trumpeted call.

Two Northern Flickers sat quietly together on a branch in a tall pine, side by side, both showing the striking, stylish markings and patterns of a Flicker – a black bib on the upper breast; smooth brown face and handsome gray head with long pointed bill, prominent black moustache and red crescent on the nape of the neck; black spots on the pale brown breast and belly, and barred brown back. Then one of them flew, flashing a very bright yellow on the under-side of the wings.

As I walked through the neighborhood, I found myself paying most attention to the winter birds that before too long will leave for the season. A Ruby-crowned Kinglet stuttered jidit-jidit in some bushes along the road. A quiet Yellow-bellied Sapsucker worked on the trunk of a pecan tree, its throat and crown both deep crimson; black and white stripes on the face curved down to meet a broad white stripe down the wing, and its belly was flushed with clear lemon-yellow. The zhreeee calls of a good many Pine Siskins still mixed with the mews of American Goldfinches.

Yellow-rumped Warblers flitted from tree to tree, calling check! Round-headed little Dark-eyed Juncos – dark, sooty gray with white bellies, pink bills, and white outer feathers in their tails that flash when they fly up startled out of the grass – mixed with flocks of other small birds feeding on the ground and with large numbers of American Robins. I heard the high, thin calls of Cedar Waxwings flying over in tight formation – and found literally hundreds of Cedar Waxwings perched in trees along the way, especially in two different areas at opposite ends of our subdivision.

The old field along the highway was mostly rather quiet, but one White-throated Sparrow sang its plaintive, whistled Oh sweet Canada, Canada.

In a wooded area where I’ve watched a Hermit Thrush several times this winter, I stopped, hoping to find one there. I gave up after a couple of minutes, seeing and hearing no sign of one, but had only walked a short way further down the road when I heard the familiar chup-chup calls, and found a Hermit Thrush perched on a very low branch near the edge of the road, almost right in front of me. It was so close, in such clear view that it felt like the gift of the day, almost too good to be true, set against a background of brown leaves on the ground, bare trees all around, and a gray, moody sky. The plumage on its back and wings was smooth, soft brown, the tail cinnamon, the breast with dark spots. It perched erect on the branch, holding its bill tilted slightly up, its wings held low. It watched me with a round, dark eye, raising and slowly lowering its tail, and calling a soft, liquid chup. I can’t know for sure if this is the same Hermit Thrush I’ve stopped to watch so often, but think it probably is, and if I don’t see it again this year, it was a sweet way to say goodbye.

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