Louisiana Waterthrush and Its Anthem to Spring

After a few cool days very early in the month, our weather turned unseasonably warm and sunny, and has remained that way for more than a week now. It’s beautiful, I guess, for those who are tired of winter, but to me it feels too warm for this time of year and at times oppressive, with bright sunshine and the hardwood trees all around still bare and bleak and gray.

But early morning today was cool and pretty, beginning before dawn with enough birdsong from our year-round residents to make it sound almost like spring – Carolina Wren, Northern Cardinal, Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Eastern Towhee, Brown Thrasher, Northern Mockingbird, Eastern Phoebe, and Chipping Sparrow – and also a White-throated Sparrow. Red-bellied and Downy Woodpeckers called and I heard woodpeckers drumming – but I haven’t seen or heard a Sapsucker in quite some time now, and this is unusual. I never did see as many or see them as often this winter as in past years, and this has been a significant change.

The best part of the morning came a little later, when I heard the song of a Louisiana Waterthrush, coming from along a creek in the woods. This is the first one I’ve heard this season, a bright, soaring song that rises through the woods with a flourish that sounds like a fanfare – an anthem to spring. A Louisiana Waterthrush is almost always one of the first migrating songbirds to return here after wintering further south. A small, sturdy bird with a dark-brown back and dark-brown streaks on a white breast, a prominent white stripe over the eye, and pink legs, it lives along forested streams.

It can often be found walking – and bobbing its tail constantly – as it searches the banks, or fallen branches or logs, looking for insects and other small prey by probing into crevices and under rocks and debris. It’s a very lively, active bird, always fun to watch, though probably not often seen and not familiar to many people, since it stays in the lowest part of the woods, along creeks and streams. So it may go unnoticed, even though in some places – like here – it may not be far from suburban back yards and its brilliant song can clearly be heard. I think of it as one of the hidden jewels of these much-abused, patchy and fragmented woods.


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