Hermit Thrush

This morning change was in the air. In the wind and sky and trees and light, all in motion, constantly shifting. Restless clouds filled a soft blue sky – tufts and puffs and sheets and streaks of dusky white, all blowing toward the east, and a spreading bruise of blue-gray storm clouds low in the west. A strong, often gusty wind felt glorious, full of promise – and full of pollen. Catkins rained down on me, clung in my hair and to my shirt. At times, an especially strong wave of wind would rise with a sound like the sea, rushing through the new-green leaves of the trees.

It’s that very sweet time of the year when, in just a few days’ time, a faint green haze in the woods turns into leaves – and then one day like today, there’s suddenly fresh new-green all around again. And the gray of winter is gone.

Maybe it was this feeling of change that made me more aware of the winter birds that still are here – but will be leaving before too long. A Ruby-crowned Kinglet sang its quick, complex little song as it moved through the leaves of a wax myrtle along our driveway. A Yellow-bellied Sapsucker mewed from trees around a neighbor’s yard, a tender, plaintive mew. It called once, twice, and again as I walked on. The lovely, whistled song of a White-throated Sparrow rose, sounding, as always, like a bittersweet farewell.

As I walked down a short hill toward a tangled patch of tall pines and sparse shrubs and vines, I saw one small bird fly out into the middle of the road ahead of me and just stand there. I lifted binoculars to check it out – and saw a Hermit Thrush. What a beautiful gift! It’s one of my favorite winter birds, but I haven’t seen or heard a Hermit Thrush for some time now, and had thought I might not for the rest of this season. It stood in the middle of the road, in a low, deeply shaded spot, on spindly pale legs, lifting and lowering its tail just slightly, but repeatedly. A small bird shaped something like a robin, with a brown back and wings and head, a cinnamon tail, and a pale white breast, heavily spotted with brown. It turned and faced me directly, showing its spotted breast and lifting its bill, like a chin tilted up, and seemed to be watching me. I watched as long as it stayed there, not wanting to startle it. Finally it flew, back into the tangle of the thicket. 

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