Hermit Thrush

This morning began in the low 40s and felt colder, with a raw, damp edge in the air and a breeze from the east. It was a very gray day with layers of gray clouds but no rain until the early afternoon. When I stepped out onto our front porch, Carolina Chickadees and Tufted Titmice were coming and going from the two feeders. A Downy Woodpecker was working here and there in the bare limbs of the trees. Several Northern Cardinals foraged in dry leaves on the ground, especially under the feeders. Two Chipping Sparrows sat on one of the feeders eating, as they often do, now and then dislodged by a Titmouse or Chickadee. A Carolina Wren clung to the hanging block feeder it favors, eating what looked like black sunflower seeds. Yellow-rumped Warblers flew from spot to spot among the wax myrtles and trees, calling their chip calls. A Ruby-crowned Kinglet chattered. 

I could hear lots of rustling in dry leaves, under the shrubs and all around, and very quiet seet calls, and slowly I began to see a White-throated Sparrow here – and there. One sitting up on the edge of an azalea shrub. Another scratching up leaves below the birdbath. Another two – or three – out foraging in the carpet of leaves and woody mulch.

A fawn-brown bird flew to the rim of the birdbath right in front of me – and though it sat with its back to me, I knew immediately from the smooth brown of its back and the distinctly reddish tail and the upward tilt of its head, it was a Hermit Thrush. One of the happiest sights I could have wished for. It was only a few feet away, so close! And it turned its head toward me a bit, so I could see its face in clear close-up, with its wide, watchful eye, and some of the streaks on its throat and upper chest. 

I’ve been hoping for a Hermit Thrush for weeks now, and this is the first one I’ve seen. Though a Hermit Thrush is not actually very shy, it is solitary in its habits, at least in the winter season when it’s here. So I wouldn’t expect to find flocks of them, but individual birds that each seem to settle into their own winter territories – like our yard, and the yards of some of our neighbors, and certain spots in the woods – where I might count on seeing one often.

After only a minute or so, a big red Northern Cardinal flew to the birdbath and the Hermit Thrush flew away. But then, in not too many more minutes, the Cardinal flew away and the Hermit Thrush returned to the same spot on the birdbath, and I watched it sit and take several sips of water, tipping its head far back with each careful sip to swallow. My view of it was so close and so very clear, and it felt as if it didn’t mind my presence or my watching. I’m sure it was only my imagination that it watched me with as much interest as I watched it. But who knows. 

I can’t know if this is the same Hermit Thrush that spent last winter here around our yard, or a different one, but it still feels like a friend returning. And I don’t even know if this one has only just arrived, or if maybe it’s been around for a while. But I have been watching and listening for it – especially for its quiet, liquid chup call – and I have not heard that call until today, when I heard it coming from somewhere in the line of wax myrtles after it had flown away again. 

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