Skip to main content

One Tough Thrush

Let's face it, most thrushes are pansies, at least those of speckled bellies. Shy and skulking, they retreat to hot and humid tropical climes to winter.

Not so with the most mellifluous of them all, the Hermit Thrush. These russet-tailed beauties have a song that is breathtaking; almost hard to comprehend in its richness and complexity. And for woodland specklebellied thrushes, they are tough as nails.

Hermit Thrushes breed in conifer-dominated boreal forests across northern North America, ranging south at higher elevations in the mountains. In Ohio, they are very rare breeders, with relict populations confined to our largest and most intact hemlock gorges.

But we get plenty of them in migration, and more than most people probably realize in winter. This is the only thrush in the genus Catharus that overwinters primarily in North America. But they aren't easy to find in winter, and a bit of botanical knowledge will surely help your efforts if you are interested in unearthing one of these tail-pumpers in the off season.

On the Hocking Hills Christmas Bird Count last Saturday, we were delighted to come across this lush patch of Smooth Sumac, Rhus glabra, in heavy fruit. And not just because it is a good-looking plant. Fruiting sumac in winter means Hermit Thrush! Look very closely in the center of the photo, and you may see a little thrush looking back.

We zoom in a bit, and now you should be able to make out Mr. Thrush inspecting the interlopers. When we saw this habitat, we proceeded to make some sounds to pique the curiosity of a thrush, and sure enough, out he popped. Unfortunately, Hermit Thrushes won't sing for us in winter, other than rarely a soft whisper version, but they do give their distinctive low chuck notes.

Our thrush stayed in rather dense cover, as they usually do, but I was able to zoom in and through the vegetation and capture a decent image. Here he sits on a branch spackled with Green Shield Lichen, Flavoparmelia caperata.

There are four common, widespread species of sumac in Ohio: this one, which is the aforementioned Smooth Sumac; Staghorn Sumac, Rhus typhina; Winged Sumac, Rhus copallina; and Fragrant Sumac, Rhus aromatica. All of them provide tasty fruit that are long persistent and offer a stable food source for wintering Hermit Thrushes.
So if you would like to add a fairly difficult species to your January Ohio list, just go poking around the sumac patches.


dAwN said…
I absolutely adore the song of the Hermit thrush...i get teary when I hear it..
sooo beautiful..
So even if I dont see it...darn secretive little fellows..I can hear it!
Nice post...we have allot of sumac where I grew up in Ct. Some of which we would make a nice lemonade type drink out of.
Anonymous said…
I was surprised to find one of these hardy thrushes all the way up in the Leelanau Peninsula of Northern Michigan, feeding on some grapes in a land covered in snow. I put some pics of the bird on facebook, I actually got an accidental decent shot. Pretty fun.
- Ben Warner
Jim McCormac said…
Saw your photo of that eskino-like thrush up in Michigan, Ben - great shot!


Popular posts from this blog

The Pinching Beetle, a rather brutish looking bug

The world is awash in beetles, and they come in all shapes and sizes. Few of them can match the intimidation factor of a Pinching Beetle, Lucanus capreolus, though. Those formidable looking mandibles look like they could slice off a finger.

Today was one of those coolly diverse days. I started off down in Fayette County, visiting the farm of a friend. He has restored about 25 acres of wetlands, and the response by the animal community has been nothing short of phenomenal. Blizzards of dragonflies of many species, amphibians galore, and nesting Blue-winged Teal, Pied-billed Grebe, and Sora. Among MANY other things. And all in a short two years. Add water and they will come.

Then, working my way home, I ducked into a Madison County cemetery that has a thriving population of Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrels, and shot images of our native prairie dog. Then, I stopped at a spot along Little Darby Creek, waded on in, and procured some pretty nice shots of various stream bluets and dancers. …

Calliope Hummingbird in central Ohio!

A hatch-year male Calliope Hummingbird strikes a pose. Small but tough, the hummingbird was feeding actively yesterday in 39 F temperatures. It frequents feeders and gardens at a home in Delaware County, Ohio, about a half-hour north of Columbus.

Fortunately, the wayward hummer appeared at the home of Tania and Corey Perry. Tania is a birder, and knew right away that the hummingbird was something special. For a while, the identification was up in the air, which isn't surprising. The Calliope Hummingbird used to be placed in its own genus, Stellula, but has recently been submerged into the genus Selasphorus, which includes Allen's, Broad-tailed, and Rufous hummingbirds. The latter two, especially, are quite similar to the Calliope in subadult plumage. Rufous is the default "vagrant" hummingbird here, with dozens of records and birds turning up annually. There is but one Ohio record of Allen's Hummingbird, from late fall/early winter 2009. Ditto the Calliope Hummi…

Snowy owl photography tactics - and things NOT to do

A gorgeous juvenile female snowy owl briefly catches your narrator with its piercing gaze. It's doing its Linda Blair/Exorcist trick - twisting its head 180 degrees to look straight behind. Owls have 14 neck vertebrae - double our number - which allows them such flexibility.

These visitors from the high arctic have irrupted big time into Ohio and adjacent regions, with new birds coming to light nearly every day. Probably 80 or so have thus far been reported in the state, and some of them have stuck around favored spots and become local celebrities.

I went to visit one of these birds this morning - the animal above, which was found last Friday by Doug Overacker and Julie Karlson at C.J. Brown Reservoir near Springfield. In the four days since its discovery, many people have visited as is nearly always the case when one of these white wonders appears near a large population center or is otherwise very accessible.

And as is always the case, people want to photograph the owls. And th…