The weather was so much improved Saturday that for the first time in a long while I was inspired to work outside. As I opened up the slider from the house to the back yard, I saw a new-to-me bird tapping around in the dirt below the bird feeders. At first I thought it was a robin, but it was more orange than red and had distinct black markings, most notably a bold band that looked like a thick black necklace right under his throat. Startled when he heard the door open, the bird flew up into our huge cherry plum tree and sat there preening, ignoring me.
The Varied Thrush sits confidently in the cherry plum tree in our backyard Saturday afternoon. The Daily Triplicate/Michele Thomas
I went back into the house and got a supply of birdseed mix, sunflower seeds and a suet bar and replenished the feeding station, then went back in the house and stood behind the glass door to watch this curious new bird. Soon he was back on the ground under the feeders foraging for his lunch.
Every time I looked out back over the weekend, I saw him there, either pecking at the ground or up in the tree singing his high pitched whistle song. I found our copy of “Birds of the Pacific Northwest Coast” and determined he was a Varied Thrush. He matched the drawing perfectly and his behavior fit the described pattern: “Sometimes overcome by spring fever, the Varied Thrush forgets its secretive nature and perches boldly on roadsides or conspicuously in trees. Varied Thrushes are most commonly seen during migration and in winter. When storms blanket the coastal ranges, these shy birds infiltrate urban gardens in search of fruit from ornamentals or seeds from backyard feeders. However, when the coolest winter days have passed, most Varied Thrushes regain their dignified place in the moist woodlands, proclaiming spring with a song that cuts through the heavy air.”
Before Rick and I left on our month-long vacation last fall, a flock of about 25 Eurasian collared doves came to visit us every morning and evening. I didn’t arrange for anyone to feed the birds while we were gone, a fact that causes me great guilt and remorse now. We boarded our dogs and had someone look after the house, but it didn’t occur to me to ask anyone to keep our feeders and bird baths filled.
Whether they felt abandoned or left without a second thought following some instinct of nature, my flock of Eurasian collared doves disappeared. I miss them every day, and wonder if they’re feasting nearby or have migrated south or become some hunter’s prey since it’s still legal to shoot them.
The new handsome friend who came calling on New Year’s Day won’t stay long. If the books are right, he’ll leave when spring arrives. Or if the voracious neighborhood cats succeed in their constant quest, he won’t even last that long. I welcome him and am delighted to provide him a home for as long as he can stay. I enjoy knowing he’s right outside the window, singing in the tree, scratching in the dirt. He arrived unexpectedly heralding the New Year on a bright sunny day. I take that to be a good omen.