Michele Grgas Thomas The Triplicate

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.

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.

Reach Michele Thomas, The Daily Triplicate's publisher, at

mthomas@triplicate.com, 464-2141, or stop by 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.