Tuesday, December 1, 2015

three to look for

Hermit Thrush

New birds have moved into the low lands of the Volunteer State. They spend there winters here.

In your backyards, if you look past the cardinals, the chickadees, the titmice, the jays, in the shrubs or under them. There are three interesting species that can only be found in the winter. Their breeding grounds are much farther north or much higher upslope in the Smokies. All three are overall brownish to better blend into the dead leaves and thick branches of a good shrubby border. All have their own innate charm.
“Solitary the thrush,
 The hermit withdrawn to himself, avoiding the 
 Sings by himself a song.

 Song of the bleeding throat!” Wrote poet and bel ami Walt Whitman in "When Lilacs Last in the Door-yard Bloom’d." And the bird with the “bleeding throat,” is the first of our triumvirate, the hermit thrush, (Catharus guttatus). Their songs are beautiful and haunting but here in the South in winter the birds are loners and sing very little. They usually appear in the shrubs about eye-level or hoping along the ground in the open looking for a meal. They are larger than sparrows but smaller than robins. Look for their brown backs, rusty tails and spotted breasts.

I just spotted one hopping around the Visitor Center behind the classroom. 

Perhaps the least shy of the trio is the white-throated sparrow, (Zonotrichia albicollis). Brown backed with grayish under-parts; the species gets its name from its dazzling white throat, but also look for its black and white (or brown and buff) stripes on the noggin or cap. They also have flashy yellow spots in front of their eyes that vary from individual to individual. Also listen for their plaintive song, “poor Sam Peabody, Peabody, Peabody.” No one is quite sure who poor Sam was, but it’s the mnemonic to remember.

The most diminutive (in fact, they are quite small) of the threesome, and perhaps the hardest to locate, is the winter wren, (Troglodytes hiemalis). Almost always very low to the ground, on first glance you might think you’ve seen a mouse. But their overall shape with erect tail reminds you of the ever present Carolina wren, but these passerines are much smaller, overall speckled brown and minus the white eye stripe of the Carolina. Winter wrens nest in the high elevations of the Smokies. Listen for their long rambling songs in spring along any of the trails to Mt. LeConte. But, in the winter, here in the valley, they tend to be mute with no territories to define or defend and no desire to impress the ladies.

Three birds to look for around your house hidden in the bushes, here’s some tips:

• White-throated sparrows will feed on the ground under your birdfeeders, eating the seeds cast off by others

• Although they are loners, hermit thrushes tend not to be skittish; they often give you a good long look

• Winter wrens love your brush piles, the bigger the better, along your property’s edge, especially if the refuse is near water.

White-throated sparrow
Winter wren

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