Thursday, January 8, 2015

The Thing About Varied Thrushes, Living and Dead

Quarry Trail Staging Area, Berkeley Hills
What is it about all the Varied Thrushes I've been seeing with uncommon frequency lately? And I'm not the only one. In the past couple of months, many reports have been posted on the bird's presence. Which makes me wonder - is there an upsurge in Varied Thrush activity around the Bay Area?

Does anyone know? All I know is that I had not seen (nor heard of) this pretty bird until three years ago when I pulled over during a bike ride to see what a group of people with binoculars and high-powered camera equipment were looking at in a swathe of copse adjacent to the East Bay Regional Park Botanic Gardens parking lot - two Varied Thrushes flying around and ground feeding. I must have watched them for an hour. For the next several rides whenever I passed by that area, I always stopped to see if I could spot the Varied Thrushes, and often did, but eventually they left and did not return.
Jewish Community Center property, Berkeley

In the intervening years, I spotted Varied Thrushes just a couple of times, each sighting an occasion of joy and wonderment at the exciting presence of this special bird emblazoned with an orange breast and eye stripes and slate blue body with a distinctive band running across the throat. But lately, just in the past few months, it's been nothing but Varied Thrushes! I can count a dozen sightings over the past month alone, mostly in Berkeley, to the point of finding myself less and less enthused with a Varied Thrush sighting today. I hesitate to call it a downgrade, but truly the Varied Thrush has gone from rare to downright common. Which is kinda sad, because the mystique (and thrill) is gone. . .

Codornices Park
These furtive birds mostly stick to the safety of dense woods where they remain undetected, but recently I saw one bold little guy ground-feeding in the Berkeley Hills near the Quarry Trail staging area, unconcerned with my encroaching presence to snap a half-way decent photograph. I saw one in the playground area of the Jewish Community Center, perched on a branch, backlit in high contrast for a perfect silhouette shot. Most of my sightings of the once elusive bird are in three woodsy Berkeley parks - John Hinkel, Codornices, Live Oak - and in Tilden Regional Park in the Berkeley Hills. Not too long ago, I saw one at Mount Diablo State Park on Mitchell Canyon Trail, ground feeding in the open. I even saw one early last autumn landing on the ground in my side yard!

Mount Diablo State Park, Mitchell Canyon Trail
But the weirdest thing of all was the one I saw the other day in Codornices Park while birding in an area I had never checked out before along the pavement circling Berryman Reservoir. I was absorbed in some busy bird activity - finches, towhees, juncos, jays - and then noticed lying there on the ground, shockingly, a dead Varied Thrush! Now, how can that be? Rarely, if ever, have I come upon a dead bird, but to have this one be a Varied Thrush was too much. I still don't know what to make of it, whether it's a meaningless coincidence or a happenstance encounter laden with deeper significance, whatever that may be.

And, I wonder, what or who killed the bird? I examined the fresh little corpse to glean any forensic clue I could about cause of death. Could a cat have mangled him? A forest hawk took him down? With no evidence of blood or mutilation, it doesn't seem likely the thrush was killed for a meal, else why was the corpse still lying there? Could it have been old age? Just fell from a tree top, dead. What about the idea the bird was poisoned somehow by berries or snail bait, or something like that? I may never know the mystery of the dead Varied Thrush in Codornices Park, but Viva Aves and RIP, little friend.

1 comment:

  1. Nice writing and such a metaphor for life. Like all things, when new are fascinating, then become routine and commonplace to the point we hardly notice them anymore. Don't let your Varied Thrush become that, let them remain fascinating and wonderful no matter how many times one flitters into your purview.

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