My Bird Blog: A blog about my birding discoveries, bird feeders, birds on my life lists, and all things bird related

Sue's Bird Blog Archives

Western Double Hitter

Published February 04, 2014
Tags: Life List Happenings, Spotted Towhee, Varied Thrush, Northern Shrike

Two western songbirds made their way to the northeast recently and I was lucky enough to get a chance to see them both - and add both species to my life list!

A full day trip took Willie D'Anna, Betsy Potter, and I northward to a private residence where a Spotted Towhee has been coming to the homeowner's feeders. It took a great deal of patience and fortitude to brave the frigid temps, but finally we were rewarded with some nice views of this beautiful male.

As towhees like to do, this guy spent his time feeding on the ground below the feeders.  And though we couldn't see over a snow bank, I imagine he was scratching in the snow, as is their habit.  He was very close in appearance to our Eastern Towhee, but the spots that earn him his name clearly marked him as different. I wish he had vocalized, as their voices are different from the Eastern Towhee as well. The two species were considered to be one until not too long ago.

Before the towhee showed, we also got to see an immature Northern Shrike perch on a nearby pine. It was the first time I saw a shrike that wasn't an adult and I was confused by its subtle mask and deeper coloring. Willie confirmed the ID before it flew off and I grabbed a few shots of it when it moved to another tree further back.

After we all got nice looks at the towhee, we went in pursuit of our next target: a Varied Thrush! This was very exciting for me since, prior to today, I've seen and drooled over photos of this beautiful bird.  I never held much hope for ever seeing one unless one day I traveled out west.

Betsy's friend, Jean, was already at the location when we arrived and she put us onto the bird almost immediately. Wow!  What a gorgeous female! In this species, the males are still the more striking of the two, but females are still quite outstanding in their own right.  Their deep, rufous coloring, bold eyeline, and spotted breast and flanks all work together to create a breathtaking bird.

I read that Varied Thrushes are aggressive birds, dominating the other birds feeding nearby. We didn't get to see this behavior as the only birds that were anywhere nearby were Black-capped Chickadees - and they seemed to come and go as they pleased into the thicket where the thrush was. The thicket held a couple of different types of berries and the Varied Thrush seemed to love feasting on the large, red ones. Insects are in their diet too, but, with all the snow and frozen ground, I doubt she's getting too many of those.

I hadn't added a life bird to my life list in exactly one month - and it was a nice twist today to get to add two species - and both of them from the west!
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Varied Thrush (female)
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Varied Thrush (female)
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Varied Thrush (female)
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Varied Thrush (female)
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Varied Thrush (female)
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Varied Thrush (female)
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Varied Thrush (female)
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Spotted Towhee
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Spotted Towhee
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Spotted Towhee
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Immature Northern Shrike
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Cedar Waxwings
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American Robin - did you know they sing a "whisper song"?
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American Tree Sparrow
Reply from: Jean Iron on 2/9/2014 8:30 PM
 Beautiful photos Sue.