The Hermit Thrush

Hermit Thrush

I visited Hurdman a couple of times last week on my lunch break.  Both Monday and Friday were sunny, while Tuesday was mild but cloudy.  The temperature has been pleasant during the past week, and the House Finches have been singing up a storm, both at Hurdman and in my neighbourhood.  In fact, with the exception of the snowstorm on Wednesday – the largest snowstorm we’ve had so far this season, dumping a whopping 15 cm of snow on the city – the weather has been much nicer lately for going out birding.

Despite the relatively milder temperatures, however, the amount of open water on the Rideau River has continued to decrease; there are now only two pond-sized areas open south of the footbridge and another small open area beneath the 417 bridge.  The mallards and black ducks still congregate beneath the highway, while the Common Goldeneyes and the male Barrow’s Goldeneye continue to dive for food in the two “ponds” in the middle of the river.

It was a pleasant surprise to see the female Hooded Merganser keeping company with the goldeneyes during each of my visits last week.  Although she’s been spending the winter along this stretch of the Rideau River, she is usually seen closer to Riverrain Park near the tennis club.  This was the first time I’d seen her this season, and it was neat to see her emerge from a dive with a small fish in her mouth.  Another surprise along this stretch of river was a goldeneye which seemed to have both Barrow’s and Common genes.  While the white patch on his cheek was round rather than tear-shaped, he had far more black on his back than the typical male Common Goldeneye.  At least one hybrid duck has been spending the winter here in Ottawa; perhaps this was he.

On Monday I found the usual suspects along the feeder trail – House Finches, goldfinches, chickadees, two Downy Woodpeckers, one Hairy Woodpecker, one cardinal, and one White-breasted Nuthatch.  The Common Redpolls had disappeared as suddenly as they arrived, but the other finches seemed to outnumber the chickadees!  After watching the finches at the feeders, I found several more in the tangles surrounding the downed tree, seemingly enjoying the beautiful sunshine.

House Finch

House Finch (male)

I also found the Hermit Thrush sitting in the same area.  He watched me watching him for several minutes before flying to a horizontal branch to eat the snow that had accumulated there.  This was the first time I’ve been able to watch him out in the open for so long; normally he flies off as soon as he sees me.

Hermit Thrush

Hermit Thrush

The same birds were present on Tuesday, with the exception of a pair of Mourning Doves near the entrance to the woods.  I also saw two cardinals, two White-breasted Nuthatches and four woodpeckers along the feeder trail the same day….the three Hairy Woodpeckers and the single Downy near the suet feeder were the most I’d ever seen in one spot at Hurdman.

On Friday I saw five woodpeckers near the suet feeder – a male Downy Woodpecker and four Hairy Woodpeckers, two males and two females.  While the females were busy feeding, the males were chasing each other around a tree branch high up above the trail in some sort of territorial dispute.

The Hermit Thrush flew in while I was watching the woodpeckers and cautiously approached the feeders.  I stood stock still, and held my breath as he came to feed on the ground beneath the suet feeder.  He picked up a piece of food, then flew up onto a branch to eat it.  As I was watching, Suzanne, a fellow birder and blogger, came along to fill the feeders, and we spent a wonderful five minutes watching the gorgeous little thrush darting about and coming down to feed.  I finally got some really nice photos of this bird.

Hermit Thrush

Here he seems to be saying:  “Is that food I see on the ground?  Why, so it is!”

Hermit Thrush

Hermit Thrush

In this photo you can see the bright rufous tail which helps to identify this species, as does his habit of lowering and raising it like a phoebe.  He appears to be watching me watching him.

Hermit Thrush

I even managed to get a picture of him eating snow a few minutes later while Suzanne was filling the feeders.

Hermit Thrush

It was a thrilling experience to watch this bird from only a few feet away and to see him surviving the winter so well.  The Hermit Thrush is one of my favourite winter visitors; even though they breed here in the summer, their beautiful, flutelike song is usually the only evidence of their presence.  They are much harder to see during the breeding season than in the winter, and definitely don’t allow you to come anywhere near them.  In the winter, however, those that depend on suet to survive become accustomed to the humans that feed them and are much more approachable.  Certainly it seems that this fellow is becoming accustomed to me!

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