Wednesday, March 3, 2010
The first bird I see on winter mornings is often the cheerful Orange-crowned Warbler. I hear its chip note, a sharp "tick", and see it flitter in to the hummingbird feeder. Inevitably it is the first to find a new orange-half on the edge of the deck and the first to taste fresh sugar water. Field guides describe this guy as "drab" or "nondescript," but it's one of my favorite winter visitors. Some are brighter than others. The one above seemed quite yellow in the morning sun but most of them are a duller olive with yellow under the tail and along the margins of the wing coverts. (The photo turned out a little too bright perhaps, but that makes it look even more sunny--appropriate for my first picture of the day. If it's more yellow than reality, we'll just call it metaphorical.) In good light you can see faint brownish stripes on the breast and a light yellowish eye-ring that looks broken because there's also a faint brown streak through the eye. These birds are easy to study because they will stay put to eat oranges and nectar even if I'm sitting only a few feet away.
Thrashers are also early risers. This Long-billed Thrasher was singing from the top of a live oak tree in the backyard this morning, and a pair of Curve-billed Thrashers investigated a brush pile.
A few winters ago a Brown Thrasher hung out in the yard for awhile. It was neat to be able to see the Long-billed and Brown Thrasher side by side in the drive. Although similar species, there are differences that can be seen when you have time to compare. The Brown Thrasher was redder, especially on its head, and its eye was yellow instead of orange.
Last summer in Missouri I watched Brown Thrashers that nest in my son's yard and sensed a slightly more streamlined look to them than to the Long-billed Thrashers that nest here. (Of course that may be only my impression and may not be true at all if I were able to carefully and scientifically measure. It was just that sense you get of a bird when you get to observe it day after day in your yard.)
My dad gave me my first Peterson Field Guide when I was eight (and had the measles), and he patiently pointed out the differences in various sparrows that came to the seed he sprinkled on a table outside when it snowed. In my favorite photograph of him, he is sitting in his chair with a newspaper on his lap and the bird feeding table visible through a picture window behind him. Snow covers the ground but the table is covered with little brown birds waiting to be identified by a child and her dad.