Welcome to my world!

Backyard Birding in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas:
Surrounded by great birding destinations, our favorite patch is still the backyard (or the front), where we've seen more than 270 species of birds. Sit awhile, and watch the river and yard with us!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Clay-colored Thrushes, Granddaughters (and other of life's beauties)

Though no longer a "robin," this  Clay-colored Thrush
 still looks like one.  Ignore that green bill, delicate 
coloring, and lack of eyering. In black and white or sepia,
you'd say "American Robin."

I've done it again, though I made a New Year's Resolution not to--let two whole weeks pass since my last post.

I really wanted to do better this year as far as frequency of posts goes.  Yes, there are excuses:  we spent a few days visiting grandchildren, and we've had a week since of gray drizzle, even  temperatures in the 40's and 50's--but I still resolve to do better by my blog and birds!

Enough of the excuses:  here's the yard news for my delinquent two weeks.

Look closely and you'll see the little red berries this
frugivorous bird is foraging for in the leaf litter under
a Brazilian Pepper tree.
The Clay-colored Thrush is making itself at home in the yard, eating berries from the Brazilian Pepper tree in the neighbor's yard and the fiddlewood berries in ours.  It likes to hang out in the leaf litter along the driveway because of the little red berries that have fallen among the leaves.  I suspect there are actually two of the thrushes, though I can't quite catch them together.  A couple of days ago one flew into an ash tree and then another flew to the fiddlewood.  But when I looked back at the ash, the first was gone.

Until a few years ago, Clay-colored Thrushes were Clay-colored "Robins."   I imagine the reason the name changed is that even our American Robin is not a true robin.  The red-breasted bird was called "robin" by English settlers in America after the familiar red-breasted robin of England, even though the American version is clearly a thrush, looking much more like Europe's  Common Blackbird or Song Thrush than a true robin.
A European Robin perches on a
spade in Peter Rabbit's garden.

I was delighted to see the European version of a Robin when I visited England and Scotland  a few years ago.  A cheerful little bird in appearance as well as song, it reminded me of illustrations in my favorite children's books. When a robin perched on the window sill at Beatrix Potter's home, I was transported back in imagination to Peter Rabbit's garden. (The trip to England and Scotland was my life's dream vacation not only because of the children's books I loved, but also because I had taught English Literature for several decades before I retired.)

American Robins are so beloved of Americans that I doubt the American Ornithologists' Union (in their official checklist of birds)  would ever change the name, but the rarer tropical Clay-colored Thrush, White-throated Thrush,  and Rufous-backed Thrush all had name-changes a few years ago, dropping the misleading "robin" part of their names for the scientifically accurate "thrush."  These are all tropical birds of Mexico and Central America; in fact, the Clay-colored Thrush is the national bird of Costa Rica. In the 90's the Clay-colored version of what we called "robin" started showing up more often north of the Mexican/US border (that's when we had our first visitor) and even nested in a few parks and refuges in the Rio GrandeValley, though not in our yard.  It's one of those birds that seem to show up where the birders are--which makes me pretty sure they have been more common than we suspect. I don't think they recognize human borders.   It's just not an accident that they hang out in the same parks where birders hang out.  I think they are in lots of yards when no one is looking.

Last week I went with a friend to Estero Llano Grande park, about twenty minutes west of Harlingen in Weslaco, Texas, to see a White-throated Thrush that is attracting birders who want to tick this tropical thrush off their life lists.  I had seen them in Belize and Mexico but this was my first in the US.  It was easy to spot--we just looked for the other birders gathered under the tree where it was feeding.

The White-throated Thrush is darker and grayer than the Clay-colored, looking a little more like an American Robin to me.  I really love the coloring of the Clay-colored Thrush.  Its delicate brown is unique but reminds me somewhat of the shades of a female Northern Cardinal or Pyrruloxia.  The latter two birds seem to be always in the vicinity of the thrush in our yard. Of course, the yard is not large, but I have been seeing these two species, along with the light brown Curve-billed Thrasher, under the neighbor's Brazilian Pepper tree and along our driveway. It's as if someone said, "Okay, all you light brown birds, line up over here!"

A Pyrrhuloxia (female) hides in a grapefruit tree

A female Northern Cardinal's delicate coloring
is to me even more beautiful than its bright mate's.
And while I'm thinking of beautiful pale-colored birds (nothing plain to me about these guys, despite the bad rap brown or gray sometimes gets), I'll put forth the White-tipped Dove, a pale gray-brown dove with a pink iridescent sheen delicately coloring its forehead and throat. Its rolling, liquid way of walking out of the shadows and across the drive is really lovely. (I also love its huoo-huoo call, sounding  as if someone were blowing over the top of a soft drink bottle.)
White-tipped Dove

Finally, the best bird I've seen in the last two weeks was not in the yard at all.  It was in the Art Show at my granddaughter's school.  For her submission to the show, Sadie drew an Indigo Bunting that she had seen in her yard last spring.

So one of my excuses for not reporting on the yard activities for a couple of weeks is valid.  Even better than watching birds is being with our grandchildren: Sadie, her look-alike baby sister Jacey, and her three older brothers drew us away from the yard and up to their home for a few days.  A year ago I posted a picture of the baby who had interrupted first-week-of-the-year birding last year.  See how much she's grown (and how much she loved her first birthday cake) in the photo below.  I'm always ready to leave the banks of the Arroyo if I can see such beauty elsewhere.  I don't even have to use binoculars!

From brown birds to red-headed granddaughters, it's been a good two weeks.  Today the sun came out for the first time in a week.  Its slanting  rays just before sunset  tinted the banks of the Arroyo Colorado a golden brown.  Life is good.  

Post script (Monday):  Visiting our daughter's family requires us to drive north about six hours, but at least we are still in Texas where it is reasonably warm.  To visit our other two beautiful twin granddaughters, we drive considerably further to Missouri where winter weather can bring cold and snow.  Here's a photo I received today of their sledding fun over the weekend.  They, too, are lovely enough to tempt us out of our south Texas  yard for a while. At their house over Christmas holidays we watched American Robins bathe in melted snow.  Now after a week of Missouri temperatures in single digits, maybe those robins are winging their way to the Rio Grande Valley to join their Clay-colored cousins.  I wish our granddaughters could also migrate here for a visit. 


Arkansas Patti said...

Did not know that about Robins. Don't know whether to feel informed or alarmed. Kind of a minor version of learning there is no Santa.
Love the before and after pics of your grandchild. They grow fast don't they.

Kay said...

I agree--and continue to call the Clay-colored Thrush a robin. It is so much (in shape, size, habits) like our American Robin--which I would never call Thrush no matter what the AOU said! This winter does not appear to be a "robin winter" here--so far I've seen none of the familiar American Robins that I grew up with. When we were in Missouri at Christmas there were dozens in our son's yard, so I guess they were still enjoying an extended stay up north.

Kay said...

Thanks, Patti, for stopping by--your Santa comment makes me laugh.

robin andrea said...

That Clay-colored Thrush is so beautiful! I wish I could see one here, but that is so unlikely. Do you get to see the Varied Thrush where you live? Also quite a stunningly handsome bird.

Always good to take a look at the sweet faces of your grandchildren.

Wanda..... said...

Enjoyed youe interesting post, Kay...learned something about Robins. You have adorable little Granddaughters.

Kay said...

Robin Andrea,
I would love to see a Varied Thrush--but we don't have them in this part of Texas. I know they are beautiful birds. We should trade visits to each other's yards to see each other's birds!

Kay said...

Thanks, Wanda! I added a postscript to give my other two granddaughters equal time.
Thanks for stopping by!

Julie G. said...

A joy to read your wonderful blog and view your beautiful photos! Very interesting information. Precious grandchildren!

Kathiesbirds said...

Wonderful looks at the thrushes! I missed out on the rufous-backed thrush when I lived in the Tucson area. Pyrrhuloxias were regular visitors to my yard then. Looks like you have a wonderful place to live.

I love children's lit and poetry too and I also have a Poetry blog. Thanks for stopping by to say Hi! Cute grandkids. I have 4 and mine are scattered all across the USA also!

KaHolly said...

Hey, Kay, looking good!! Your grandchildren are absolutely beautiful. I have a red-headed sister! Enjoyed your posts. I wondered why our robins looked so different from the robins in the UK. Great info. I've just returned from a weeklong camping trip along the Guadalupe River. I was hoping to see a Clay-colored Thrush, but not this trip. ~karen

Kay said...

well, Karen--Come on down here. You can spend the day watching the thrush. Of course you'd spend the day driving down here first! Bet your camping trip was fun. I'll check your blog for your photos.

Kay said...

Kathie--What fun to have a new visitor!! I'm so glad you stopped by. I have enjoyed your blog. I'm going right now to check out the poetry blog. Along with birds and grandchildren, I'm a lover of poetry.

Kay said...

Thank you so much! I am enjoying your blog and am glad you like mine, too.