Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Brown Beauties

Yesterday seemed to be catharus thrush day at Pheasant Branch Conservancy. Pat Ready, Jim Miller, and I enjoyed photographing a Veery and Swainson's Thrush as they foraged along the gravel path of the creek corridor. We're not really sure what they were eating; Birds of North America indicates a diet of 60% insects and 40% fruit for Veery and a similar intake of food items for Swainson's Thrush.

We inspected the ground where the two thrushes kept foraging but were unable to find any sort of invertebrate or edible matter. They foraged by hopping and chasing as if some kind of small insects were moving around on the ground. Whatever they were after, it kept them interested in the same spot even after joggers and dog walkers inadvertently flushed them to nearby branches, unaware of the beautiful brown creatures.

A few times the Veery approached closer than the minimum focus distance of my digiscoping rig, as close as 8 feet away on one occasion. Too close for me to photograph, it was still a wonderful opportunity to inspect the bird's behavior and beauty with binoculars. Eventually the bird made its way back down the trail. Even with such close observations, we still couldn't tell what they were eating; I suspect it must have been a tiny insect that was too small for us to detect.

We left the thrushes because I had to get going to work. I wonder how long they remained foraging on the partially sunlit gravel. I returned to the spot in the evening, but they were gone. Winds out of the south likely helped these two thrushes put another 150 to 200 miles behind them during migration last night. The Veery came all the way from South America, but the Swainson's journey was no jaunt by any means. The photographs and memories are just a fragmentary snapshot, mere minutes of an arduous and near miraculous story.

Can you tell which is the Veery and which is the Swainson's Thrush?

All images © 2009 Mike McDowell

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