Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Seeing Spots at Latta Park

Every spring migration stands out for one reason or another. For me, this spring was memorable for the show the spotted thrushes put on at Latta Park. While the warblers were somewhat lackluster (some area birders may disagree) the thrushes showed up not only in numbers but in fine voice as well.

When I say “spotted thrushes” I am referring to the species that sport varying numbers and intensity of spots on the breast. In our area those are the hermit, wood, gray-cheeked, and Swainson’s thrushes; and the veery. All are renowned for their singing abilities. All of those species’ songs have been described as flute-like with some exhibiting a downward spiraling ethereal quality. The wood thrush is at the top of my favorite list as the best singer.

At Latta Park, the numerous mulberry trees and their ripening fruits attract all species of thrushes every spring. Most can be seen in dependable but small numbers each year but this year the trees, creekside brush, and lawn were filled with them; especially the last couple of weeks. Normally there would be a few whispered songs that often would be drowned out by other species’ notes, but for several visits this year the thrush songs were loud and ringing, coming from all areas of the park.
Hermit thrushes are the only species that is with us through the winter, and the wood thrush is the only one that nests in our area. The others are spring and fall migrants that nest in the Canadian Life Zone.

The wood thrush is the most russet on top and has the most boldly spotted of the group. The veery on the other hand has very faint spots, sometimes appearing to lack spots at all. The others, in descending order of spot intensity are the hermit, gray-cheeked, and Swainson’s.

As I said before, the thrushes are among the finest of avian singers. Next to the wood thrush, I rate the veery as the most accomplished songster, followed closely by the hermit and Swainson’s. The gray-cheeked song is thin and wiry; obviously coming from a thrush; but not on a par with the others, in my opinion.    




Wood Thrush by Phil Fowler
   
The wood thrush, above, is larger and bulkier than the other thrushes on this page. Note the russet upperparts and the heavy black spotting on the breast and sides.




Hermit Thrush by Lee Weber

The hermit thrush is the only spotted thrush that winters here. When seen in migration with other similar thrushes, the bright russet tail that contrasts with the back is evident in most individuals.


Veery by Jeff Lewis

The veery has the most ethereal song of the thrushes mentioned here. Note the reduced and much fainter spotting in comparison to the wood thrush.

Gray-cheeked Thrush by Lee Weber
 The gray-cheeked thrush above and the Swainson's below are very similar. Note the buffy eyering on the Swainson's. The overall color is warmer brown than the colder gray of the gray-cheeked.
Swainson's Thrush by Lee Weber.

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