Varied Thrushes

This gallery contains 2 photos. A bright flash of orange and grey pops out–usually at the base of an evergreen tree or thicket, to flip over leaf litter with a foot–look at what’s underneath, and then pop back under the underbrush. That, for many birders (including myself), is usually the extent of a 3-4 second encounter with a Varied Thrush. I’ve said that finding (and photographing) this elusive songbird is like seeing the Easter Bunny. It truly is a magical moment. Over the past three and a half years, I’ve only a handful of photos of the VATHS that can be posted, and it seems like our encounters are getting rarer and rarer. Unlike the more ubiquitous American Robins, Varied Thrushes do not gather in large flocks, thanks to their territorial natures.

© WHSIM Male Varied Thrush on Ground (WP).jpg
a morning bird’s eye view of a male VATH on the lawn taken from the sunroom (Jan 16, 2017)
f/6.3, 1/400, 500mm, ISO 5000

The latter are seldom seen roosting in shrubs and trees, which their bolder distant cousins are apt to do. As birds of Pacific Coast forests and mountains (rarely seen elsewhere in North America, although the odd visitor will pop up in the North American Midwest or Northeast), they are largely unknown outside of Alaska, British Columbia, Oregon, and California. Birders are more likely to hear the Varied Thrush’s hauntingly beautiful song that seems to be a reflection of the vastness of its environment, than to see the singer. The handsome gent in the photo above was, surprisingly, not flustered to a lens aimed in his direction, albeit from 20 feet up, but continued to wander the backyard in his search for food. His lady love did show up a little bit later on the same day.

© WHSIM Female Varied Thrush in the Cherry Tree (WP).jpg
a female VATH perched some 35 feet away in the cherry tree (Dec 24, 2015)
f/6.3, 1/320, 500mm, ISO 5000

Fall and winter are the times when we see these insectivores in Metro Vancouver the most–although that adjective is hardly one would use to describe VATHs. During the breeding season, they head as far north as Alaska to raise the next generation. When I do see them, it’s usually in the backyard; only three other times have I seen them elsewhere in Metro Vancouver. Much rarer is the Varied Thrush (or Thrushes) who will hang around in the backyard or perch in a tree. When the ground-based cuisine is scarce, they will also eat suet and birdseed. Learn more about the Varied Thrush by visiting their Cornell Lab of Ornithology profile here.




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