Hermit Thrush Nest

Hermit Thrush

I intended to write about his last summer when it happened, but am just now getting around to it. It’s sort of a nice reminder of the season to come in this later winter/early spring of chill and snow. The events written about here occured on 13 July 2006

I took advantage of an opportunity to go out to Point Brown with a group of Phycologists that had made a side trip to Sitka from Juneau where an international conference was being held. Several of them had made the trip, but there was still room on the charter for others, so the remaining seats were made available to the public.

From the time we stepped off the boat, the seaweed folks were actively looking and collecting the various species that could be seen on the rocky shores. My brain did not have the right preparation to accept an information dump of this size, so I wandered off down the beach to look at plants and birds.

I went down almost as far as Brent’s Beach Cabin before turning back. Along the way I noticed some interesting plants and saw a couple of juvenile Juncos.

As I was heading back up the shore, I saw Kitty LaBounty and asked her about the new-to-me plants I had seen. So she wandered along with me and we investigated the plants and bryophytes growing along the seaside cliffs.

While investigating liverworts or something in a small indention on the cliff, I was bent down looking at the plants when I heard and felt a breeze from the wings of a bird flying right over me. This was a little puzzling because to my right (the direction from where the bird came) there was just the cliff face where it dipped into the alcove. I could not quite figure out where the bird had come from. However, it did not take me long to see that the bird had not flown far.

Kitty and I both back away from the cliff to watch the bird. I can’t remember when exactly we figured out that the bird must be nesting, but clearly we had disturbed her while looking at the plants. She anxiously watched us as she flitted from rock to rock to branch and back again. Finally she made a couple of attempts to return to her nest, but veered off. This gave us some idea where the nest was, but the bird still seemed uncomfortable about landing on it.

Hermit Thrush Nest

Finally she did land, and I stood up to try to see just where she had landed. It was puzzling to me how we could have possibly missed the nest which was almost right in front of our faces as we were looking at things. Unfortunately, my movements scared her off the nest again. I took advantage of this to get a quick shot of the before retreating further down on the beach.

The construction of this nest was quite interesting. It was supported primarily by a clump of goat’s beard growing out of a crack in the cliff. The clump was not that robust, and I’m not sure it would have supported the nest with birds in it, except that the builder incorporated dangling roots from plants growing above the nest as a means of suspension support. These roots were woven into the nest in several places. It seemed like a pretty clever trick to me.

Hermit Thrush on Nest

After just a couple of minutes she flew back to the nest and settled in. This time I waited a little bit longer before moving and slowly making my way to a vantage point where I could see her while still keeping my distance. I was able to get a photo of her on the nest without disturbing her again and we went on our way.

One of the things that was so fascinating to me is that we had literally walked right up to the nest without noticing it. It was at eye level, but we were focussed on things a little lower down (a particularly lush growth of liverworts, I think). The bird stayed on the nest as we were bent down right beside it, an errant hand would have easily brushed against it. Finally she flushed, and even then we had no idea the nest was so close. I have to say that in hindsight, it makes me feel like I was pretty oblivious. On the other hand, these birds and/or their young won’t survive unless they can stay well hidden.

This seemed pretty late in the summer for a thrush to be sitting on eggs, so it may have been for a second brood or perhaps a re-nesting attempt after a failed first try. The males are supposed to stay with the females while she is incubating, but we did not notice one while we were observing. It may have been that he was off getting food, staying hidden, or perhaps, if this was a second clutch, he was still with the first group of young. I don’t really know.

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