Observations of Washington State Landscapes, Geology, Geography, Ecology, History and Land Use
Saturday, April 9, 2011
Hermit Thrush - A Thanks to a North Cascades Companion
In the early morning I have been hearing the calls of Turdus migratorius (robin) and Ixoreus naevius (varied thrush). It is Spring! The call of these thrushes is wonderful to hear. Later in the morning the the sparrows wake up and fill the air with chatter.
Catharus guttatus (hermit thrush) a relative of the robin and varied thrush is my favorite singer. The hermit thrush like the robin is generally a migratory bird heading south in the winter over most of its range. But in western Washington with so few days of snow covered ground, robins, varied thrush and hermit thrush do not all leave and can be seen on occasion in the winter as some of them stick around or have migrated down out of the mountains or from colder climates to the north and northeast to winter in western Washington lowlands.
Theodore Roosevelt described the hermit thrush call as the sweetest sound in the wilderness. John Burroughs described being mesmerized by the hermit thrush call.
My own experience with the hermit thrush song left a lasting impression. I spent 5 days doing geology mapping and sample collecting in the upper watershed forest of Newhalem Creek in the North Cascade Range. When I had inquired about the trail at National Park headquarters I was told "No one has been up there in awhile". It was my second longest stretch of not seeing another human animal.
It was a rugged place to work. Lots of scrambles up steep side valley stream gullies, traverses across debris deposits from rock slides and avalanches overgrown with alder and vine maple, and negotiating 200-foot long old growth logs spanning Newhalem Creek while trying to resolve some unit relationships between the Skagit Gneiss, Cascade River Schist and Napeequa Formations.
Throughout my ventures at Newhalem Creek I heard the clear notes of the hermit's song through the valley over the steady roar of mountain streams and Newhalem Creek. The song of the hermit thrush became my companion. I fell into deep sleeps at the end of the day to the song and woke in the morning to the song. The hermit thrush call is linked to the geology of the the Napeequa and Cascade River Schist in my mind.
On my hike out while high up on the side slope above the valley the peaceful sound continued as I hauled my gear and about 20 pounds of rock towards home. At a break in the forest canopy I took in the scene of the valley and the jagged peaks above the valley on the ridge. The hermit thrush calls were sounding up and down the valley both near and far. I smiled and said a thank you for the song and companionship from the small birds that I never saw.
Dan McShane is an engineering geologist with Stratum Group, a geology and environmental consulting company based in Bellingham, Washington. Dan has been reading Washington State landscapes since driving across the Horse Heaven Hills with his father and brother in 1970. Dan's wife has started painting Washington landscapes. The intent of this blog is to help all Washington travelers better understand the landscapes we see and share field observations.