Date: 11/24/18 4:01 am
From: John Fussell <jofuss...>
Subject: Swainson's Thrush in Carteret County, NC (really)
After about 1 November I rarely look closely at thrushes. I know they're
all Hermits. Besides, you usually hear one before seeing it, so you have
already dismissed it as a Hermit before you see it. When I see a winter
report of a Swainson's or Gray-cheeked, I think "Yeah, sure".

However, yesterday I saw a real Swainson's Thrush. This was in the
Roosevelt Natural Area (Bogue Banks); the bird was not far from the N.C.
Aquarium. Although the bird was only about 5 meters from me initially (yes,
that close), I did a pretty good job of ignoring it for a few minutes. I
was mapping vegetation and the bird was seemingly oblivious to me as it
wolfed down red cedar "berries". The bird was so close and the lighting was
so perfect that I decided to lift my 8x binoculars to "appreciate" this
"Hermit Thrush" for a minute. At that moment the bird was partially
obscured by the vegetation but I thought I saw a buffy face. I moved a
little bit and then got a perfect view of the bird's upperparts (it had
moved such that it was facing directly away from me) Again, the bird was
only about 5 meters away, about head-high, and in perfect lighting. I saw
that all of the bird's upperparts were a dull gray-brown throughout; there
was definitely no reddish in the tail. After that view, I realized that I
probably had a non-Hermit Thrush and continued to watch the bird as it kept
eating the cedar "berries". It definitely had a buffy face with a bold
buffy eye-ring and a buffy breast. Especially prominent on this bird was a
buffy "comma" that curved up below and partially behind the auriculars. The
breast was weakly spotted (compared to a Hermit Thrush). From various
angles, I never saw any rufous in the tail.

I studied the bird was at least 10 minutes and during this time it remained
close (always within about 15 meters) and in excellent light. I never heard
it call and I never saw any tail flicking. (I also saw it eating yaupon

Not long after I first looked at the bird and saw that it looked like a
Swainson's, I tried playing Swainson's (and later Hermit) songs/calls on my
iPod to see how the bird might react. Within a few seconds of my first
playing the Swainson's song/calls, a Hermit Thrush began its low "chucking"
not far way. Conveniently, the Hermit then flew into the same area where
the Swainson's was, and was close and in excellent light. It was upset and
called continually and frequently flicked its tail (like Hermit Thrushes
do). I could easily see its reddish tail and its bolder breast spotting.
Having this leisurely comparison helped convince me that I was indeed seeing
a late November Swainson's Thrush.

I resumed my work, but checked occasionally to see if the Swainson's was
still present. It reamined in the area for at least another 10 minutes.

I tried to get a photo of the bird using my phone, but the photos I got were
poor and of no ID value--out of focus and very overexposed.

I'll mention that yesterday afternoon was chilly and the 20-mph northeast
wind blowing off the sound nearby was very raw. However, the bird was on
the south side of a maritime forest ridge, at the interface of the forest
and a finger of marsh. The site was wind protected and there was a bright,
warm sun, so the site was actually kind of cozy when I was looking at the

If I can, I'll try to get back to the site with a camera in the next few
days. I will definitely look for the bird after 1 December and after 1

John Fussell
Morehead City, NC

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