The Blog Begins: Hurricane Sandy, a Northern Mockingbird and a Swainson’s Thrush

October 30th, 2012

It is thanks to Hurricane Sandy that I have finally found the time to start this blog. I am writing this first entry with pen and paper from our current home in Bergen County, NJ, USA. We have no electricity here at the moment, like most of New Jersey, but we have a roaring fire in the background that is throwing out heat and light, adding just enough to the glow of the candles to help me see this page. It feels very appropriate that out of the destruction caused by Sandy and the epic demonstration of the power of nature that it was, this little blog about appreciating the nature around us has begun at last – if it wasn’t for the downtime the hurricane has provided I’m not sure when I’d have got around to setting this up. There is fascinating and magical wildlife all around us and my intention for this blog is to document the nature adventures in not only our backyard, but incidents and stories from our travels, with some resources and experiments along the way.

Much of today was spent gathering the best possible firewood from the surrounding streets. There is so much dead wood and fallen limbs lying about, some of it conveniently piled up at the side of the road to be collected, while plenty of other large branches are scattered around mixed up with the other debris and dead leaves of Autumn. It was satisfying physical work collecting as much wood as we could – and why buy firewood when you can take advantage of what nature has literally thrown at you! In an ideal world we’d have taken a wheelbarrow up and down our street, but of course the wheelbarrow is in the garage and the garage doors are electric, with the manual override seemingly not working. So our arms and thighs got a good workout lifting and bending while fully loaded with wood.

While I was stocking the alcove by the fireplace with wood I heard the familiar thud of a bird hitting the window, and I looked over to see a flurry of feathers floating in the breeze. Looking down from this corner window there was no bird to be seen though, and when I glanced to my right out of the adjacent window there was a Northern Mockingbird hopping around on the low branch of our pine tree looking fit and healthy. When Diana came rushing over to the window though asking me to come outside, I knew all was not as it seemed, and as I closed the door behind me I saw her reaching under a small conifer by the window and pulling out a thrush that was gasping for life and clearly in a lot of pain. This was actually the third thrush that had hit our windows within the previous two weeks, after never having a thrush hit our windows at all before then – so we had been quite confused as to the cause and kept meaning to stick hawk silhouettes to the windows. Diana went on to tell me that this poor thrush had been chased by the aforementioned mockingbird, and that after it had slammed into the window the mockingbird had attempted to attack it on the ground too, although Diana had got there in time to prevent that. We focussed on the thrush (later confirmed to be a Swainson’s Thrush) and wondered whether it might survive, and Diana handed it over to me. To digress briefly, about ten days earlier a Black-capped Chickadee had hit our back door. I scooped it up as soon as it happened while it was still stunned on the steps, and keeping it inside my cupped hand I managed to calm it down with very gentle stroking on its back and neck – I think the heat of my hand really helped too. Its heavy breathing relaxed and when it began to open its eyes in full and look around more I knew that it was feeling more like itself. I lowered it down to a plant pot where it hopped off and sat for a moment before flying to the same low branch of the pine tree, and after giving me what felt like a thankful look and a chirp it flew off. So after my chickadee experience we hoped I could work my healing powers again with the Swainson’s Thrush. Unfortunately though, there was no happy ending on this occasion. After a promising few moments where it regained its composure and appeared alert it then seemed to suffer a seizure of some sort – it flapped and fluttered its way out of my hands and was uncontrollably flipping itself over on the ground, before eventually passing away.

So despite another thrush death we finally knew that our resident and highly territorial Northern Mockingbird was to blame.

Injured Swainson's Thrush

Injured Swainson’s Thrush.
Photo © Diana Pappas.

Dead Swainson's Thrush

Dead Swainson’s Thrush.
Photo © Tom Bland.

Dead Swainson's Thrush

Dead Swainson’s Thrush.
Photo © Tom Bland.

Dead Swainson's Thrush tail feathers

Dead Swainson’s Thrush tail feathers.
Photo © Tom Bland.

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4 responses to “The Blog Begins: Hurricane Sandy, a Northern Mockingbird and a Swainson’s Thrush

  1. Sad story…we’re actually birders too…and as far as we know, we’ve only ID’d one Swainson’s at our home (Eastern LI) in 20 years….singing and very visible for several days during spring migration two years ago.

    Best of luck with your site…looks great.

  2. Birds are fascinating to watch. I have never seen a Swainson Thrush and I’m sorry you couldn’t help it fly away. Thank you for including me on this journey.

  3. Was just surfing the web and just stumbled across your blog and me thinks your Swainson’s Thrush may actually have been a Hermit Thrush. The rusty rump and tail contrasting witht he back in the last photo is consistent with Hermit Thrush among some other features.

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