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A Hermit Shows up to Tell a Story

Photo Copyright Jim Livaudais 2015

The Hermit Thrush is very well named. One might not know of its presence but for a soft quoit call or a brownish blur rushing into the base of a bush. They are a quiet, skulking, and reclusive species. This is a good reason for trying to catch them in nets to quickly place a band on their leg, figure out their age and sex, assess their physical condition, and release them on their way. Researchers attempting to learn more about Hermit Thrushes usually capture many more of them than are heard or seen. And with a brief examination in the hand we learn so much more than could be learned from a passing encounter using non-capture monitoring methods.

KBO has banded a great many Hermit Thrushes over decades of monitoring at several study sites in our monitoring network. They are consistently in the top ten most numerously captured species each year. This species is present throughout the year in our Klamath Siskiyou Bioregion. And so it was mid-September a couple years ago at a study site along the western shore of Upper Klamath Lake …

The Odessa Creek Campground, within Fremont-Winema National Forest and about 22 miles west of Klamath Falls, Oregon, is the location of a KBO long-term monitoring station operated each year since the fall of 1996. The campground is well-known as a hot birding spot and as a “vagrant trap” – that is, as a place where bird species show up far away from their usual range of distribution. This has made the station an exciting one to operate over the years with several species captured that might be considered out-of-place like American Redstart, Black-and-White Warbler, Gray Catbird, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Ovenbird, and others. But the real value of the study site is its usual richness of birdlife during the nesting season and fall migration. The habitat is mixed with a fairly mature conifer forest adjacent to an expansive riparian forest and the great wetlands of Upper Klamath Lake. The mixed and rich nature of habitat equates to a mixed and rich bird community. There are many breeding species as well as large migration waves using the area.

On September 18, 2012 KBO biologists experienced a fairly big and busy day capturing 65 birds of 15 species, including flycatchers, jays, wrens, chickadees, thrushes, warblers, sparrows, and finches. One of these was a Hermit Thrush given the band number 2551-10469, a healthy youngster just hatched earlier that year. The following week, another busy day was had at Odessa Creek Campground with 76 captures, several of these already-banded, including our quiet and skulking acquaintance number 2551-10469. After that day, we had no further contact with Hermit Thrush number 2551-10469. That is, until earlier this year with the arrival of a report from the U.S. Geological Survey Bird Banding Laboratory that 2551-10469 had been captured and released by a banding operation at Cabrillo National Monument near San Diego, California on April 4, 2014!

But this hermit’s story doesn’t end there. Many chapters are yet to be uncovered — where was this bird hatched? What route has it used in its migrations?  Where has it ultimately gone in its northern nesting and southern wintering destinations? The hermit’s tale has an exciting beginning with nine days in September at Odessa Creek Campground and a flashy appearance (with a shiny band) at Cabrillo National Monument a year and a half later, after three migrations of over 800 miles during each journey. What ribald and dashing adventures to be had, what dangers to be narrowly escaped, what sun and song filled summer mornings to come? We anxiously await the next installment … or as we say in biology, more study needed.