It was bitterly cold, but bright and sunny. Perfect day for a quick bird walk. Perfect day for a long bird walk, too, but I had limited time before my son Will’s basketball game, so it had to be a quick one.
After seeing a few Fox Sparrows at Weed Beach in Darien, Conn., as soon as the walk started, the only species I could find was White-throated Sparrow. And there were lots of them. I love my White-throated Sparrows, of course, so I’m not complaining. My eyes, however, were darting around the brush for other birding goodies.
Trudging through the snow and doing my best to ignore the
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single-digit temperatures, I turned a corner and suddenly found myself staring at an Eastern Towhee in a cedar tree. This has been a particularly good year for towhees, so the sighting wasn’t altogether surprising, but I still didn’t expect to see one on such a cold day. Most towhees are far south of New England by now.
I kept a respectful distance and took a few photographs. The bird, a male, eventually flew to a nearby crab apple tree and picked apart some of the fading fruits. Then another male towhee joined the initial bird in the same tree. Even better, I thought. Suddenly a third male Eastern Towhee swooped in and flushed the other two out of the crab apple tree. Later in the walk I found a female towhee, making at least four towhees in that small area. Not a typical sighting on a winter walk.
Judging from readers’ comments and results of recently held Christmas Bird Counts, towhees are being seen in larger-than-usual numbers throughout New England this year. Every winter seems to have its surprises — last year it was all those redpolls — so perhaps the Eastern Towhee will be this year’s winter songbird surprise. I specify songbird because Snowy Owls, of course, are the real bird of this winter. What can compete with that?
The walk also yielded a Brown Thrasher sighting, another bird not often seen in the winter. It had been a while since I had seen a thrasher, regardless of season, so that too, was a pleasant surprise. So bring on the cold. The birds are still out there.