For the past several days, I have spent a cumulative total of at least four hours at Fenner Nature Center watching the now-famous Townsend's Solitaire and helping visiting birders view it. I have already done one blog post about this bird, but that was only a brief description of the bird. This post is the information and observations that I have collected over several hours of observation and through reading others' accounts of their visits.
This record is extremely remarkable because as you can see from this animated map of eBird sightings, usually when a Townsend's Solitaire--or any vagrant bird from the west--shows up as a vagrant to Southern Michigan, the first land it sees as it completes its crossing of Lake Michigan is, well, the shore of Lake Michigan, and the first land a vagrant sees is typically where it lands. Fenner Nature Center, though, is pretty much as far inland in Michigan as it can get.
The Bird spends a lot of time within a small area of the prairie, but also wanders into adjacent Mount Hope Cemetery--presumably to eat juniper berries--and very infrequently near the central pond. Within the prairie, it spends most of the time feeding at the western edge of the field pond, or resting--often with a flock of four or more bluebirds--in the apple trees, brush pile, and other small trees and shrubs in the northwestern edge of the prairie. It has also been found several times in the chestnut trees closest to the field pond and at least once in the sumacs east of the field pond.
Interestingly, one of this bird's distinctive field marks--the white eyering, is very noticeable on one side, but smaller on the other side. All of its other distinctive characteristics are fully there, though. It does have a very long tail, contributing to its larger appearance in comparison to the bluebirds. It also shows the classic buffy wing bar and black "shoulders", and the upperparts are slightly darker than the underparts. The tail is all black with white outer feathers.
|The side of its head with a noticeabe white eye ring. The other side has a thinner eye ring. I need to work on getting a photo of that.|
|A good view of its really long tail.|
|All-black tail with white outer tail feathers.|
|Buffy wing bars.|
|An amazing look at all of the wing markings: black"shoulder",|
light wing bar, thin black wing bar, and gray flight feathers.
The solitaire's plumage suggests that it is an adult: A young bird would have more barring on its underparts. The sexes are inseparable in the field, so no one knows whether it's a male or a female.
|The lack of darker barring on this bird's underparts suggests that it is an adult.|
|Surveying its territory.|
|Taking off toward its berry of choice.|
|Hovering in place under its future meal.|
|Grabbing the berry in its bill.|
|Twisting its head to loosen the berry.|
|When it takes off and you don't see where it lands, it can blend in really well!|
|While it is digesting a meal, the solitaire seems content to let birders get quite close,|
just so long as there are only one to five people approaching it at one time.
1) instead of raising your camera before each shot, keep it up the entire time.
2) once you are at a distance that the bird is obviously comfortable with, take some "just in case"photos.
3) keeping your camera up, take three SLOW paces towards the bird and take a few more shots.
4) keep pacing slowly towards and photographing the bird as out lined above until you feel like you are satisfied with your photos or until the bird is obviously feeling uncomfortable, or until it flies off.
5) once it flies off, it is safe to follow it and repeat steps 2-4, but stopping farther away than last time, so as not to get too close to it again.
6) if you want to get a better angle, take three slow paces at a time until you have the angle you want.
Using this strategy cuts down on the ways that a photographer can scare the bird, plus it allows extra opportunities if the bird flies off before you get a satisfactory shot.
I hope that this amazing bird decides to spend the rest of it's winter at Fenner Nature Center, and that all who come to see it while it's here are successful.