On select summer weekends I am a volunteer trail guide for the Delaware Highlands Conservancy located in Sullivan County, NY. Being honest, the first few times I took a group out I stumbled on my words and my feet (ugh embarrassing!) I’m not the best public speaker but as time went on I got better (but there is still room for improvement). As a trail guide I have the opportunity to engage the public about the local flora and fauna as well as the wonderful conservation work done by DHC. Besides having the opportunity to talk about what I love, I also have opportunities to explore the trails quietly on my own and experience special moments with the more bashful creatures of the forest.
Although I have heard this bird countless times throughout the years, I’ve always had difficulty catching it in action. The Hermit Thrush, Catharus guttatus is an inconspicuous bird residing in mixed forests and woodland swamps. Known to Native Americans as the swamp angel, this 5.5 – 7 inches long bird is definitely not known for its plumage but more so for the echoes of its shattered-glass-like vocals. Singing predominantly at sunrise and sunset (although it can be heard occasionally throughout the day), the Hermit Thrush’s pitch can reach heights beyond human audibility; interestingly enough, biologists have also found that hermit thrushes sing with underlying mathematical concepts that are similar to the way humans use mathematics to compose both western and non-western music. (There are many more fun facts about this bird and its relatives but that will have to be in another blog post)
So back to my story…when I finally did see this bird in action I wished (for a split second) that I had a few more arms – I was only able to get this mediocre shot (shown below) and unfortunately was not able to get any audio (but you can find a sample here) because while this thrush perched practically on my shoulder …
I was in the middle of trying to capture images and footage of this rascally porcupine that was switching trees about twenty feet in front me. Hobbling along the forest floor to its next tree of choice, it made its way up another pine. Simultaneously, I had the elusive singer right above me and a sneaky porcupine right in front me! It was a very exciting and unexpected moment and I didn’t want to ruin it by shuffling around with my camera. In the end, I’m happy with the few images I was able to capture but most importantly, happy that I seemed invisible to them allowing me to commit that delicate moment in time to memory.
Pahin on the run!
*Pahin is a Lakota (Sioux) word meaning porcupine
All Images, Audio & Artwork © 2018 N.Fontaine