365 Nature – Day 13

In 2016 I’m doing a 365 Nature project. Each day of the year I will post something here about nature. It may be any format, a photo, video, audio, sketch or entry from my nature journal. It could be a written piece. Each day I will connect to nature in some way and share it here by the end of that day. You can keep up-to-date by subscribing to the RSS feed or be notified by email. See all the 365 Nature posts.


This morning when I dropped my daughter off at her school in the forest grove, I noticed a feather as I was leaving. I picked it up, because I can’t possibly pass by a feather without examining it, and saw it was different from any other feather I’d encountered. It was mostly black, with a small patch of white near the base. But what I noticed most was the orange color in two places along the right side. I took a photo and left the feather with the teacher to share. As a class rule, things found in the forest grove, stay in the forest grove. When I got home I consulted the Feather Atlas, an excellent resource from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s Forensics Laboratory. It’s not fully comprehensive, but it’s rare I don’t find the feather I’m searching for. I recently used it to identify what type of bird our Cooper’s Hawk caught in our front yard. After it left I collected all the feathers and brought them inside. It was a Pine Siskin.

This time it didn’t take long to discover the feather I’d found came from a Varied Thrush, a common woodland bird found here in the Pacific Northwest. I should have guessed, I regularly see the thrushes around the forest grove. Next to the classroom is the ash meadow and I suspect the thrushes forage for the berries produced by the ash trees. Varied Thrushes are a bit mysterious to me, they’re very shy and it’s rare I get a long look at one. It’s always a treat when I find one in our yard, but more commonly I see them during walks around the arboretum.

In stark contrast to the Golden-crowned Kinglet who foraged around me earlier this week, the thrushes fly up off the ground before I get anywhere near them. They’ll watch me from perches in the trees briefly before flying off. It’s not easy to get close to a thrush and because of this I’ve never managed to get a good shot of one. Finding their feather was a nice way to get a little closer to them.

View images of Varied Thrush feathers at the Feather Atlas:
Varied Thrush Primary Wing Feathers
Varied Thrush Secondary Wing Feathers

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Kelly Brenner

Kelly Brenner is a naturalist, writer and photographer based in Seattle. She is the author of a book about urban nature, coming Spring 2020 from Mountaineers Books. She writes freelance articles about natural history and has bylines in Crosscut, ParentMap, National Wildlife Magazine and others. On the side she writes fiction.

Kelly holds a bachelors degree in landscape architecture from the University of Oregon and a certificate in non-fiction writing from the University of Washington.

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