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Naturalist’s Notebook: California Thrasher

Text and illustrations by John Schmitt
Illustration by John Schmitt.

8 February 2004, Kern County, California; Tillie Creek Campground

Late winter is a relatively reliable time to hear and see elusive California Thrashers in the Tillie Creek Campground. This early morning I heard several thrashers singing in different corners of the campground, and I even managed to observe two birds singing haltingly from their high exposed perches. Somewhat later I came upon three thrashers squared-off in the middle of the campground road in an apparent dispute over territory boundaries.

In this instance, the winding asphalt road appeared to serve as a boundary where two birds joined to confront a third thrasher. The confrontation mostly involved just two birds while the other followed along and watched. They moved along down the road’s center, alternating walking abreast of each other in a hurried manner with brief pauses where they turned and faced each other, striking a stretched-up pose with their curved beaks tilted up, pale throats displayed conspicuously, and beak tips almost touching. Two of these face-offs resulted in brief, furious fights in which they leapt and stabbed at one another.

But most often the 5- to 8-minute dispute was tensely peaceful, with the birds even pausing to pick and scratch in the roadside debris, eyeing each other warily.

Quite abruptly the thrashers flew off in opposite directions—presumably into the core of their respective territories—where shortly the birds mounted their own high exposed perches and commenced singing.

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