In June of 2011 I visited the Uncompahgre Mountains of western Colorado to record nature soundscapes. On my last day there, I stopped my car in a dense forested area at around 10,000 feet elevation, where there was still a considerable amount of snow on the ground. That’s when I heard him, way off in the distance, a lone Hermit Thrush singing. This was not unusual by any means, but his song was different from any others I have ever heard:
Hermit Thrush song. Uncompahgre Plateau near Montrose, CO. June 15, 2011. Lang Elliott.
I headed in his direction, scurrying up a steep hill with all my gear, trying not to break through the crusty snow. Luckily, he kept singing and even though I was tired and exhausted, I finally got close enough to capture a good recording. The thrush was low in a spruce tree. I couldn’t see him, but his reverberant song rang clear against a backdrop of subtle meltwater trickle. I could hear a robin singing in the distance. “Nice,” I remember thinking,”very, very nice.”
It took me awhile to realize what was uniquely different about his singing. Like all Hermit Thrushes, each song begins with a clear whistle and ends with a jumble of flutey notes. But almost always, there is a lot of variability in pitch between songs. Low introductory notes may be followed by higher jumbles, high introductory notes by lower jumbles, with obvious and sometimes fairly radical pitch changes between songs (see example of normal singing below). But this bird started each and every song with a high-pitched note that was ALWAYS followed by a lower jumble. In fact, most of the flutey jumbles were quite low and rather delicate and simple in structure, at least according to normal Hermit Thrush standards.
Upon later analysis, I verified that every song followed this pattern, with an introductory whistle at around 3500 Hz followed by a low jumble that was usually centered at around 2000 Hz. This was no typical Hermit Thrush, and the effect of his performance, given in the cool, snow-covered mountain forest, was magical indeed.
Below is an example of another Hermit Thrush from the Uncompahgre Plateau, recorded within two miles of the male featured above. Notice the large pitch changes between subsequent songs and the robust flutey jumbles. This male is singing as Hermit males typically do. Quite a difference in singing pattern from the Magic Mountain Thrush, wouldn’t you agree?:
Hermit Thrush song. Uncompahgre Mountains near Montrose, CO. June 15, 2011. Lang Elliott.