Bird of Northwest Summers

By Forrest Smith -

For one day last year, I heard a bird in the neighborhood. I wasn’t sure if I heard it right at first – over my eight years living in San Diego, I had never heard this bird before. The second time it made it’s call, my face lit up. It was definitely the bird.

Yesterday he showed up again. I could hear it sing from the neighbor’s tree, and just like the first time I heard this bird in San Diego, it took a couple of his calls before I believed that he was really here. He has stayed for another day, and I’m currently listening to his pleasant song this morning as I drink my coffee. So for only the third day out of all my days in San Diego, I get to hear this bird. But all of my summers growing up and into adulthood in the Pacific Northwest were accompanied by this bird.

I get flashes of backpacking trips and hikes, wandering deep in the woods on warm summer evenings, hearing this bird, with rays of light shooting through the Douglas Firs. Those moments where I know things are so good that I intentionally slow down to try and soak it all in. The bird’s song, the light streams, the smell of the trees, the path winding through sword ferns.

I remember this bird, sitting on the porch of our house on warm summer nights as a kid. Hearing this bird call in one of our trees, and perhaps a few others up and down the country road. I’m tired after a nice summer day exploring our yard, looking for bugs, playing in the dirt. Sometimes I hear the bird while laying in the grass as the sun begins to set. Looking up into the maple leaves as I hear this bird and its call – a series of notes, descending in order. It sounds almost like the bird echoes himself.

I remember my mom talking about about this bird, mimicking its call, her head slightly nodding with each note as she lightly whistles. I think she tells me this is her favorite bird.

I’ve spent the past couple of nights listening to bird calls on various websites. I didn’t quite have a “I found it moment!”, the recording on the website wasn’t quite right – the bird had a note or two off, but it was close enough for me to find various other recordings of this bird and to confirm that yes, the Swainson’s Thrush was the bird whose call I now associate with those wonderful, care-free summers as a kid.

Swainson's Thrush

According to the maps, the Swainson’s Thrush breed in the Northwest (and up in Canada), and along the northern California coast, down to maybe the San Luis Obispo area. Here in San Diego, we’re just beyond its range, but it does spend winters in central and South America, which explains why I’ve heard it a handful of times as it flies through on its way up to my childhood home. I like it this way – it will forever be my bird of Northwest summers, but it’s nice that I get a few rare and surprise visits here and there to remind me of my idyllic childhood.