The Townsend’s Solitaire (Myadestes townsendi) is a thrush that lives in western North America, from Alaska to Mexico and only as far east as Nebraska and Kansas in the winter.
He’s considered a short distance migrant but every winter a few individuals break the mold and come to the northeastern U.S. and southeastern Canada. This one was found at Yellow Creek State Park during the Indiana PA Christmas Bird Count on 26 December 2018.
Townsend’s solitaires are easy to identify by their soft gray color, white eye ring, long tail and buffy wing patches. Under certain light conditions his gray color looks brown.
The bird’s common name comes from John Kirk Townsend who first collected it and from its solitary habits. Solitaires are usually alone but will hang out with other species near food. This one was eating fruit with a flock of American robins at the Boy Scout Camp.
Since Townsend’s solitaires are rare in western Pennsylvania, birders from miles around have come to see and photograph him. When I went to Yellow Creek State Park on New Year’s Eve (a 1.5 hour drive) I found the solitaire and six other birders, four of whom I knew by sight or name. I missed Steve Gosser and Glenn Koppel who took these pictures on New Year’s Day.
The bird may be solitary but he generates a crowd.
(photos by Steve Gosser and Glenn Koppel)