The Sage thrasher (Oreoscoptes montanus) sat, alert, with prey on top of the sage bush out in the dry arid lands east of Massadona, Colorado. I was heading to Dinosaur in search of dry land species and impressive landscapes. Turning of road US Highway 40 as directed by the Colorado Field Ornithologists great website, I head out into the wilds of great basin.
It was still early in the morning and what seemed a lifeless ‘wasteland’ was alive with birds. Shorelarks (horned larks), sparrows and Meadowlarks were active along the track. And I flushed a possible Sage Grouse that disappeared into the brush. The Sage thrashers were also active. This one was particularly aware of my presence, sitting alert, on a bush with a large insect in its beak. Watching me and the horizon, fearful of venturing towards its hidden nest.
I had seen them elsewhere in my travels in Colorado but this one gave me the best views not doubt because I was near to it’s nest.
The birds original name was the Mountain mocking-bird, first described by Townsend:
“On the arid plains of the central table-land, betwixt the northern sources of the Platte and the Colorado of the West, in the month of June, we frequently heard the cheering song of this delightful species, whose notes considerably resemble those of the Brown Thrush, with some of the imitative powers of the Mocking-bird. For a great part of the day, and especially early and late, its song resounds through the desert plains, as it warbles to its mate from some tall weed or bush of wormwood, and continues with little interruption nearly for an hour at a time. We met with it in the plains exclusively, till our arrival at Wallah Wallah, but we are not certain of having seen it in any part of California, it being apparently entirely confined to the cooler and open regions of the Rocky Mountains. Just before arriving at Sandy-Creek of the Colorado, while resting for refreshment at noon, I had the good fortune to find the nest in a wormwood bush, on the margin of a ravine, from whence the male was singing with its usual energy. It contained four almost emerald green eggs, spotted with dark olive of two shades, more numerous towards the greater end, the spots large and roundish. The nest itself was made of small twigs and rough stalks, lined with stripes of bark and bison wool. The female flew off to a little distance, and looked on her unwelcome and unexpected visiter, without uttering either call or complaint.”
Sadly the bison are all gone and so the nest of the Sage thrasher will no longer be made with bison hair, more likely what little hair it can collect of cattle. As this is cattle country now.
I watched the bird for a few minutes, taking pictures from the car, and left it to it’s family. Heading back along the sandy track I turned back on to US highway 40 and headed West across the great basin.