Unidentified Flying Dinosaur: Positively Volcanic

I’ve never gotten so fortunate with birds in Oregon before. Quite a few actually stopped long enough for photo ops this time, and some even did interesting things for the camera. Some are even in focus. This one isn’t so much, but it’s the most intriguing of the lot. It landed in a tree some distance from me at Clear Lake, waited for me to get in just one shot, and then flew off. I’m glad it held still for a moment – it’s got some fantastic coloration, perfect for an area covered in basalt flows and flaming red vine maples.


I have to say, I’m quite excited over this one. I’d just been through a solid string of ducks and other water birds, and while they’re beautiful, they’re not quite so intriguing as this beauty. Nor as colorful.


It’s like this bird intended to dress geologically. I can almost see it strutting round on a black basalt flow, reciting some beat poem about a red fire liquid becoming cold black rock, and probably some metaphor or analogy or something thrown in to make it truly artistic. Perhaps a squirrel in dark glasses would play a very small soprano sax beside it. And I think I’ve done far too much research over the past four days if this is how my mind is trending…

I’ve had volcanoes on the brain a lot lately. Take this tree I’ve driven past, and looked at, and thought, “Wow, that looks like it’s illustrating the lateral eruption at Mount St. Helens!”

Mount St Helens tree.

Of course, by the time I’d got round to photographing it, the eruption was spreading, and when I passed it the other day, it was fully involved. Fall will do that to a tree. But I swear to you, the first time I saw it, it looked just like that lateral blast. Except, a tree’s conception of it.

And here is a tree illustrating a more conventional vertical eruption column:

Generic volcano tree.

By the time I see them again, they will be doing their impression of one of those diagrams showing the inner plumbing of a volcano, with all of the vents and the throat and all that sort o’ thing. It may help to see them that way, rather than as trees with their leaves off for the winter. Autumn usually depresses the shit out of me. Everything’s dying, it’s damp, it’s cold, summer’s a long ways away. Then I get used to not having everything virulently green, I begin to enjoy the absence of the sun, I settle in for a long winter’s writing with a cat cold enough to cuddle, and all is bliss until the days start getting longer and I feel pestered by the evil yellow hurty thing. Spring is somewhat traumatic round here. Everything gets aggressively green and the sun never seems to go down. But it’s getting easier. Every year, I get a little more used to the way seasons change, and I begin to enjoy the transitions, just as I learned to enjoy the volcanoes, which around here have a distressing tendency to blow up.

But the results, my friends, are spectacular. You wait. I have so much to show you. Plus UFDs!

Unidentified Flying Dinosaur: Positively Volcanic
The Orbit is (STILL!) a defendant in a SLAPP suit! Help defend freedom of speech, click here to find out more and donate!

10 thoughts on “Unidentified Flying Dinosaur: Positively Volcanic

  1. 1

    It’s a male Varied Thrush Ixoreus naevius, Dana. Pretty much a Pacific Northwest specialty, though I’ve seen a handful of wintering birds in CO and AZ. Beautiful bird!

  2. rq

    I can only agree with azportsider.
    Thanks for the trees, too – I’d forgotten they actually take that shade of red. Here, things mostly turn into a bright, deep yellow that just asks for a touch of sun to flare up into gold and brass and copper.
    And geology hasn’t yet damaged my mind enough to see volcanoes and rock formations everywhere. :)

  3. 3

    Very handsome bird.

    I love autumn in the PNW. We don’t get the sudden cold snaps that create the amazing foliage of the northeast, but there is something calming about watching a tree change color little by little over many days. A project I’ve been considering is to pick a tree in my neighborhood and take its picture from the same spot at the same time of day for a year, starting January 1, then use the stills to create a movie.

  4. 4

    Agreed – varied thrush. One of my favourite PNW birds. Never thought of them as beat poets, though.

    One winter while I was living out west, I kept finding severed varied thrush heads. It was really creepy.

  5. 5

    Since everyone beat me to the varied thrush, I’ll take a crack at the volcano trees: Maple. But that’s as specific as I can get.

    I like varied thrushes because they seem to be among the first migrants to show up in the spring, before moving on to the mountains. When I see them, I know spring is coming.

  6. 6

    My first inclination was to think it was a type of lark, since I am still fairly unfamiliar with the birds of the PNW region, but that’s definitely a (very gorgeous) Varied Thrush. Good call, and great pics.

  7. 7

    The first volcanic tree looks like a red maple, Acer rubrum. The volcanic tree in the 2nd photo is sweet gum, Liquidambar styraciflua. Both species are introduced to the PNW from eastern North America.

    I love autumn in the PNW too, but compared to the diverse deciduous forests of the north-eastern quarter of the country, the display of autumn color is underwhelming. In the PNW, the bigleaf maple Acer macrophyllum (I always want to call it figleaf maple) can be showy in the fall. The native champ for fall color, IMHO, is the vine maple, Acer circinatum, but it’s seldom abundant.

  8. 8

    Yep, varied thrush. Isn’t he beautiful? I used to see these all the time when we lived out on the north end of the Kitsap Peninsula, in what my husband poetically described as “the forest primeval.” I live out towards the coast now, and don’t see them nearly as often.

  9. 9

    We see the varied thrushes twice a year as they pass through here on the south BC coast. All of a sudden there will be a dozen or more to be seen and then a couple of weeks later, they’re all gone.

    Always fun to watch with binoculars, as they all find leaves on the lawn to pick up and flip over in the search for food. Then one will chase another away from his spot. This will go on for hours sometimes.

Comments are closed.