Posted by: atowhee | June 30, 2010

Wrening the Gamut

You can run your gamut.  But we accidentally wren our gamut.  The eleven-member California Birding Excursion Team from Cheepers, had the run of wrens.  We had the Bewick’s Wren, lover of oak scrubland and coastal brushland.  The white eye-stripe and the longish erect tail showed to good advantage.  We had the dark brown Marsh Wren at Lake Merced.  There was the patch of zebra-striping on his back and his rapid scolding song.  He is a lover of tules next to deep, still waters.  Not a river runner like his distant cousin the Dipper.   A river wren, you ask?  Our Canyon Wren along the Stanislaus River in Calaveras Big Trees State Park takes his rivers in stride, as long as they are lined with slickrock canyon walls. The more rocks the better.  The vertical walls are a must.  This energetic singer fed on and around and even beneath the boulders.  Often more lizard-like than avian.

This is the river canyon where Canyon Wren sang to us, foraged, scurried about in plain sight for only moments at a time.


Our ultimate wren, the last in the line of wren’s seen: the Cactus Wren at Caspers Wilderness Park. He was our sixth wren.  We’d earlier seen the Rock Wren on his perch about 150 feet above the crashing waves of the Pacific just up from the Point Reyes Lighthouse. Definitely one Rock Wren who earns his salt, almost daily coping with salt fog and high winds blasting onto his stony home patch.

We had also seen and heard more than one Winter Wren.  Our first was in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, who made himself known by his high-pitched, speedy and scratchy song. Like an audio tape playing way too fast.  It is this species, Troglodytes troglodytes, which is most widely distributed.  This stub-tailed, four-inch spurt of brown feathers, weighing in at less than a third of an ounce, can be seen and heard all across the Northern Hemisphere.  All his fellow Troglodytes genus members are strictly new world birds.  There are eighty wren species, the largest less than nine inches long.  So our paucity of wren species here in temperate climes is overshadowed by the variety and diversity found in the Neotropics.  Of course, the largest North American wren is the big-voiced, lighter plumaged Cactus Wren.  Nearly nine inches long and weighed well over an ounce.  And like most wrens, a big singer not shy about communicating his message in a rapid monologue audible at some distance.

Many wren species are monogamous.  Almost all are drab, wearing cryptic brownish plumage.  Their song may stand out but the bird itself…watch for a dark shadow moving through the brush.  Some are quite bold such as the House, Carolina and Cactus, making their presence both heard and seen.  The wrens are predators, eating mostly invertebrates.  Some like the Marsh Wren will hawk for flying insects.

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