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Nature on Trail: Varied Thrush, Douglas Squirrel, Tall Oregon Grape

Posted by Anna Roth at Dec 04, 2013 11:20 AM |

The Northwest forests are teeming with life—many of which may go overlooked or unseen. On your next hike, look out for the little things and discover something new on your favorite trails.

By Tami Asars

Bird: Varied Thrush

If you set out for a forested hike this winter, you may see what you think are American robins. Before you dance a little jig that spring is just around the corner, take a closer look. What you’re seeing is likely a varied thrush.

While similar in size and coloration to the American robin, varied thrush primarily live deep in forest canopies, have an orange band over the eye and a dark horizontal band on their rust-colored chest. Their simple, single note often echoes through the wet understory, and many a hiker has been unknowingly serenaded by one of these small, feathered creatures.

Look for this forest friend year-round on trails throughout the Pacific Northwest.

Beast: Douglas Squirrel

Douglas Squirrel
The Douglas Squirrel. Photo by Tami Asars.
Have you ever been scolded by a squirrel when hiking? If so, the chattering tantrum was most likely the work of a rust-bellied Douglas squirrel upset about you hiking too close to its nest or food supply.

Native to the Northwest, the Douglas squirrel is active year-round and spends its winter sleeping in tree holes and eating stored pinecones. Mating occurs in February and March, and the gestation of four weeks gives way to four to six tiny kits.

Their scurrying feet and noisy vocals are part of what makes our forest come alive and a delight to young and old hikers alike.

Look for Douglas squirrels in old-growth or second-growth coniferous forests throughout the Northwest.

Bloom: Tall Oregon Grape

Tall Oregon Grape
Tall Oregon Grape. Photo by Tami Asars.
Hillsides of it abound! Oregon grape is found in two varieties: one which stays as an evergreen ground cover, and its higher sibling (up to 8 feet, hence the name), the tall Oregon grape.

Found along trailsides in a wide variety of soils, tall Oregon grape is easily identified by its holly-like leaves and its yellow spring flowers.

In early fall, it produces dark blue berries that are irresistible to flitting forest birds, such as rufous-sided towhees, dark eyed juncos, cedar waxwings and woodpeckers.

The berries are a culinary delight for humans as well. Although they’re puckeringly tart directly from the vine, they can be cooked into a jelly with sugar, that’s delightful on warm scones.


This article originally appeared in the Jan+Feb 2013 issue of Washington Trails magazine. Join WTA to get your one-year subscription.