I saw a Varied Thrush today. I think. I got to look at it for a nanosecond as my car rushed by, loaded with kids and dogs headed for work and school and daycare (where were the dogs headed? With me of course.) It was a darkish bird by the side of the road, but as we passed I saw it land on a tree branch and I distinctly remember seeing dull orange on the wings. I have seen enough of Robin and Roger's varied thrush pictures to make that click as a possibility in my mind. There is not another bird around here this time of year that would have that coloration. By the time I slammed on the brakes and skidded to a stop in the inch of packed snow on the road and backed up, it was gone. My kids, by the way, now are convinced I'm a wild and crazy birder. But they've seen it before. We made a stop for a suspected (and confirmed, in my mind) juvenile Golden eagle a few days ago.
Varied thrushes are a rare visitor in Minnesota, mostly hanging out on the West Coast at Robin and Roger's. But I have been following the birding listservs, and there are a few reports of errant Varied thrushes as close as sixty miles away. Stranger things have happened. There was a Painted bunting, a beautiful Florida/Texas native, at a bird feeder three miles from here a couple years ago. I have a copy of the video to prove it.
After doing daycare and school dropoffs, I was treated to the sight of a flock of several hundred snow buntings on a roadside. They scattered and flew up and drifted just like snowflakes. They are the snow; I don't think they were named just for their white color.
On the way away from work, which I left early to see Calvin's school Christmas program (yes, we're very un-PC around here, they even sang Christmas carols, and no one complained) I observed a hawk hovering and soaring above a patch of open grassland. On a whim, I pulled over to watch it; this was the same behavior I have seen over my swamp several times. I fumbled for my binoculars and found them in time to identify a Rough-legged hawk, our wonderful winter resident from far north. Their hovering, soaring flight is really a beauty to behold.
So many of my bird observations, it seems, happen from my car. Luckily the roads I drive are mostly lightly-traveled enough to allow me this pleasure.