Thrashing for food, fun, conservation

Thrashing for food, fun, conservation
John C. Lorson

Wild blue phlox rises to greet visitors along the Holmes County Trail in a stretch that benefited greatly through the efforts of local Scouts and other conscientious individuals who helped to pick up litter last week in observance of Earth Day.


One day past a crazy late-April snow and the thermometer was doing its darnedest to crawl back up into springtime. It was damp, cold and cloudy as I rolled down to the trail on my ride home from work.

I didn’t expect to see much of anything on that ride, given a slushy snap like that does little more than drive everything underground for a day until the sun shines again. Little did I know I was just about to ride up on an entire flock of notable birds.

I don’t remember the first time I saw a brown thrasher, but I vividly recall the first time I showed one to my wife. I’d called her out from the house when the bird showed up, quite uncharacteristically, in our back yard in the middle of town.

A lover of thicket and hedgerow, the deeper and more tangled the vegetation, the more attractive it becomes to the brown thrasher. And while the bird is a spectacular songster with a repertoire estimated between 1,100 and 2,000 songs, it doesn’t often get the credit it deserves as much of its singing is done deep in that same low, thick habitat — a lot like the “closet virtuosos” among us that sing only behind the acoustically tuned curtain of their own shower.

When Kristin couldn’t spot the bird, I told her to just watch along the neighbor’s chain-link fence where the wind had systematically gathered remaining leaves from the previous fall and created its own spontaneous compost pile. The brown thrasher was fully living up to its name, flamboyantly tossing leaf and twig over one shoulder, then the other foraging for insects, spiders, grubs and the occasional nut or berry.

Once Kristin was aware of his modus operandi, it didn’t take long at all for her to find the bird, and she remarked that the brown thrasher was going to be an easy one to remember because “it looks and behaves exactly as the name implies.”

Even though the brown thrasher is not rare by any standard, a solitary lifestyle and a tendency to skulk undetected through the underbrush keep this bird largely hidden from view, and I’m certain I’ve never seen more than one at a time. Still, the first thought I had as I rolled up on a whole mess of children spread fully across and deep into the rough on both sides of the trail on that recent blustery day was, “Would you look at that — a whole flock of ‘brown thrashers.’”

The youthful assembly was thrashing through the scrub, tossing leaf and stem and having a wonderful time of it. Each carried a repurposed poly grocery bag, and every one of those bags held a bit of the treasure they were collecting — pop bottles, beer cans, candy wrappers, juice boxes and I’m sure even a cast-off mask or two.

There were adults in the mix as well, mostly eyeing the chaos from the center line of the trail with amused yet thoughtful glee. As the wave of “thrashers” moved down the trail, the leaders would occasionally call out to the kids on the periphery to stay within sight (or at least earshot) in their mad dash to make the world a better place.

“Earth Day trail clean-up?” I asked as I coasted through.

“You bet,” one of the adults said. “Cub Scouts, they get the job done.”

I thanked them enthusiastically, then rode on inspired that these young conservationists were making a mighty and visible impact on a resource we all enjoy. Thanks again to the Scouts themselves and an extra shout-out to their leaders who are doing a great job of instilling the ideals of conservation in the next generation — all while making it fun.

Remember, if you have comments on this column or questions about the natural world, write The Rail Trail Naturalist, P.O. Box 170, Fredericksburg, OH 44627, or email

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