I heard this bird before I saw it. My husband and I had just finished our picnic lunch yesterday at the San Joaquin River National Wildlife Refuge and were about to set out on our birding hike. We weren't even out of the parking lot when I spotted a conspicuous bird, perched at the top of a large Coyote Bush (Baccharis pilularis) and singing its heart out: a California Thrasher (Toxostoma redivivum).
These birds are typical of California's chaparral habitat, though they are not often seen in the open as their habit is to forage on the ground beneath shrubs, using their bills to uncover insects in the leaf litter. The California Thrasher is the largest of the thrashers, and is endemic to California and Baja California.
There is nothing particularly striking about this thrasher's appearance, though their bills are certainly distinct. But you will no longer think of them as plain after you've heard them sing! Thrashers are in the family Mimidae, along with the more familiar Northern Mockingbird. This becomes evident upon hearing the song of the thrasher, a long series of phrases that vary greatly between musical and harsh. Listen to the song of the California Thrasher at Cornell's All About Birds.