Tag Archives: sparrows

Sparrows in Winter


Drive along any back road in winter and you will flush birds up from the sides of the road where they are eating grit.  Most often they are Juncos and Sparrows, but I always stop and look if I can, ever hopeful that there be something else in those mixed flocks.  (I got my life Vesper Sparrow that way in Michigan.)  On my last trip through the snowy countryside, I saw lots of small brown birds but as I crept up to them they would fly just a little further ahead or flush into the weeds.  Finally I was able to ID White-throated, White-crowned, Song, Savannah, and Juncos picking along on both sides of the road.  I truly am fond of Sparrows.


Filed under Local schmocal

The Importance of Sparrows


Commonly called LBJs or Little Brown Jobs, sparrows are notoriously hard to identify. This one is a Savannah Sparrow. Can you see the little bit of yellow by the eye? Classic.

I am fond of sparrows. They are ubiquitous yet overlooked in favor of the brighter, more colorful, more easily identified birds. Many of them have beautiful easy-to-learn songs, like the ol’ sam peabody of the white-throated sparrow or the ping-pong balls of the field sparrow or the distinctive maids, maids, maids, of the song sparrow. I always try to spend time with sparrows.

Let me tell you a sparrow story. I was with my sister at Point Reyes National Seashore in California at the end of September for our birthdays. This was a few years ago. It was cold and windy out on the point. I was standing in a field birding every bird looking for a golden-crowned sparrow, a life bird for me. There were hundreds of sparrows, popping up and down, mostly white-crowned. My sister is a good birder but after way-too-many LBJs, she wandered off to look at a Say’s Phoebe and to ogle the California Quail. Finally a golden-crowned sat on the top branch of a bush, I shouted for her to come see it, but she was on a Black-throated Gray Warbler, also a life bird for me. I abandoned extolling the virtues of the sparrow and dashed over for the warbler. Totally fickle right? Thankfully I have seen many golden-crowned sparrows and savannah sparrows after that in California and Alaska but I have only ever seen the black-throated gray warbler just that once.

Thanks Gale for being bored of LBJs.

But if we hadn’t have been hours in that field sorting out sparrows, we would never have seen the black-throated gray. The morale of the story is–Spend time with sparrows, you never know who is hanging out with them.


Filed under Photos, Travel

Long Wait for the Hoary Redpoll


I was late. I knew it. I had procrastinated. I should have been there by 7 but it was closer to 10. It had taken me an hour to drive north, longer than I had expected. I rationalized that the bird was being seen as late as 10, so I would be fine. I pulled into a parking space beside another car. I looked over to see a man and a woman with their binoculars. Whew. Good. I was OK.

I raised my binoculars to look at the feeders. They were directly in front of the parking spaces; exactly where the email said they would be. There was lots of Goldfinch on the thistle feeders and Juncos on the ground, but no Redpolls that I could see. I scanned the trees on the rise beyond the feeding station. Hmmm, Chickadees, a Nuthatch, Sparrows: both House and White-throats, wait…there was also 1 immature White-Crowned Sparrow.
I looked at every tree, every branch of every tree, even to the twig level. Nothing. I started the search again: thistle feeders, bushes, platform feeder, some sort of cherry tree and back. Around and around.

I settled in for the wait. Scanning here, watching there, A cherry red Cardinal drew my eye to yet another feeder behind the house. I added that to my rounds.

I waited. And watched.

A Yellow-bellied Sapsucker made a brief appearnace to nosh on some of the cherries.

Another car pulled up beside mine and the man whipped out his bins. We were now 5 people intent on 3 thistle feeders. We waited an hour each in our own car. The original car started it engine, the man rolled down his window to say that they had seen the birds at 9:45. But they had been scared off and had not return.

They pulled away.

I waited.

The man on the other side of me pulled out too.

I waited.

The owner of the house came out to say they should be back at any time.

Another car pulled up and waited for awhile. Then they left.

I looked at my watch. At 11:30 I decided I would stay until Noon. My stomach growled.

On yet another round, from thistle feeder to tree, I saw a Redpoll backlit against the sky. I could just make out the red poll. I frantically searched for more. I was looking for a small flock of 3 or 4.

First one bird, then 4, materialized and dove from the tree to the feeders. Bingo. Redpolls. I carefully scrutinized each one. I was looking one for that was frostier than the others. Two of them were very dark. Three others were much lighter. I looked at each bird carefully. Then there, directly in front of me was a very white bird. It raised its head as it nibbled seed. I had an excellent view of its head, rump, undertail. White, white, white.

Wahoo. My first Hoary Redpoll.

I sat all alone in the parking lot. The 2-hour wait had paid off. The birds would scatter then return several times. When another car pulled up the birds flew off but did not return. I started my vehicle. My wait was over, let theirs begin.


Filed under Local schmocal