A Sparrow Tree

The Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) was this past weekend. According to the site’s webpage it was “Launched in 1998 by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society, the Great Backyard Bird Count was the first online citizen-science project to collect data on wild birds and to display results in near real-time.”

To me the timing of the GBBC makes more sense than the Christmas Bird Counts (CBC) for getting a snapshot of birds that actually over winter in the US. The CBC usually has birds that are still hanging around before the hard freezes of January. If they are here in mid-February they probably were here all winter. And besides American Woodcocks not many migrants have headed back.

The Spring Big May Day makes sense to record the birds in middle of spring migration. But I wonder why there isn’t a count around July 4 to catch the summer birds that are actually here in the dead of summer? And a count around September 15 for Fall migration? But I bet eventually Cornell will come up with something in those time periods.

With hunting season more or less finally done (is it really ever done?) and seeing that I don’t have a back yard to watch anyway, I headed out Saturday to check a couple of spots at Atterbury FWA. These spots usually have a little running water to feed ponds and in past winters there have been snipe in the wet grass. Plus an unusually large number of towhees.

So in the negative wind-chill temperatures I headed out. Just to give an idea how cold it was I wore my coveralls for the first time this year, maybe in the last 2 years. And it was cold.

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One of those deceiving days that look nice but are cold. Atterbury FWA 2/13/16

I bushwhacked my way back about halfway to the first site and had to turn around. I had seen one truck and heard one dog when I arrived. And of course the guy was running his dog right where I wanted to go.  How many times has that happened? The only other person is located right where you want to go!

But the next spot was deserted.  No cars, people, or dogs.  The walk back was brutal into the northwest wind. Right about then I was thinking backyard watching sounded good. But it was a beautiful day so I kept walking.

The area I was heading is where a little natural stream feeds a pond. (The DNR call it a lake) There are numerous cattails on the water’s edge and thickets around the pond. And one little tree. Walking up I could hear towhees calling so I knew there were birds. I stopped short of the thickets and gave a pish. A couple of birds jumped up.

Another couple of pishes and all sorts of birds jumped up. Mostly sparrows.

The birds sat near the top of the bushes. Just high enough to see what was making the noise but low enough to keep out of the wind. And not be photograph-able. But the American Tree Sparrows would go right up to the top of the small tree. Coming from the north this must have felt like spring to them.

A couple more pishes and the tree/thickets were loaded – American Tree Sparrows, Song Sparrows, White-crowned Sparrows, White-throated Sparrows, and Eastern Towhees. And nearby hanging on the top of the cattails were Swamp Sparrows. All that was missing for a great party were Dark-eyed Juncos and a long shot Fox Sparrow.

A Sparrow Tree.

And thinking back I can’t think of anytime in my birding years that I have had this many sparrows in one spot at one time.

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This is what I could see over the top of the thicket. You can barely spot the sparrows. Atterbury FWA 2/13/16
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To the best of my memory this is where the sparrows were located. I was too busy trying to get a look at each one in case there was a rare towhee mixed in. And there were many more coming and going than seen in the photo. Atterbury FWA 2/13/16
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As I stated in the text, coming from the north I don’t think the cold wind bothered the American Tree Sparrows like the other sparrows. Atterbury FWA 2/13/16

Plus coming to join the fun were numerous Northern Cardinals and American Goldfinches.

So as always when it’s cold it pays to head to an area of open water. And this was much better than backyard watching.

What has been your best sparrow encounter?

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On the way out I spotted three Ring-necked Pheasants eating in the corn stubble. Atterbury FWA 2/13/16

2 Replies to “A Sparrow Tree”

  1. Sparrows, the frequent saviors of winter birding! My best sparrow moment would be at Eagle Creek in Indy during my first year as a true birder. I had American Tree, Song, White-throated, Juncos, and Fox Sparrows all in view at once and my head was about to explode.

    1. Plus when you are just starting out they all look pretty much the same which can just add to the fun! Or in your case lead to a medical emergency.

      And what drives me nuts is when it isn’t cold enough to make them sit put and they keep moving around. I’ll swear I see an uncommon sparrow every time because all I get is a glimpse. But if I wait long enough it doesn’t pan out.

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