Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Native American Sparrows

Lincoln's Sparrow

During the past several nights while most of us were snoozing, visitors from far away places have been arriving in our midst - our country's native sparrow species. They've arrived in our backyards, fields and forests, but most of them will only stay for a short while. Here they might spend a few days to rest and fatten themselves up for the next leg of their incredible journey south. But don't confuse these particular sparrows with the exotic House Sparrow transported by us from Europe, no - these are veritable Native American birds and to my eye they are a national treasure to behold.

White-crowned Sparrow

Their journey began from places we've all heard of, like Barrow Alaska, Manitoba and Yukon. Others originated from stranger sounding places such as Tuktut Nogait, La Ronge, Atikaki and Athabasca. Just imagine - some of the birds pictured here may have traveled from as far as north of the Arctic Circle. And just where are they going? The majority of them will spend winter in the southern part of the United States, but many will venture further into Mexico and perhaps even Central America. I consider it a privilege to be graced with their presence for several days each fall season, observing and recording their splendid natural beauty.

White-throated Sparrow

Just a few miles south of Waunakee, there's a unique combination of habitat at Pheasant Branch Conservancy that hosts these sparrows well. It has the precise elements they seek - an edge overlooking a field, shrubby thicket to hide in, tall perches to check for danger, fresh water from a natural spring and plenty of seeds, berries and insects to munch on - a life-saving oasis for an exhausted migrant sparrow.

Harris's Sparrow

I seek these feathered beings each fall - it's sort of like looking in on old friends. I know their habits, habitats, songs and calls - and I know where they'll be. For my part, all I have to do is be present to enjoy the show - it's free and open to the public.Though they sometimes appear to notice me, their lone spectator, mostly they go on about their business of foraging and chasing one another around. In rare cases, I've even witnessed them depart in the evening en masse - a grand exodus for the next leg of migration.

Fox Sparrow

Watching and listening, I cannot help but feel a powerful connection to nature we all can share and enjoy. To see that they are still here is personally reassuring and comforting to me in some way - perhaps things aren't so screwed up for them. Maybe they have a chance at their winter homes, though I know for many thousands of them that this will be their final trip south. Sadder still, this coming spring some of them will travel thousands of miles north only to discover that their stop-over points and summer homes have vanished.

Enjoy our native sparrows - they deserve our protection.

All images © 2006 Mike McDowell

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