Sunday, November 04, 2007

November Harris's Sparrow

Yesterday I went birding with Sylvia and Dottie at the Pheasant Branch Stream corridor. The skies were clear and it was a little chilly, but the lows are going to get down into the twenties next week with a chance for snow on Tuesday.

As we started down the path, we were greeted by a singing Carolina Wren right at eye-level, now the dominant songster of the corridor. The only warbler was a barely audible flyover call of a Yellow-rumped Warbler. After a few hours of birding, we decided to get "second breakfast" at the Prairie Café in Middleton. At our table, we briefly discussed whether or not to hit the north parcel of Pheasant Branch to look for sparrows. Earlier in the morning I mentioned Harris's Sparrow was still a realistic possibility, but in the end we decided to call it a day and went our separate ways home.

But on my way back, I took Pheasant Branch Road and the fields looked too inviting to pass up, so I pulled into the parking lot and prepared to do some exploring. There were way more American Tree Sparrows present than the last time I was there, and it also seemed like Fox Sparrows must have made a recent move into the edges along the fields. While sifting through the sparrows, I found a Harris's Sparrow just few yards away from me. Unfortunately, I was only packing binoculars so no chance for a photograph. Rather than keep on birding, I remembered how badly Sylvia wanted to see a Harris's Sparrow, so I dashed back to my car to get home to give her and Dottie a call. Dottie wasn't able to return, but Sylvia said she was coming back with Mark Hodgson, another Madison birder we know.

Once back at Pheasant Branch, we made three or four passes along the trail at the spot I had seen the Harris's Sparrow, but no luck. Present were Fox Sparrows, White-crowned Sparrows, White-throated Sparrows, Swamp, Song and American Tree Sparrows all around – even more individual birds than earlier. The sun was beginning to get lower in the west, but I was determined to give it another try – I was confident the Harris's was still present. Sure enough, we found it only moments later. It popped up on an open brush branch in excellent light from a only few yards from us.

Mark said it was only the third Harris's Sparrow he's ever seen and Sylvia said it's been several years for her as well. They were both thrilled as they watched the sparrow give different angled views, looking in different directions and hopping onto another branch. Though this time I had my digiscoping gear along, my tripod was collapsed and on my shoulder strap - I didn't want to make a motion because I figured the sparrow would fly away. Once they finished enjoying the bird, the precise moment I raised my hand up to remove the tripod from my shoulder, the Harris's Sparrow flew off! Yeah, I guess I know these birds pretty well. But the Harris's Sparrow image above was taken near this same location in 2004. Sure, I wouldn't mind having a better one without a branch in the foreground, but not at the expense of someone's enjoyment of a very rare and precious viewing moment – I wanted them to savor the Harris's Sparrow as long as they wished. There will be other opportunities for photographing birds.

Pheasant Branch - 11/04/2007:

Canada Goose
Ring-necked Pheasant
Pied-billed Grebe
Great Blue Heron
Northern Harrier
Cooper's Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
American Coot
Sandhill Crane
Ring-billed Gull
Mourning Dove
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Blue Jay
American Crow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
Red-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
Carolina Wren
Eastern Bluebird
American Robin
Cedar Waxwing
Yellow-rumped Warbler
American Tree Sparrow
Fox Sparrow
Song Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Harris's Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
House Finch
American Goldfinch

Harris's Sparrow © 2007 Mike McDowell

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