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Sparrows and more Sparrows

June 19, 2011

Sparrow Enthusiasts! I learned yesterday that not only does North Dakota boast a fabulous creative nonfiction writer whom I just recently discovered (see previous post) when I read The Horizontal World, but the state is also one of the best places to see sparrows! North Dakota is home to at least 20 species of sparrows, and has a wide range of both streaked and unstreaked variety. So, if sparrows are your persuasion, North Dakota is your destination!

I am neither a sparrow enthusiast nor a sparrow connoisseur for that matter, but after yesterday’s birding trip to Forks of the Credit (alas, a park near Toronto, and nowhere near ND), I’ve become slightly curious about sparrows, which is saying a lot because before yesterday, I was decidedly UN-curious about the bird. The problem with sparrows is that they all look the same. And I’m not even kidding. Little tan-colored, brown streaked, sometimes rusty-hued flying wonders. Sparrows are the kind of bird I can’t even distinguish in the field guide, let alone out in nature.

Here’s my list of sparrows from yesterday: Clay colored sparrow (Spizella pallida), Song sparrow (Melospiza melodia), Swamp sparrow (Melospiza georgiana), Grasshopper sparrow (Ammodramus savannarum), Field Sparrow (Spizella pusilla), Savannah sparrow (Passerculus sandwichensis), House sparrow (Passer domesticus), Chipping sparrow (Spizella passerina), and I’m sure there were some other sparrows I can’t remember. I might as well have been in North Dakota! My favorite was the Grasshopper sparrow, chiefly because the bird sounds remarkably like a grasshopper and has a charming buzz. Here he is, singing away:

Thankfully, there were other birds to revive me from my sparrow-induced stupor. I marveled at the Bobolinks and finally got a great look at an Eastern Meadowlark (Sturnella magna) that was hanging out on a fence post and standing still for what seemed like an eternity in bird-time. I had a chance to appreciate the meadowlark’s bright yellow coloring. Later in the morning I even spotted it high up in a tree — not much of a sighting, but I felt particularly birdy when I identified it, since it was my first correct ID in months.

The piece de resistance, birdwise, was an Indigo Bunting (Passerina cyanea) perched high up in a dead tree on the edge of a country road near Palgrave. It was a perfect sighting: the bluest bird you could possibly imagine, brilliant burning blue against the morning sky, sitting there alone, contemplating. I declared the day sublime (in spite of the sparrows) and it wasn’t even 10 am!

Shortly after my brush with the sublime, we were nearly trampled by an equestrian club of about 20 decked-out riders atop their handsome horses. We stepped aside on the trail and then took the rode less traveled to avoid the scents they left behind, equine and otherwise. Other highlights included some astonishing, deep-voiced frog sightings. One of them sounded like notes plucked on a bass guitar and would have been an asset to any rock band. But this is hardly the proper forum for Frog-based discussions.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. June 20, 2011 12:35 pm

    Sparrows are t h e b e s t . Dakota has lots and lots, among them Baird’s, Le Conte’s, and Nelson’s–three of the prettiest. There’s nothing like starting the day with trilling Baird’s Sparrows and jangling Sprague’s Pipits.
    The guitar-voiced frog is Green Frog, a wonderful animal.

  2. June 20, 2011 1:48 pm

    Glad to see you identified the frog correctly! I kept things opaque thinking that someone would surely be able to ID the frog 🙂 Sparrows are a *massive challenge*, let’s just put it that way. makes me realize why people need to learn to bird by ear!

  3. June 23, 2011 8:57 am

    This should be a useful reference in your sparrow quest: http://press.princeton.edu/titles/7446.html

  4. June 23, 2011 8:05 pm

    No, that photographic guide is of only slender help. You want the earlier volume: http://www.amazon.com/Identification-Natural-History-Sparrows-United/dp/0125889712/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1308873865&sr=8-3 . Much better.

  5. June 24, 2011 2:32 pm

    Why not get both? Either way (or both) I know that Jim would be very happy! At this “stage” of Julia’s birding career, the photographic guide is less overwhelming and more fieldworthy. Once she is “ready” to become a sparrow expert (or at least sparrow aficionado), both books will be valuable anchor references on her shelf.

  6. July 6, 2011 6:06 pm

    Wow! These are amazing comments! I know I’m really making headway in avian circles when two fine and respected birders are weighing in on my “birding career”! Thanks! (I was away in the UK and Iceland, hence the tardy reply. I’m sure I saw sparrows of one persuasion of another, but I was much more focused on the Puffins!)

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