Sunday, January 9, 2011

A Time For Sparrows

This time of year many people consider the dead of winter.  Even so, there is plenty of birding to be done right now.  This is the time for sparrows.  Chipping Sparrows are feasting on the spillage under my front feeder even as I compose this post.  On last Saturday’s field trip conducted by my local Audubon Society in Bastrop County five species of sparrows were sighted.  They were, most numerous to least, Field, Lincoln’s, Savannah, Vesper, and Chipping.
The above picture of a beautiful pair of White Crowned Sparrows was taken by Bill Ravenscroft in McLennan County.

Sparrows, as a group, are some of the most difficult to master. I have struggled many years trying to learn these species and only now begin to think I might master them. Having studied on my own and in classes devoted exclusively to sparrows I believe that classes well presented by good birders are the way to go.

If one believes that all sparrows are small brown bodied birds with streaked backs and conical bills, then one will be forever frustrated. Yet, with persistence one can learn and recognize subtle differences. For example, Vespers have a chestnut patch on its shoulder, Song Sparrows have a big dark spot on its chest, Savannahs have yellow lores, and Lincolns' have a clear demarcation where the streaking on the breast gives way to a whitish belly.

Still, there are many sparrows that are easily recognized by substantive patterns. The White Crowns pictured above are but one example. Harris Sparrows have a black forehead that bleeds down its throat and nestle in all that is a very pink bill. Chipping Sparrows have a red-rufous cap with a white streak above the eye and a black streak through it. Then there’s my favorite, the Lark sparrow, with a face no one could mistake.

Well, my advice is to grab your good binoculars and get with your buddies and get into the field. Happy Birding—even in the dead of winter!

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