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Thursday, January 5, 2012

I Catch Sight of a Small Seasonal Resident


Near-sighted eyes are not ideal bird-watching equipment, and even with the best of field guides identification can be difficult, owing to the plain fact that birds generally do not hold still for long.  (Trees and wildflowers are so much more cooperative!) Here is where a digital camera doubles as binoculars and recording device: Having spotted a bird too faraway or high up to see clearly, I zoom in as close as possible and click the shutter, after which I can zoom again onscreen to note markings at my leisure, there in the field and later, at home with my field guides.

That invisible bird near the barn in the morning? Having caught him on camera in the afternoon, over by the edge of the woods, I am at last able to identify the Eastern Tree Sparrow, Spizella arborea arborea (nice name!), otherwise known as the “winter chippy” (cute nickname!). Roger Tory Peterson leaves no doubt in my mind: “The single round black spot or ‘stickpin’ in the center of the breast, and the bright red-brown cap are the only marks necessary to identify the ‘Winter Chippy.’” Peterson makes it sound so easy, and so it is with a good, long look at the little bird. He gives its note as “a distinct tseet,” which is how I link the invisible bird by the barn to the visible bird my camera found in the brush between orchard and woods.

I tell a birding friend about my success, prefacing my story by saying that it won’t be a very exciting bird to him who has seen so many, on various continents, in his lifetime. He laughed. “They’re all exciting to me,” he admitted.

It got better. He hadn’t seen any tree sparrows yet this winter and had been concerned over their late arrival, so what I told him about seeing the tree sparrow he took as "good news." These birds breed and summer up in Canada and come down to our area in winter, staying until spring returns.

Can you see my new little friend?
I'm happy to think that my little friend will be around all winter. I look forward to seeing more of him.

7 comments:

Dawn said...

Is that what those are? I'll watch for them here, I've seen something with that reddish cap I think...but haven't noticed the spot on his chest. My mother gave me some software years ago with Peterson's bird identifying information. I wonder where that is?

Gerry said...

You have to like a birder who says "they're all exciting to me." I'll bet you understand the bird call descriptions in the guides.

P. J. Grath said...

Dawn, the chipping sparrow has a similar crown but no 'stickpin' on the chest. Chipping sparrow is here in summer, tree sparrow in winter. Maybe chipping sparrow is the summer chippy?

Gerry, the bird call descriptions only make sense to me when I hear the call. Some newer guides have DVD tucked into the back, and somewhere I have some old cassette tapes, too--once, many years ago, I checked a LP album of bird calls out of the library--but hearing the bird makes the written translation come alive. I can identify at least four birds by their calls--long way to go!

BB-Idaho said...

My Mrs. operates a bird feeder on the back deck; winter visitors are
limited to junco, sparrow varieties, rosy finches, and a few mourning doves. About once a week
a pigeon hawk, sometimes called a 'merlin' visits. (I tell her
she IS feeding the birds). A couple Christmases back, my son-in-law, the one with a trenchant fondness of electrical gizmos, recieved a bird book with electronic 'calls'. We were interested as he pressed various
bird buttons....when out on the porch there 'arose such a peeping'.
About twenty rosy finches showed up
to see who the heck was in the house. :)

P. J. Grath said...

That's a danger with those electronic bird recordings people can carry around now. They can really confuse the birds.

Our birder friend has many feeders on his deck and great views of them from living room and dining area. In our old farmhouse, the room we use most in winter has no exterior walls, so--no windows to the outside! Also, I know that if once I started feeding birds in winter, I would be obliged to continue, and that's a bigger commitment than I want to make, although I would see many more birds that way.

Kathy said...

How lucky you were to see the little fella! I am glad to learn more about this bird.

P. J. Grath said...

My little sparrow took on greater significance when I learned I'd made the winter sighting before our expert birder friend.