Friday, December 9, 2011

Lovely Birds Low to the Ground

I saw my first ever Lark Sparrow Wednesday evening outside of work. It was hoping against hope, but there he was the very next morning, out feeding in the frost not two feet away from where I first saw him the day before. Of course,  I could hardly observe him with all of the morning traffic, all of the kids and parents trudging along to and from the school, and the steady stream of cars that would've slowly driven right by me.

With a bit of extended good fortune though the Sparrow returned to his feeding grounds in the afternoon. I left the classroom a bit early (still after school was over) to check it out, and once again the Lark Sparrow was faithfully in place. The sun was still high in the sky, and Larry Butler Sr. also came by to see the bird. It was now the first and only Lark Sparrow for both of us, and it gave us some great looks! It flew back and forth between several spots, and even with the interruptions and curious waves and honks from departing students and colleagues, he was extremely tolerant...

even when looking into the sun. It's such a beautiful bird! I just can't stop gushing about the facial mask; it's like nothing I'd seen before. Just looking at the profile here, there are four black stripes, four white stripes, two chestnut patches, and caramel on the supercilium all converging towards the sturdy beak. When you throw in the white throat and breast spot, this bird has a lot going on from the chest up.

There's an extra fluff of white on the lores, and even a bit of black accenting the brown stripes on top of the head.  Tall and proud, he is a lord of the Sparrows.

Eventually the Lark Sparrow flew into an ally on the other side of the street. While I stationed myself along the wall, Pops entered into the ally to try and relocate the Lark Sparrow. The alley was occupied by some noisy White-Crowned Sparrows, and for a little while we lost track of our quarry amidst their diversions. Like any ornery son and birder, I decided to then photograph Mr. Butler in birding mode.  

Urban birds always hang out in the most lovely places.

Eventually the Lark Sparrow resurfaced and resumed his evening meal. With the traffic diminished now, he was very comfortable, and let me crawl to within 5 or 6 feet of him without flinching.

Most of the grass on the school field has been replaced with that silly winter lawn stuff, but the exterior strip of grass outside the fence is still the old bermuda, and he seemed to be finding plenty of seed.

I've got to say, if I had seen this bird behaving so tamely and not had my camera, it would have been pretty heartbreaking--that's just part of the risk a birder runs when they start involving a camera in their birding activities. However, with the benefit of pictures really allowing me to save and review the experience, this sighting was all the more special. There are so many more things to notice and enjoy with a still shot that I can't appreciate through the binoculars. There are those occasional bitter sweet experiences where blurry pictures leave a bit of a dark cloud hanging over an otherwise great sighting, but all in all photography has made me a much better, more acute, and more appreciative birder.

Although the Lark Sparrow provided plenty of photographic merriment, he was not the only pretty bird on the block. There was a charming Say's Phoebe perched in a nearby olive tree, and Pops pointed out a Lesser Goldfinch also feeding on the ground. This little birding patch must have been the local single's bar for the bird neighborhood.

We'd never seen a goldfinch feed on the ground like this. He just plopped down on top of a dandelion blossom and started digging in like a pie-eating contest. It was pretty cute.

I don't know if he was making romantic wishes or just playing with his food, but either way he seemed to be enjoying himself immensely.

I really liked how he was just melting into the grass. He looked like a a little hacky-sac or perhaps a wimple of dirty butter?