Sunday, November 23, 2008

3 Sparrow Pictures

I'm continuing to enjoy the variety of native sparrows that have returned to our neighborhood for the winter. This morning I found 9 species of sparrows (and a total of 45 species of birds) on the Lake Creek Trail starting at the parking lot at the end of Braes Valley and ending up at the patch of marsh near the Parmer Lane bridge. I even got 3 decent pictures. This first one is a Dark-eyed Junco on the ground near the end of Holbrook St. There were 4 juncos, 2 Field Sparrows, and 1 Lincoln's Sparrow foraging in this small area. Juncos are 1 of 3 kinds of sparrows around here with bright white outer tail feathers. If you flush a small bird and you see white outer tail feathers as it's flying away from you, it's probably either a Dark-eyed Junco, a Lark Sparrow, or a Vesper Sparrow. And the dark body and head of the junco make it easy to distinguish once you get a better look.

Near the footbridge at the entrance to the T&C playing fields I ran into a couple White-Crowned Sparrows and White-throated Sparrows which look very similar. I got this picture of one of the White-throated Sparrows. Notice the black and white stripes on the head, which are similar to the White-crowned. But also see how the throat is very white and distinct. And the lore (the area between the eye and the bill) is yellow.

At the end of the Lake Creek Trail near the Parmer Lane bridge (and the lift station) there is a patch of marsh where in 2007 I discovered a few wintering Swamp Sparrows and Marsh Wrens. This season I have not seen a Marsh Wren there yet but this morning reeds seemed full of Swamp Sparrows and Song Sparrows. And I finally got a couple decent pictures of a Swamp Sparrow. Here's one of them. See how gray it is overall, with a white throat (but not as white or distinct as the White-throated Sparrow). And the breast is just faintly streaky.

Sparrows are a hard group of birds to learn. It's hard to get a good look at one and the differences between the species are subtle. But our neighborhood provides a great opportunity to start learning these birds. And once you start, you realize how subtly beautiful our native sparrows are, and it's hard to stop!

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