Thursday, 25 October 2012

Rare Sparrow Makes The List

I've been finding it pretty tough going lately, birding wise. I've been squeezing in visits to Clover Point, Government House and Langford Lake before work, during my lunch breaks, and again after work for the past couple of weeks in the hope of finding something interesting. Of course, the autumnal movements of commoner species are interesting, but I'm really talking more about scarce migrants and the like. But alas, I've been left mostly disappointed. That however, doesn't dampen my enthusiasm (Jenny seemingly thinks it's more of an obsession, but I don't think we need to get into semantics here…)

American coot arrived back at Langford Lake this week
Anyhoo, my own paltry finds of late have included the occasional white-throated sparrow (these normally scarce birds appear to be atypically numerous this fall), at least 3 canvasback, female ruddy duck, Wilson's snipe and lingering osprey at Langford Lake plus the noting of the arrival and movements of many common autumn / winter migrants.

Harris's sparrow (pic by Daniel Arndt) 
The big news broke on Saturday when Steven Roias found a 1st year Harris's sparrow at Panama Flats. This species is a real rarity in the west, and a bird that I've long wanted to see. Unfortunately I wasn't able to get out until Monday, but thankfully the bird stuck around. My befuddled brain sadly caused me to go to the wrong area of the Flats in the morning, though I was rewarded with the sight of 3 white-throated sparrows
Having figured out my error, I returned after work, and soon discovered a sizeable flock of mixed sparrows and within a couple of minutes I was enjoying superb views of the rare vagrant as it sat out on the edge of a nearby hawthorn. The large distinctive sparrow continued to perform well, despite the drizzle and fading light. I headed home delighted! Not only was this a lifer, but it was also a really smart looking bird. Nice!
Other species in the vicinity included another couple of white-throated (1 tan-striped and 1 white-striped) sparrows, Lincoln's sparrow, song sparrow, fox sparrow and dark-eyed junco.
Determined to get even a crappy record shot, I returned the following evening but the sparrows were far less concentrated and active. The Harris's eventually showed up but only after 6pm, and the light was pretty terrible. 
Not to be put off, I returned again this morning. It was still pretty dark when I arrived around 7.40am and there was very little going on in sparrowville. 

Early morning at Panama Flats
I took a few moments to scan the flats and soon picked up a short-eared owl hunting low over the area. 
Scanning through the wildfowl it was the expected mix of mallard, gadwall, shoveler, green-winged teal, pintail and American wigeon plus Canada geese, cackling geese and a single greater white-fronted goose
A red-tailed hawk was sat up in a tree while a Cooper's hawk patrolled the Flats.

I always like to keep up to date with the Brit birding scene, and I am especially keen on what's going on in my old local area. I regularly check the Aldcliffe and Heysham Observatory blogs, plus the Lancaster & District Birdwatching Society website for details of movements and arrivals of birds. 
I have been particularly interested in the recent discovery of a lesser yellowlegs on my old patch at Aldcliffe. This species, while one of the commonest 'rare' nearctic shorebirds that occurs in the UK with individuals showing up annually, is still a good bird to find in Lancashire and so many local birders have been flocking to see this 'yank wader' on home turf. 
Reading this exciting news from here in Canada however, I'm amused by the fact that any one of the supporting cast of birds associating with the yellowlegs (including green and wood sandpipers, ruff, black-tailed godwit and redshank) would solicit a significant twitch on this side of the pond. 
Just goes to show, one birder's redwing is another birder's American robin.  

Photo of Harris's sparrow taken in Calgary, from Daniel Arndt's Flickr page.

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