Autumn in New England. Just those four little words can evoke so much. I am sure that anybody who has spent any time in the northeast during the season immediately begins to think of Mother Nature’s own fireworks display of color as trees turn various shades of amber and gold, reds, oranges, and yellows, contrasted with the deep blue of a beaver pond reflecting a crisp blue sky, or mixed amongst the greens of any of a variety of evergreens. As birders and naturalists, we always have additional colors added to this spectacular palette that others that who rarely step away from their cars might miss – from the cherry red of a tiny autumnal meadowhawk (dragonfly) to the welcome surprise of an Eastern Comma spreading it’s wings and giving you an unexpected jolt of visual vitamin C. From the avian world, we welcome a wide array of color from the variety of ducks that seem to start appearing on ponds, rivers, and the ocean. Wigeon and teal, Wood Ducks and mergansers all add to the color of fall – but, I will write more on our waterfowl in another post. In this post (and after all this colorful exposition) I am going to write about the color you get when you mix all these together…
Brown. Little brown jobs to be exact. That’s right, the Emberizidae. Sparrows. One of the things I always start thinking about as we head into what I think of as true Autumn (as opposed to what shorebirds and shorebirders think of as autumn – August! Really?!) are the number and variety of sparrows that can be found in New England. Sure we have plenty in spring and summer, and even a few that stick it out through the winter, but it seems that we have the greatest variety in the fall. Local bird clubs are well aware of this and it’s not uncommon for them to have sparrow walks to local farm fields or community gardens where migratory sparrows find plenty of seeds. (I don’t know if it’s just me, but it also seems like sparrows are much more responsive to pishing this time of the year.) It’s the time when we still have some lingering Field and Chipping Sparrows, but with some hard work can also turn up an early Tree or Fox Sparrow.
White-throated Sparrows “seep” and scratch the litter from almost any brushy area, but look closely and every year you’ll turn up a few White-crowned Sparrows too!
Seems like the few Vesper Sparrows I’ve stumbled across in New England also have been fall migrants. And each year we seem to get one or two each of a vagrant Clay-colored Sparrow or Lark Sparrow.
And although Grasshopper, Nelson’s and Saltmarsh Sparrows breed in New England a Ammodramus cousin has made some big news here in the last two years as a LeConte’s Sparrow has been found at some of the better-known “sparrow spots” in Massachusetts. Both birds, although skulky like mice, have been cooperative for many that put in the effort to gain an audience.
Certainly, sparrows are not a local phenomena – I am well aware that there are members of this family all over the US (and in much of Central and South America as well!) – and I am always happy to find (or chase) the local regulars and rarities wherever I travel – Rufous-winged and Five-striped Sparrows in Arizona, Bachman’s Sparrow in Florida, Olive Sparrow in Texas. Now that I think about it, that might be one thing I enjoy about sparrows – that they have represenatives wherever you travel in the US. Some you can see easily, and some you really have to work for – I bet almost every one of you reading this have a “nemesis” sparrow. I certainly do, and am not to proud to say it – mine is Harris’ Sparrow. And the worst thing is, they do occassionally show up in New England, but somehow I’ve never caught up with one.
So, do you have a “nemesis” sparrow? Or how about a favorite one? And why is it your favorite –
because it is rare and hard to see, or because you can count on seeing them at your feeders? Or maybe it’s becuase of their song? (Wow, I never even touched on the voices of the cool little birds – but honestly that is a while blog entry of it’s own!) Maybe it doesn’t even have the word “sparrow” in it’s name. Towhees are pretty cool birds with some brilliant plumage, and yes they are in the sparrow family. Or maybe the wide variety of juncos? (Have you ever seen a Yellow-eyed Junco – they look almost evil – very cool!)
So come on – fill that “share your thoughts” box below with your little brown job story!