We were at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in central Queens on Sunday afternoon. We being me, Daisy, and Desi, having a grand old time watching Desi play with the remote control car he got for his birthday, the remote control airplane having crashed and been temporarily put out of service on its maiden flight. Desi was running around like crazy chasing the car which he was controlling and finding it hilarious when he managed to crash it into either of his parents’ feet. Then my phone rang.

It was Tom Burke. He was with some other birders at Jacob Riis Park, out on the barrier beaches of Queens, and they were looking at a Henslow’s Sparrow that Patricia Lindsay had found. I thanked him for the call but let him know that though it would be wonderful to see such a rarity for my home borough I didn’t think I would be able to chase it. We chatted for a bit more and then I hung up and returned to the family. Desi was still having a blast and though I really, really, really wanted to see a new bird for me in Queens I couldn’t justify ending the festivities, especially after having spent most of the morning out enjoying New York state’s second Cassin’s Kingbird.

Then Daisy asked me who had called. I told her and explained what about. She asked if I wanted to go see the sparrow. Though Admiral Ackbar’s words were ringing through my head I answered, trepidatiously, “Yes.”

Then, wonder of wonders, Daisy shared with me the idea that Desi could have just as much fun with his car out on the barrier beaches while I sought out my sparrow. Have I ever mentioned what a wonderful, kind, loving, amazing, super, great, and awesome woman Daisy is? Because I think I need to do so.

We stopped back at the apartment to grab my optics and some food and I called Tom to let him know I was on my way. He agreed to stay on the scene keeping tabs on the bird while I made my way to Jacob Riis Park and an appointment with a skulky Ammodramus sparrow.

Let’s take a moment here to understand why I was so psyched to see a Henslow’s Sparrow. First of all, I had never seen one in Queens. So you can understand what with my obsession over my Queens list why I would want to see one in my home borough. Second, I hadn’t seen a Henslow’s Sparrow in over seven years and had only see two previously. Third, they are declining drastically here in the eastern end of the their range because of their reliance on slightly brushy, wet fields, a habitat type that is not as common as it used to be. Fourth, they are an awesome Ammodramus sparrow, a genus of sparrows for which I have grown to have a particular affinity.

We parked at the eastern edge of Fort Tilden and Daisy agreed to keep Desi busy with his car while I headed over to Jacob Riis Park to see the bird. I literally ran part of the way there and arrived to see Tom, Gail Benson, Adrian Burke, and Andrew Baksh not looking at a bird. They were sure it was in one little patch of high weeds and had waited, patiently, to try to see it again until I had arrived. We gradually closed a circle around the patch but the bird had managed to sneak out of it. Henslow’s Sparrows are notoriously skulky and are known to escape on foot, not drawing attention to themselves by taking flight. I took a few steps into the grass and THERE IT IS I FLUSHED IT YES YES YES YES HENSLOW’S SPARROW!

By “flushed it” I mean that it popped up about a foot off of the grass and flew about five feet to land into some more grass and scuttled a bit further before settling back down, content that its camouflage would keep it hidden. And, as you can see from the picture at the top of the post, that mostly worked. We had to work hard to get views of this bird at all and it would often disappear for a bit before someone keyed back in on it by seeing slight movement in the vegetation. This bird was an amazing skulker. The shots below are the best three of the nearly one hundred shots I took.

Henslow's Sparrow

Look at that beautiful white feather edging and that huge bill.

Henslow's Sparrow feature

As you can see, the bird never exposed its entire body at one time.

Henslow's Sparrow eating grass seeds

It did, however, feel comfortable and secure enough to nibble away on grass seeds while we watched.

After too short a time with the bird I thanked my fellow birders and bade them farewell. After all, Daisy and Desi were having far too much fun without me. Once I rejoined them we headed to the beach and collected shells before exploring some of the old abandoned buildings at Fort Tilden. It was a great way to spend the late afternoon hours of an unseasonably warm day.

desi and me

Happy Desi and happy Corey. (Photo by happy Daisy.)

What a weekend!

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Written by Corey
Corey is a New Yorker who lived most of his life in upstate New York but has lived in Queens since 2008. He's only been birding since 2005 but has garnered a respectable life list by birding whenever he wasn't working as a union representative or spending time with his family. He lives in Forest Hills with Daisy, their son, Desmond Shearwater, and their indoor cat, B.B. His bird photographs have appeared on the Today Show, in Birding, Living Bird Magazine, Bird Watcher's Digest, and many other fine publications. He is also the author of the American Birding Association Field Guide to the Birds of New York.