I haven't always appreciated sparrows. The more colorful birds tend to get more attention and to be more eagerly sought and more easily identified. When I'm doing a very serious big year, sparrows are often more problematic to find than the other birds that I “need” because of their cryptic coloration and often sneaky habits.
One nice thing that I've found about a county big year is that it makes me look for every possible bird species, including sparrows, but there is more time than in a state or ABA big year to actually look at all the birds.
Right now the sparrows are finally, I think belatedly, arriving in Pennington County. Just as in Texas it seems that the western part of the state is always behind the eastern part of the state. I've been hearing for way too long about all the "east-river" migrant sparrows. A few of them had trickled into west-river last week, when I found two Lark Sparrows east of Rapid City, and then when I returned home, there was one in the yard along with the Chipping Sparrows that had replaced the wintering American Tree Sparrows. I was delighted to find that today (May 6) was a very nice sparrow day in Pennington County, with newly arrived sparrows popping up along my county wanderings.
It started at our weekly Canyon Lake survey when we had our first Clay-colored Sparrow joining a small group of White-crowned Sparrows that have only been around a week or so. The Clay-colored Sparrow was a bit shy and we were not certain of its identity until it began buzzing from the brush where it had disappeared. This evening two Clay-colored Sparrows also joined the five White-crowned Sparrows in our yard.
After the Canyon Lake survey, I drove east to Wall by way of a long stretch of gravel roads. My main goal, as had been the case for days, was to get my first Upland Sandpiper, which I did. There were two of them talking to each other after their long journey.
Shortly after the Upland Sandpipers, there was a muddy puddle beneath a bridge that had attracted more White-crowned Sparrows and two other sparrows that at first would not let me get near them. So I stood at the edge of the road and waited and scanned the grassy fields nearby. Eventually the sparrows returned. They were oh so drab. At first I was thinking "Brewer's Sparrow" but they were just too plain. Finally I could see pink beaks and white eye rings and a smudgy rusty crown -- two Field Sparrows, new for the year.
I'm still hoping for Harris's (Fort Worth Audubon's logo bird), and possibly Swamp and Brewer's Sparrows, and Lark Bunting. Of courses, there are also many colorful birds that should arrive soon. It's so much fun looking and finding!
For those who are interested, following is an UPDATE on my big year: as of the end of May 6th, I have seen 150 species in Pennington County (see http://www.lynnbarber.com/id92.html for information on birds seen so far). I'm still a ways from 200 species (about which quite a number of you made guesses as to when the 200th bird would be added to my list), but right now things are moving along at a nice clip. This coming weekend is the West River Migration Count and I've been assigned some great areas in the portion of the Black Hills that is in Pennington County. Great possibilities coming up... Stay tuned!