Sunday, October 08, 2006

A Brief Look at a Harris's Sparrow

I arrived for my volunteer day at Sandy Hook today a bit early, so I stopped to do some quick birding. I was pleased to see a group of friends also had the same idea in the same parking lot. It turns out that they were there to see a reported Harris's Sparrow - a rare vagrant to NJ. The sparrow, a first winter bird, had been seen and identified by my friend Scott, but had disappeared into the trees. The area where it was found is dominated by cedars, bayberry, and groundsel and there's a LOT of it! In the 15 minutes I had, we were unable to relocate the sparrow. I went and did my volunteering at the book store. The bird had not been refound by the time I finished volunteering at 3:00. On my way home, I stopped back at the spot where it had been seen along with my friends. We ran into some other birders who had just seen the bird! We scoured the area with little luck. Twenty minutes into the search, a cry from the other side of a large cedar alerted us that the bird had been found. I ran over and was granted a brief glimpse at the pinkish bill of this skulking bird! I got another brief view of it as it leapt into a bush. It's a big sparrow! The group searched and searched in hopes to get better looks. We found the bird again several times, but it never blessed us with the crippling view we all desired. I had some evening plans, so I headed home without adding a firm sighting to my life list.

So how did this bird get to Sandy Hook??? WHO KNOWS!? The bird was obviously lost. Harris's Sparrows are named for Edward Harris, a friend of Audubon (not to be confused with one of my favorite actors). They breed in north-central Canada and they winter in the cental US in states like Nebraska and Oklahoma. Rarely, they venture to the east during migration. This is the 9th record for NJ and the first for Sandy Hook. I'm not sure if the bird was seen again after I left, but there's a chance it might stick around. A Harris's Sparrow hung around a Pennsylvania feeder for quite a while a few winters ago. Let's hope this one sticks around!

Image credit: December 2004 © Peter LaTourrette


Mike said...

Congrats on the sighting. I just read about the errant sparrow on the NY Birding List and immediately checked here to confirm that you caught it.

BTW, I also read your letter in WildBird. If you don't win Birder of the Year, it will be a travesty!

LauraHinNJ said...

A brief look is better than none!

Patrick Belardo said...


That wouldn't be a bad thing to win!


You're right, it is better than none! It was a frustrating experience though. I'm surprised I haven't heard any reports from yesterday.