Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Harris's Sparrow - 14 hours driving for 7 minutes birding ...

So after my lost week post Hurricane Sandy I really needed a year bird.  The Flame-colored Tanager/Streak-backed Oriole debacle didn't work out so well but there was at the same time rumor of  a HARRIS'S SPARROW at a feeder in Canastota near Syracuse.  Problem was that the feeder owner was a non-birder and while she had posted the bird (with a photograph) no-one had been able to contact her to arrange visiting details.

Let me just say that I loathe 'Feeder-Poaching' (what we call chasing rare birds at private feeders).  I feel intensely uncomfortable wandering a private neighborhood with binoculars and a giant camera, peering over a fence or pointing a scope in the direction of someone's house.  I won't do it at all unless I  have permission but even then I avoid doing it as much as I can.

With no permission forthcoming however this sparrow was just not on the cards.  I kept bugging Drew Webber (who lives not to far away) to keep me in the loop with the locals and even sent a Facebook message to the home owner but got no response.  Then, on Sunday night, Drew forwarded a message from a local birder who had made contact with the homeowner - the feeders were in the front of the house, could be seen from the road, and the homeowner didn't object to folks coming to look.  Game on!

That problem solved, the next problem was gas.  There really hasn't been a lot of gasoline available out here with most stations still closed and long lines for the few stations that get deliveries.  Hoping that an early start would help, I left NorthWest Harbor at 4:30am was lucky-enough, with almost no wait, to score $50 of Regular gas in Wainscott.  While the Range Rover probably didn't like the Regular gas, I now had enough at least to get out of the 'no-gas' zone and I was on my way ....

Harris's Sparrow
Nearly seven hours later, the navigation system guided me up to the address and, as I pulled up outside I could see some sparrows under the feeders.  Wrestled my bins out of the bag and ... Junco ... White-crowned Sparrow .... HARRIS'S SPARROW (NYS 2012 #348)!  I quickly grabbed my camera and fired off some record shots - at 50-feet, through the passenger-side car window, with the engine running, thus guaranteeing that they wouldn't be sharp.  Then the birds flushed.

Driving to the end of the road, I turned and came back to the house, positioning myself where I could take pictures from the drivers side and stopped the car.  There was no sign of the sparrow though.  Sitting in the silence, under the watchful eyes of the homeowners giant Tibetan Mastiff, and who knows how many suspicious neighbors, I started to feel really uncomfortable.  Within minutes, I'd convinced myself that my photos would be fine as 'proof' shots and started the car, heading South for another 7 hours drive and the promise of home-cooked Mexican food waiting for me in East Hampton. In total I drove for almost 14 hours and birded for almost exactly 7 minutes.  Not really my favorite type of birding but it was a great bird to add for New York State.

Update:  I heard this week that the Harris's Sparrow was apparently killed by a domestic cat.  Cats have a huge impact on wild bird populations.  Please keep your cat indoors (as we do), it'll live longer, be healthier, and do no harm.

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