Late in the afternoon on January 1, I received an email that Rich Rehrig had discovered a Harris's Sparrow not far from my house. This rarity is a large sparrow species that is usually found in the central portion of the continent, although vagrants are encountered with some frequency in the eastern states. However, I had never had the opportunity to see a Harris's Sparrow, so my mom and I headed to the location to search for the bird.
At the location where the bird was found, we scoured the brush in search of an unusual sparrow. Unfortunately, we only found a number of common sparrow species, including Song, White-throated, and American Tree. Before long, the sky began to get darker, so we headed home without having found the bird.
This morning, I decided to head out to the sparrow spot around sunrise to search for the bird when it would be more active than late in the afternoon. When I arrived, I noticed a few White-throated Sparrows and two Dark-eyed Juncos sitting on the tallest autumn olive shrub, but the Harris's was nowhere to be seen. I walked up the road a bit, where I heard a Red Crossbill flying overhead. I never saw it, but I was able to hear the distinctive flight calls for about thirty seconds as the bird flew west over the nearby woods.
Not long after the crossbill, local birders Dave Hawk and Dustin Welch appeared on the scene with similar hopes of finding the rare sparrow. After a while of birdlessness, Dave had to leave, but Dustin and I decided to stick around for a bit longer. Around 9:15, a sparrow flew across the road with incredible speed and promptly disappeared into the densest brush. Dustin jokingly said, "There it was!" Then, the concealed bird started chipping with a call note unfamiliar to both me and Dustin. Dustin tried "pishing" to lure the bird into the open. Sure enough, the bird showed itself after a bit of coaxing. It was the Harris's! Although the view through the brambles was less than excellent, it was no doubt that we were looking at a bird that I never seen before other than in field guides and photographs!
The bird flew through the brush a little, even popping into the open for a few seconds before flying down the hill and completely out of sight. Nevertheless, we had seen the bird!
After finding the Harris's Sparrow, I returned home where the redpolls were again visiting the bird feeders! With better lighting than the day before, these cute little finches allowed for some great photos!
A little while after returning home, my mom decided she too wanted to see the unusual sparrow. We hopped in the car and headed back to the spot. As we pulled up, we saw the Harris's Sparrow sitting under a large autumn olive with a small group of juncos.
We watched as the sparrow occasionally ran out from the cover to grab a seed, then returned to the safety of the bushes. When it did come into the open, it gave us great views unlike the ones I had earlier in the morning!
Excited from seeing this rarity, we decided to head to the Nazareth Quarry where a pair of Eared Grebes, another uncommon species in this area, had taken up residence since at least the 13th of December, when Billy Weber found them. When we arrived at the quarry, we looked down and saw thousands and thousands of Snow Geese on the water.
The sound of so many geese honking was incredible! Scanning through the geese, we spotted several other waterfowl species including Green-winged Teal, Ruddy Duck, Ring-necked Duck, and a single Cackling Goose. Finally, I spotted a lone Eared Grebe on the quarry while scanning through the spotting scope. My mom and I both got looks at the bird before it swam out of sight. Just as we were leaving, several thousand of the Snow Geese lifted into the air and swirled over the quarry before returning to the water. It was a truly magnificent and beautiful sight.
Today was a perfect continuation of my birdy start to 2013! If only the rest of the year could be as productive!