Finding Those Unappreciated Sparrows (by Accident)

Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow, Frenchtown Road, Bolivar Peninsula, Texas
Nelson’s Sharp-tailed Sparrow, Frenchtown Road, Bolivar Peninsula, Texas. This bird was moving through seed-laden grasses with a group of Seaside Sparrows. Photo taken at about 7:30 am under a beautiful golden fall light. Canon EOS 7D/600mm f/4L IS (+1.4 TC).

Last weekend we birded High Island (Boy Scout Woods), Bolivar Flats, and Frenchtown Road. Frenchtown Road is an exceptional spot, and almost always the highlight of any Bolivar trip. It is a great spot for Clapper Rails, Whimbrel, and waders and shorebirds hunting prey, especially crustaceans. But, (rather unexpectedly) grass seed-head-chomping Nelson’s Sharp-tailed Sparrows were the highlight of this visit. Nelson’s Sharp-tailed Sparrows breed mostly in Canada, winter along the Gulf Coast, and are not a common sight in Texas—at least not where we usually bird.

Rufous-crowned Sparrow, Lost Maples State Natural Area, Texas
Rufous-crowned Sparrow on Mountain Laurel, Lost Maples State Natural Area, Texas. This bird was spotted on the way to find Golden-cheeked Warblers, which we found a few minutes later. Canon EOS 7D/600mm f/4L IS (+1.4x TC). Natural light.

Sparrows, in general, may be the least appreciated of birds, and I myself am often guilty of not affording them the respect they deserve. It’s rare for us to plan a trip around sparrows. This is despite their ecological importance and often beautiful earth-tone color schemes. We usually have more glamorous species in mind, like the rock stars of the birding world, the wood warblers when we plan birding trips. I spotted the the Rufous-crowned Sparrow above, for example, on a Central Texas trip centered around finding Golden-cheeked Warblers. Of course, It wouldn’t have hurt our feeling to have spotted Black-capped Vireos, too.

In my own defense, though, we do make an annual pilgrimage to Barfoot Park, in the Coronado National Forest, Arizona to see Yellow-eyed Juncos, an American Sparrow you’re not going to find by accident. Of course, it wouldn’t hurt my feelings to see a few Hepatic Tanagers while we’re there . . . .

Grasshopper Sparrow
Not Rare, but Secretive: Grasshopper Sparrow, Galveston Island State Park, Texas. Grasshopper Sparrows get their name from the grasshopper-like sounds they make. They’re not a sparrow one sees every day in this part of the world. Canon EOS 7D/500mm f/4L IS (+1.4x TC). Natural light.

I don’t believe in accidents. There are only encounters in history. There are no accidents.—Pablo Picasso

©2014 Christopher R. Cunningham and Elisa D. Lewis. All rights reserved. No text or images may be duplicated or distributed without permission.