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My Life’s Birds: #341-343

September 23, 2009

November 6, 1994 – Fellow’s Lake, Mo –Though Missouri appears to be the bullseye on the map of the United States, as far as North America goes it is, for the most part, in the south with lots of land between the shores of the Fellow’s Lake reservoir, north of Springfield,  and the North Pole.  Sure, we can refer to ourselves as the mid-latitudes all we want, and we certainly lack the palm trees and sandy beaches others may associate with truly “southern” climes, but the fact of the matter is my home state lies far below the breeding range of the vast majority of North American breeding birds, who prefer to take advantage of the long-summers and abundant food they can find across the boreal zone.  Additionally, we’re all aware that when fall comes the gaudy breeding plumage of so many species is lost, replaces by subtle grays and browns and blacks and whites.  The better to avoid attention on  a cold, gray Ozarks winter day, one that, even dipping close to zero Celsius, seems practically balmy compared to a Canadian one.

Horned_GrebeSo it seems odd that up until only two years ago, I never saw a Common Loon in anything but the subdued basic plumage in which they spend most of their time in Missouri.  With Horned Grebes, those little lake Grebes nattily dressed in clean black and white, it’s even worse.  I’ve still never seen the orange tufted, red bodied beauty that taunts me from the pages of field guides.  By the time those feather begin making their appearance, it seems as though the little birds are making themselves scarce.  Missouri is just too far south, our lakes too warm and surrounded by oaks and hickories instead of the stately pines they apparently prefer.

3207752037_c81992cd88It hardly stops with water birds. The same morning my dad and I found the divers for the first time, we headed to the nearby French’s Mustard Plant.  No, not because we were feeling an urge for a ballpark frank, but because the hedges around the entrance often support a local specialty.  The Harris’s Sparrows in their brown faced winter plumage are also significantly different from their gray-headed summer garb which, as you might expect, I’ve also never seen.  But the big sparrow is a great bird anyway, and in the years since I’ve seen innumerable Common Loons and Horned Grebes but that remains my only Harris’s Sparrow.

I can’t wait till I see it again, and I’m holding out hope for a breeding plumaged bird this time.

HOGR from wikipedia

HASP from tomfs via flicker

  1. September 23, 2009 8:30 am

    Oh dear, Harris’s sparrow and the internet: on my first trip to the US I had signed up on the local email forum and hoped to be able to check my emails during the trip at the motels. This never happened as the hotels offered internet ACCESS but no computers.
    After the trip I found out that a Harris’s Sparrow had spent the entire time of my stay at a feeder near Ann Arbor (where I was staying).
    I was a sad man.

    So even if you’ve only ever seen one, you’re my king as “the one-eyed is king amongst the blind” as the saying goes in German.

  2. September 23, 2009 9:07 am

    We get a Harris’s Sparrow every few years in the NJ/PA area. There was one found at Sandy Hook that only stayed for a few hours 2-3 years ago in the fall. I happened to be there. A group of us heard it calling and I even had a silhouette view. It was quite the skulker on that day. I didn’t count it and I haven’t seen one yet.

  3. Nate permalink*
    September 23, 2009 10:15 am

    @Jochen- Harris’s Sparrow is a great bird, you were right to be sad to miss it.

    @Patrick- I’ve been waiting for a NC Harris’s Sparrow to show up for me. I think there are about 7 prior records, the last one in 2005. Luckily most are in the central part of the state it seems a possibility, as far as rarities go.

  4. Greg permalink
    September 24, 2009 1:54 pm

    If we get out to Golden City or Lockword during the holidays, I’m pretty sure we can get you some more Harris’s Sparrows.
    It’s a yard bird for me. I found one two or three years in a row in the area just north of our subdivision.

  5. September 25, 2009 3:05 am

    Nate, are you trying to rub it in ? 🙂

    In that case: I have seen numerous, let me repeat this: numerous breeding plumage horned grebes and they look awesome, completely awesome, so awesome that photos or paintings can’t convey it!



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