My Life’s Birds: #502
April 27, 2011 – Scotland Co, NC – It’s a bird you may skip over in the field guide, tucked as it is in a particularly plainish genus of the sparrows, a group of birds referred to, often somewhat derogatorily as “LBJs”, Little Brown Jobs. LBJ is a particularly insidious bit of birder jargon that encourages new birders to believe that some birds are too difficult for them to identify so they shouldn’t try. There may be some groups of birds like that, but they tend not to be little and brown. They’ll generally be big and whitish and hanging out on beaches and in landfills. They even have their own acronym, WHG, white-headed Gulls, but this is not a post on them.
I admit, now that it’s easy to do so, that this bird’s seeming pedestrian appearance (in the plumage sense, as the circumstances surrounding it’s arrival in NC are far from pedestrian) nearly conspired to prevent me from chasing it. It’s embarrassing really, that I just wasn’t feeling it. That my feelings on the matter were destined to stop at following its presence on the listserv and pausing to appreciate how unusual that a little southwestern sparrow could end up in a seemingly random field in the Sandhills of south-central North Carolina. I’m a state lister, but I still didn’t feel the same pull that’s seen me chase Scott’s Oriole and Tufted Duck and Say’s Phoebe (the last unsuccessfully). If that makes me a poor state lister, than so be it. I was prepared to regard the famous North Carolina Cassin’s Sparrow as a novelty from afar.
But, of course, I didn’t stay at home. I ended up taking a small carload of other birders down to Scotland County, where we found the bird right where it should be and ticked it. North Carolina’s very first (and obviously a state bird), but also ABA life bird #502. At the time of this post, the last one so far.
It was a good thing I didn’t stay home. Cassin’s Sparrow is not just an LBJ, so please don’t insult it with that characterization. It has an amazing song, reminiscent of short-grass prairies and Commanche hunting tribes. It skylarks, throwing itself into the sky with abandon and belting that liquid song that whole time. It may well be little and brown, but it is no birder’s LBJ.
Disrespect it at your own peril.