Despite the odds - Field Sparrow

Thomas Slater

I had just finished up inputting my grades when Jim the Bird Wizard posted that he had a Field Sparrow in his yard. Field Sparrow... Last time I saw one of those I was in Boston! Rare bird mode kicked in (or as my wife calls it... delinquent husband mode) and I told my 12-year-old daughter I was abandoning her again for yet another "rare bird"... how many times has she heard THAT this season? She had plenty of make-up work to keep her occupied. "Don't eat anything that'll make you choke and no trampoline!... and don't go outside!" I put our most ferocious dog in the house with her and left feeling pretty confident that she'd be OK for a couple of hours (don't judge me). 

Now the 45-minute drive from Nipomo is always a gamble. A bird could conceivably be in the next county by the time I arrive. Or I could be getting a ticket from Johnny Law. Lots of obstacles, but I arrived on Henrietta to a crowd. Always a good sign. 

But as I got out of the car and looked in my back seat... no binoculars. Crap. They were at home on the bookshelf. I had a back-up pair, some tiny pocket-sized Nikons that looked like they came out of a cereal box. I grabbed them and my camera and made the trek down the street to find the whole crew armed with either ridiculously large cameras or high-end binoculars. I felt very inadequate. 

It was a scene. The kind I liked. The only thing... no bird.

I got bits and pieces from different birders. Bill Bouton quickly identified himself as a "have" and then I was painfully aware that I was a "have not". Then Will Knowlton with his endless optimism suggested we might stroll down the street to Jay's to see if the Field Sparrow relocated. Hmmm I eyed the distance. I didn't think I could sprint that far if we got called back. So I suggested Will go, ha ha. Then there was some flurry in a bush around the corner so I decided to go investigate. I had a great view of some water dishes the neighbor had put out for the birds (probably influenced by Jim no doubt) and there were quite a few sparrows. I started picking my way through them. Then Wingnut called me back over to the group. He has a big camera so I trust him. I hustled over. Just then about 5 birders ran over to the place I had just come from and spied the bird. So I turned around and ran back and finally got the bird, despite the odds... fatherhood, the long journey, and Will and Wingnut's attempts to throw me off the scent. 

It was a quick turnaround (guilt is a magnificent motivator) and I made it back home in no time to a safe and happy daughter. 

Coda: With my appetite whetted, I sat on my porch in the dying light of day and searched through the flock of sparrows... if they could be at Jim's, they could be at my house, or so I told myself. With no luck, I strolled down the street as the sun set and watched the Ferruginous Hawks fly in and roost high in the Eucs. Then I heard an odd sound, familiar, yet out of place. I turned and saw a PHAINOPEPLA perched at the top of an oak tree across the street. New yard bird! I thought as I walked backwards across the street to get my feet into my yard so it'd be official. While not rare, they are not common in my neighborhood. It was a two-fer... despite the odds.

bird on,
Will and Wingnut rule...

pictures here Tom Slater

Tom Slater
Nipomo Bird Sanctuary
ps- thank you Jim Royer