“Everybody gets hyped up over the raptors and all the big guys, but I think identifying the small stuff is more challenging and rewarding” My first birding partner would always stop whenever we saw or heard tiny birds. For the most part I agree, I’ve seen some pretty neat birds by just taking the time to actually look at the birds instead of just dismissing them as ‘just’ a sparrow, or ‘just’ a towhee.
“I get it, they’re sparrows, let’s keep going!” I would say as my friend would wait to see if there were any spots of gold in the crown of birds. I’m fairly new to this, so I just wanted to see new birds; my partner on the other hand, was usually looking for different types of sparrows. In particular, he was trying to spot Golden-crowned, or Fox sparrows.
Which is quite funny because now I see Golden-crowns everywhere. They’re on the trails, they’re in the Himalayan blackberry, just about everywhere you look they are there! I can remember the day I first noticed them quite vividly. Lily and I had been exploring Nisqually Refuge in Washington, and shortly after being blown away by a Hooded Merganser, we stopped to look for a little bird that was bouncing around in the trees beside us. “It looks like a sparrow, but just a little … different” I wouldn’t have guessed it, but it was a great day for bird-watching. We didn’t get very far when suddenly, we heard some flitting around in the bushes. “It’s probably just another golden-crown or towhee” I murmured as I waited for Lily to confirm that it thought. She was taking longer than I expected so I began to get interested too. It was difficult to see as it ran back and forth under the leaves, “its, a bit rusty like a towhee..” “No, no it’s too small to be a towhee…” “Well it sure is acting like a towhee…” “Yeah, but look at it’s tail!”, Lily and I went back and forth, observing as much as we could of this mystery creature, until suddenly it turned around for just long enough for us to see it’s face. There it was, the tall-tale sign, it’s two-toned yellow and black beak and it’s stripy breast, it was a Fox Sparrow at last! I had never seen one before, and I was so glad Lily had stopped to take a look. I really learned my lesson that day.
If you don’t have time to stare at the ground and into the bushes, Golden-crowned sparrows are a pretty sight and can be a good talking point during a nature walk for beginners. They have beautiful songs that according to legend, was a painful reminder during the gold rush that they could not find any gold. Although they are common now, they might be missed when they migrate back north in the summer! Every now and then I try to take the time to appreciate all the common wildlife. Stopping to take photographs makes this a thousand times easier as I have to stop and take a thousand photographs until I get something decent. Whatever your motivation is, this is your reminder to appreciate the more “common” birds.