October 9, 2010

Hawk Watch Strikes Again! AKA: Why I Love Birding

You know, there are just some birds that I love to chase that borderline on masochism.  One of those birds is the Le Conte's Sparrow.  For years, I have pined after this bird and have found myself every fall, waist high in grass looking for them.  Chicago is blessed to be on the migratory path of this mouse-like sparrow.  However, hardly anyone ever has luck when they go out looking for one!  People see them every year, sure.  But NEVER when they are supposed to be looking for one.

I am one of the unfortunate souls who believed that looking for one would actually produce one.  I believed that my pishing was simply too much to bear for these ground huggers.   Boy, was I wrong.  Five years of looking for them intently put this bird in the nemesis camp.

Yesterday, I went out again to Waukegan beach and combed the area: stopping, pishing, looking, cursing as I searched for the Le Conte's.  I had a great list, with numerous First of Season (FOS) birds including Fox Sparrow and Hermit Thrush.  Also had an American Tree Sparrow, which for many is some bad voodoo, heralding cold weather.

American Tree Sparrow (Devil Bird)

Black-bellied Plover

Hermit Thrush

Fox Sparrow

Sure this was all great, but there was no Le Conte's Sparrow.  Felling somewhat dejected, I figured there was no better cure than to head over to the hawk watch.  The winds had been blowing from the NW, which in hawk watch language means movement.

When I got there, I began walking up the small grass path to the pavilion when a small sparrow flushed next to me in the weedy field.  Getting on it, I had a Nelson's Sparrow!  This was another new bird for the year, and one that, though not as bad as Le Conte's, can be difficult to find.  All while I was thinking about Sharpies vs. Coops.

Well, the wind had died down and lake effect winds took over, which is death to a hawk watch.  Getting restless, I decided to find my Nelson's Sparrow again.

Wading into the grasses right off of the trail I found some small brush with juvenile White-crowned Sparrows calling.  Right as I was trying to get a good photo of the White-crowned Sparrows, I saw a small bird with a terribly weak flight come over my shoulder and land on a bare branch in the clump.

My first thought was, "Wow, that's a late Sedge Wren" based on the way it flew.  However, when I looked at the bird I was floored.  There was my lifer Le Conte's!  He had a serious deer-in-headlights look to him.  He decided to toss away his Ammodramus genes and just stayed put in open light for five minutes!  I was shocked. I came looking for Nelson's and was thinking of hawks.  Right when I decided to take a photo of a common bird, not even thinking of Le Conte's anymore...there he was.  This, everyone, is why I love birding.  I love that I watch wild birds, that follow no rules that I set out.  I wouldn't have this lifer any other way.

Le Conte's Sparrow



  1. For me, the "bad voodoo" cold weather bird is the dark-eyed junco. I haven't seen an American tree sparrow yet this season, but I have seen the juncos. Anyway, congrats on the LeConte's sparrow...nice photo, too.

  2. Really enjoyed this read.... all your thoughts leading up to this lifer sighting. Great post.