If You Have to Ask

There is no poop fairy, or so the sign read. I was looking for a Clay-colored Sparrow looking mostly up and not down, so it’s good that the dog owners were heeding the sign, though one very large dog, not on a leash, chose to bark at me. His owner said he was just saying hello, but I recognize that tone of voice, and wasn’t so sure. He finally put it back on its leash. Why is it that every dog owner thinks their dog is perfectly trained and doesn’t need to stay on leash? Everyone knows that Mojo, David Wheeler’s dog is the only well behaved pooch in the state, at least that I’ve ever met.
There was no poop fairy, and there was also no Clay-colored Sparrow though to his credit Kenny stayed around in the searing heat trying to relocate it for us. So reluctantly I headed for home, a big dipper, not for the first time in my life. I considered going back later in the day, but rehydrating after my afternoon, and a comfortable chair kept me at home.
I check my email later and discover that Bryant and the Beyers have seen the bird and not wanting to look for it in the dark I resolve to be there first thing the following morning. I arrive about eight and spend a couple of hours birding. A couple of Spotted Towhees greet me, and a Brewer’s Sparrow gets my heart beating for a moment, but other than the ubiquitous Scrub Jays and a couple of noisy chickadees I don’t see much, and to my dismay the target bird. Matt joins me, and I decide to continue the search for a while longer. Matt I’ve discovered is almost as unlucky as I am, Blue-headed Vireos aside.

We decided that it was probably a one-day bird, and left the poop fairy to her admonitions. It was later that day, in the heat of the afternoon, the same time of day my initial fruitless search took place that Rachel reports she has relocated the damn bird. And so sucker that I am I return to Olympus Hills Park for the fourth time, figuring it was seen in the evening the day before it after being seen earlier in the day, an omen if ever there was one. But alas it was not to be. I’d had enough, I’d missed three times is the charm and a fourth try was an obsessive birder getting what he deserved.

I slept poorly, dreaming of what might have been, the following morning Doug Mead called, from the parking lot of the park asking for directions, I told him about the poop fairy but had no intention of returning. I couldn’t resist however the automatic, call me if you find it. He said he would and about 40 minutes later I heard my birder is calling ring-tone “I like birds.” I asked him where he was exactly and if he would be there. He promised he would and when Gail and I arrived 15 minutes later, climbed the hill past the poop fairy down to the oak by the bench, turned west and started down the trail we spotted Doug just up the hillside. He was watching the spot where the Clay-colored had landed and not yet left. It only took a few minutes before the Clay-colored and a much less patterned Brewer’s popped up to give us a good look. I grabbed my camera for a shot just as the bird dropped down, and then as I tried to get closer, I watched as it flew low and straight about 50 yards to the northwest. It was then Matt arrived and though we chased the birds around the hillside we didn’t succeed in getting a picture of anything but Brewer’s Sparrows. Sorry Matt, but that was only your fourth attempt for the bird, and as I learned it is the fifth time that is the charm, or maybe as the sign said there is no poop fairy and at least for you there is no Clay-colored Sparrow.

How do you know if you’re looking at a Clay-colored Sparrow and not a Brewer’s? First you look in your Sibley’s. You note all the field marks that separate the Clay-colored from the Brewers. The lack of streaking on an all gray nape is a good mark. The white median crown stripe is also important, and the dark mustache is significant. But most important, you’re in awe of how boldly patterned the face is. The pattern catches you off guard like the first time you saw a Lark Sparrow’s face. In short if you have to ask, it’s a Brewer’s.

I was thinking of returning tomorrow for some photos, but Gail tells me we’re going to Clover Springs and scoring a really rare something or other. “Folks are starting to complain when they see us,” she says. Thanks for the Oriole they say and thanks for the Little Blue Heron, but what have you done for us lately.

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