Sunday, April 02, 2006

What was that?!!?

I stepped outside this morning, and there among the singers, twitterers and cheepers around the yard, I heard a clear warbling song from the treetops at the back. Orchard oriole? No, too early, not very likely at any time, and anyway, I don't know.....I tried to get the bird in sight but no luck.

A little while later I was back outside, and there it was again. This time I had binoculars at the ready, and finally located the singer. Rufous tail......I moved until I could see a profile. A sparrow!!? It didn't sound like any sparrow I knew--the notes were clear and sweet, round tones, a melodic repeated phrase. But for looks, this was a fox sparrow.

I mentioned hoping to see a fox sparrow in an earlier post this season. I often see one during the migration periods, scratching in the leaf litter at the edge of the far field. Fox sparrows nest far north of here--in Ontario the closest spot is the southern tip of James Bay. I never thought I'd hear one singing here. But according to Theodore Clarke Smith (writing in 1903) it is not uncommon for them to sing a little in the fall. So why not the spring?

I was also surprised to see one in the yard. This is a bird of the woods, and that's usually where I see it--scratching in the underbrush, at the edge of the far field.

After I'd watched the bird sing for a moment or two another, of similar size and shape, joined it in the treetop, and they flew off together, in the direction of the cedar bush and the woods beyond. Could this have been a pair? I don't know that the other bird was a fox sparrow, but what an interesting, unexpected way to start the day.


Endment said...

We have a number of Fox Sparrows migrating through the area just now. Some years a few will stay by and even nest on the property. I love hearing their songs in the morning and late evening. Thanks so much for the link to Theodore Clarke Smith. I had never heard of him before -- found his comments on the Fox Sparrow very helpful.

John B. said...

Purple Finch? It doesn't really have a rufous tail, but it does have a similar song to the orchard oriole - a clear, warbling song.

Pamela Martin said...

Endment, thanks for the comments. I'm surprised to hear that you sometimes have fox sparrows stay to nest--how nice that must be. As for Theodore Clarke Smith--yes, I'd never heard of him before either--a lucky find!

John, the bird was definitely a fox sparrow, as it turned out. I know the purple finch very well, and it's song is one of those I recognize easily each spring. The orchard oriole on the other hand I've never really knowingly heard sing. I might have heard it once last year, but didn't actually pay attention to it (distracted by warblers at the time). I only suspected a few minutes later, when I saw a female orchard in the same field. The sound today made me think oriole when I first heard it.

The orchard is moving north, but is not clearly established in my neighbourhood yet. Because I may have missed seeing a singing male orchard last year through inattention it's a bird that's on my mind. Interesting to hear that it is like the purple finch--that should help in my search this season. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I love those beefy speckled sparrows, to me they look like small thrushes- and they definitely have a delightful song.
Dang, another friend wrote just last night (in WI) and said he had fox sparrows too- I better keep my eyes out, we usually get them in early spring, but they never stay more than a few days.
And yep, a great way to start the day :)

Pamela Martin said...

Cindy, I know what you mean--when I first got that profile view the chest made me think of a thrush, but the head is all sparrow.