Chasing Rarities: Harris’s Sparrow


WC generally doesn’t chase rare birds. “Chasing” is generally for folks who are after the biggest possible life list, or North American list, or state list of bird species seen. A serious “chaser” will fly from New Jersey to Fairbanks in the dead of winter to see a Eurasian Bullfinch. WC is not a serious chaser.

But when the rarity is only a few miles from WC’s house, and in the general direction of the grocery store, well, WC has been know to chase birds. As recently as Sunday.

The setting was a storm water treatment facility; a series of ponds where storm drain water from urban Boise gets filtered and cleaned up a bit before running in to the Boise River. The area is very nicely landscaped; the vegetation does a significant part of the water treatment. There are trails, viewing platforms and a variety of habitats – well, micro-habitats – that attract a surprising variety of birds.

Including a Harris’s Sparrow, quite a large member of the sparrow family, the classic Little Brown Jobs. It’s also a handsome bird, with a lovely black bib and dramatic patterning. So, literally on the way to the grocery store, WC chased a Harris’s Sparrow at Hyatt Hidden Lakes Reserve. The sparrow had been most recently reported in the far southeast corner, a nice walk on a partly cloudy, breezy day. There’s a big clump of very dense brush back there, maybe 70 feet long, 15 feet wide and as much as 12 feet high. You can’t see through it, even with the leaves gone; it’s that dense. So you wait for birds to emerge.

There were decent numbers of birds in there. It’s what sparrows do: hide in clumps of brush. Lots of Dark-eyed Juncos, and some White-crowned Sparrows. Each time WC would catch movement, or see a bird emerge, there was a little frisson of anticipation. Repeatedly dashed, of course.

But finally, there it was, not quite out in the open.

Harris's Sparrow, Hyatt Hidden Lakes Reserve, Boide

Harris’s Sparrow, Hyatt Hidden Lakes Reserve, Boide

Very slowly, it moved further into the open.

Harris's Sparrow, Hyatt Hidden Lakes Reserve, Boise

Harris’s Sparrow, Hyatt Hidden Lakes Reserve, Boise

It’s particularly nice when the bird gives you a variety of angles, displaying all the field marks.

Harris's Sparrow, Hyatt Hidden Lakes Reserve, Boise

Harris’s Sparrow, Hyatt Hidden Lakes Reserve, Boise

In Idaho, the Harris’s Sparrow is officially “MW4s”. That translates as a Migrant, seen in Winter, Rare and statewide. The species is rare in Alaska, too; so rare that WC had never seen it. The bird was a “lifer” for WC, which is nice. Getting decent photo documentation is even nicer.

And then WC went and got the groceries.

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