Advanced birding fever: Chasing a rare sparrow

Today afforded a unique opportunity to merge two of my favorite pursuits, baseball and birding. In the process, I got a glimpse of a bird common in the central plains of this continent but a rare visitor here in New Jersey, the Harris’s sparrow.

I’d been following reports of a Harris’s sparrow hanging out with white-crowned sparrows in a field in East Windsor, and I hoped the bird would stick around long enough for me to spot him over the weekend.

This morning, I picked up my friend Laura at 8 o’clock, and we drove about 25 minutes to Hancock Field, a youth baseball field. From the parking lot, we took a short walk along the side of the field to where a few other birders were gathered, their scopes pointing away from the diamond and across an open field to a row of tangled bushes.

We were fortunate to arrive when the bird was active. Almost immediately, the birders were excitedly calling out the bird’s movements: off to the right, hopping up, facing away, on the ground in front of the brush, etc.

I set up Laura’s scope, and she was able to spot Mr. Harris quickly. (That’s Laura in the photo at the top of the post, with fellow birder “Old Sam Peabody” partially visible behind her.)

Although I picked up my Canon at one point, the bird was too far out of camera range for me to even try a shot. I contented myself with seeing the bird through the scope and otherwise taking in the experience. I did so while standing a few feet from home plate in the baseball field bullpen, making the moment doubly enjoyable.

I doubt I’ll ever get birding fever in such an advanced stage that I’d rent a helicopter to spot a rare bird in Nevada. But following up on eBird alerts and postings on Facebook and GroupMe birding channels has revealed twitcher tendencies.

The great thing about today’s brief trip was that it was great fun — a great ride out and back with a good friend, book-ended around an enthusiastic shared experience with other birders enjoying the sight of a rare creature in our part of the world.

Published by Dan

University media executive by day, blogger by night, I am a well-traveled resident of New Jersey

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