A Rare Visitor and a Lifer

Harris's Sparrow, Lurie Garden, Millennium Park

Harris’s Sparrow, Lurie Garden, Millennium Park

Wednesday afternoon I caught Joan Norek’s post on IBET (Illinois Birders Exchanging Thoughts) in my email about a Harris’s Sparrow at Lurie Garden in Millennium Park. David Johnson had posted the initial sighting but I was so late checking my email I was unaware of it until I saw Joan’s follow-up. Wednesday was the third day in a row I was not carrying the camera with me because of rain and clouds. But I was also going stir crazy, and I had enough peanuts for the crows, so I decided to walk over to Lurie Garden to see if I could find this bird. I have perhaps been within striking distance of seeing a Harris’s Sparrow over the years but have never managed to see one. It was worth checking out and if nothing else it was good to go for a walk.

Cloud Gate sculpture, Millennium Park

Cloud Gate sculpture, Millennium Park

As it turned out it wasn’t raining, just misty/drizzly and yes, overcast. But I had my new cell phone with me and it was probably time to see how much of a picture I could get with it. So I took pictures of various things along the way to Lurie Garden at the southeast end of the park. It seemed hopeless to try to get a picture of anything so small as a sparrow. Even a large sparrow, Harris’s being our largest species.

Harris's Sparrow with iPhone

Harris’s Sparrow with iPhone

HASP Lurie 10-15-14-0393

Again with the iPhone – you really have to dig to find the bird in this cropped photo

I did find the Harris’s feeding in the beds that have all gloriously gone to seed and are left that way to feed the birds over the winter. There were also very many White-Throated Sparrows, some White-Crowned Sparrows, and a few Swamp and Lincoln’s Sparrows. But when I found the Harris’s I stayed with him and talked with him and made him promise he would be available for photos the next day when I brought the real camera.

Harris's Sparrow

Harris’s Sparrow

Sure enough I returned Thursday with my fall migration getup, which basically now consists of a Canon EOS 70D and a 100-300mm L lens, and that’s only thanks to acquiring an inexpensive but practical camera backpack from amazon. The light was again nonexistent but this is a less critical event in an open space such as Lurie Garden. And even though I could not get pictures of the Harris’s without him being obstructed somewhere by grasses or the wild quinine he was eating, I like the way he blends in and contrasts at the same time (“you are what you eat”!). This also reminds me of something I learned from Bill Hilton Jr. on the Belize trip, about birds (and other creatures) getting their feather colors from the plants they consume.

As David Johnson described in a later post, the bird was very tame. But “tame” is not a favorite word of mine when it comes to birds, so I would rather describe the bird, at least when I saw him and took more photographs, as very hungry and nonplussed by my presence. “Go ahead, take all the photos you want, I’m fattening up for my trip to Texas” or wherever he’s going to wind up.

HASP Lurie 10-16-14-2289 HASP Lurie 10-16-14-2255 HASP Lurie 10-16-14-2200

I looked up the distribution range for this bird and the map explains perfectly to me why I am not likely to see this bird in Illinois, even in migration, so I am really thrilled to have gotten such long, loving looks at him and I will remember this bird next time I see it.

Harris's Sparrow Range Map - Cornell

Harris’s Sparrow Range Map – Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Also at Lurie Garden on Thursday, many more White-Crowned Sparrows than White-Throated, and this time I did not see any Lincoln’s although they could still be about.

Juvenile White-Crowned Sparrow

Juvenile White-Crowned Sparrow

WCSP Lurie 10-16-14-2056

Adult White-Crowned Sparrow

Adult White-Crowned Sparrow

White-Throated Sparrow

White-Throated Sparrow

The goldfinches are still having a great time at Lurie, even if the one below looks less enthusiastic about it.

American Goldfinch

American Goldfinch

On the Great Lawn close to the entrance to Lurie Garden there were perhaps 100 House Sparrows, and I took photographs of this one whose coloration looked quite different to me. Maybe he was just wet?

House Sparrow, Great Lawn, Millennium Park

House Sparrow, Great Lawn, Millennium Park

I decided not to bother the Harris’s again yesterday. Instead I went to Lake Shore East Park to see what was up there. I’ll (try to) be back with a report about yesterday’s discoveries later on. I would not be surprised if the Harris’s Sparrow hangs out a bit longer at Lurie, given the current weather patterns, in which case I might drop in on him again next week. This is a first-year bird, which means I have yet to see an adult Harris’s Sparrow, but it’s still so nice to get such a good, solid lifer in one’s proverbial own backyard.

HASP Close Lurie 10-16-14-2188

11 thoughts on “A Rare Visitor and a Lifer

  1. Congratulations for the beautiful “lifer” Lisa! Your patience and perseverance paid off and you got these nice pictures! I’m glad for you! Have a nice weekend! 🙂

  2. Congrats!! It’s always a thrill to add a lifer. I love the pics that you got with your “real” camera. By the way, I have ordered the new Canon 7D Mark II. Supposed to be released in November.

    • Thanks, Bob! I can’t keep up with you. Or Canon. Of course, that is the whole idea, the minute one buys one piece of equipment it is eclipsed by something else. However I am still enamored of my Mark III 5D, but I save it for weekends and trips, too precious to lug downtown. I have to send my present 7D in for repair, but the 70D has now eclipsed it. So it goes! 🙂

    • Thank you. The bird was unflappable, which made it a lot easier to find both times. A couple people walked by the second time I had just started to shoot and I winced as the White-Crowned Sparrows scattered in every direction but I looked down and the Harris’s was still there, clinging to its favorite stem.

    • Oh thank you so much Syl. Yes I was quite surprised when I started going through the photographs to see how well he blended in! I probably get better looks at all of him the day I had only my cell phone but it’s so rare to get such saturation with a bird I might never see again. 🙂

  3. Congratulations! What an attractive little bird, and such a nice personality too. I just spent way too much time looking up Harris’s sparrow and wild quinine, I wouldn’t mind either of them showing up in my backyard but I think I’ll have better luck with the quinine. He really seems to like it which is good enough reason for me to plant it!

    • Thanks, Frank! My sentiments exactly – about the Wild Quinine. Which is something I’ve ignored in the wild for years as a bit boring. But in the fall it looks like a bountiful feast, at least for this bird and the White-Crowned Sparrows. I hope you get a Harris’s – would be rare for you too!

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