Chirps and Cheeps

A Photo Journal of My Birding Experiences & Observations

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  Lark Sparrow - an Erie County First Record!

Published: December 21, 2022
Tags: Rarities, lark sparrow, lesser black-backed gull, great black-backed gull, cooper's hawk, erie county, rarity, blizzard, woodlawn

Sometimes I have to work hard to talk myself into going birding on days like this gray December day.  The temperature was in the mid 30's  and I felt cold, very cold, wearing my old jacket with the broken zipper.  My new jacket has been on order for weeks and it's taking forever to arrive, probably due to the Christmas rush.  But somehow, the inner self that wanted to see some birds overcame and I soon found myself wandering through Woodlawn Beach SP, my main birding patch.

The beach was still walk-able, lacking the huge piles of debris and ice that the winter storms will eventually bring.  A Lesser Black-backed Gull was a nice find - not rare, but a nice diversion from the Ring-billed and Herring Gulls that dominate.  Six Great Black-backed were present as well, their numbers building as winter establishes its hold.

After much walking and only a few, paltry species indicative of December, I was ready to call it quits when I stumbled on a little flock of songbirds - mostly juncos and American Tree Sparrows.  I did some spishing to see if I could find any other species in the flock when, to my GREAT amazement, the harlequin-like face of a Lark Sparrow presented itself in my binoculars!  My heart skipped several beats!  I doubted myself for the first few moments - until I got eyes on it again.  Unfortunately, it was behind lots of branches in a really brushy spot.  But that chestnut-coloring mixed with the black and white in its unique facial pattern were unmistakable.  Wow!  I prayed hard I could get a few identifiable photos and somehow, I managed that in spite of having to manually focus due to all the brushy interference.  I was so grateful I had gotten a few poor photos because then, all too quickly, the flock took off and out of the park, appearing to head into the nearby neighborhood.  Ugh!

I let the birders in the area know about the bird and headed over to the neighborhood hoping to re-find it for others to see.  In no time, people began to arrive and I teamed up with Kevin and Rebecca in an area that seemed feasible for the bird to be in.  No luck there so I headed out and back up the street where I had seen some bird feeders with my fingers crossed the bird would be attracted to the food.  I ran into a few more birders and a couple said they had just seen it at the feeders I was targeting.  Sure enough, the bird eventually showed again and we all got to see it!  The bird appeared on and off over the rest of the day and all through the next day.  A big snow storm hit, a historical blizzard actually, and the bird was never seen again after that second day.  No telling if it lit out of there the night before the blizzard (one can hope) or if it fell prey to the Cooper's Hawk that was stalking the neighborhood, or if it succumbed to the flash freeze with near zero temps, tremendous amounts of snow, and high winds that were to pound Western New York over the next few days.

Those of us who got to see this bird were very lucky as it was the very first record for this species for Erie County.  What a thrill!

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One of my first photos of the Lark Sparrow - through the brush and manually focused

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The Lark Sparrow sitting at one of the feeders in the neighborhood

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Such a beauty!

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Another view...

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That darned Cooper's Hawk!

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