Laura Erickson's For the Birds

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Backyard Update

White-throated Sparrow

As frustrating as it feels when I find out about rare birds appearing here and there, like a Townsend’s Warbler in the Twin Cities and a Ruff in western Wisconsin this week, I’ve been plenty contented right here in my own backyard. I love making sound recordings of birds, but seldom think of it when I’m home in spring. I normally do so much traveling that I tend to have too much to catch up on to focus on my own backyard. 

But this year I have no excuse, so starting last Friday, I’ve been outside with my sound recorder quite a bit, mostly making ambient recordings, in stereo, of all the songs going on simultaneously every morning.

My recorder

Yesterday morning, Wednesday, I set out my recorder in the back of the yard, propped on a long-dead tree stump, at 6 am, and got a full hour of White-throated Sparrows singing away.

White-throated Sparrow

My recorder

Then I put the recorder on my bird feeder in my side yard at 8 am and got an hour and a half of goldfinches twittering away.

American Goldfinch

That one is the recording I used for Thursday’s podcast. If you want a nice hour or so of bird songs while you’re focused on something, you can listen to or download any of the recordings on my webpage. If you click on "Miscellany" you'll find an easily accessed spot for my longer "ambient" sound recordings. I tag each recording with every bird I’ve been able to identify, if you want to quiz yourself.

White-throated Sparrow


I’ve been out there with my camera, too. On Tuesday, I spotted a gorgeous partial albino White-throated Sparrow—a bird most ornithologists call leucistic, but since that word has come to mean any bird with white or pale patches or all-over dilute plumage or all-white plumage with dark eyes, I prefer the more precise “partial albino” or “patchy albino” for a bird with abnormal patches of pure white.

White-throated Sparrow

Unfortunately, dense fog made good photos impossible all that day, but on Wednesday afternoon I sat out in my backyard for a little while, and that selfsame bird appeared up close and personal in lovely light.

White-throated Sparrow

I’ve not had a chance to get pictures of the kinglets passing through, but Wednesday did get a couple of good shots of a Brown Creeper.

Brown Creeper

A couple of American Tree Sparrows and an early Chipping Sparrow have also been hanging around the very back of my yard, but they seem to mostly come out when I’m in my home office, too far away for quality pictures. I have managed a photo or two of a Swamp Sparrow.

Swamp Sparrow

On Monday, there was a sudden shift—while I’d had only one or two White-throated Sparrows last week and lots of juncos, suddenly it was as many as 50 White-throated Sparrows and only two or three juncos. And the number of goldfinches has skyrocketed over the past few days. This is the funnest time to see them—most of the males have most of their intensely golden yellow feathers now, but some are still quite a patchwork—goldfinches are among the only songbirds that have a complete body feather molt both in fall and in spring.

American Goldfinch

They’re also fun to hear. I regret not starting to make sound recordings earlier, when I could have captured juncos and even a few Fox Sparrows singing, but I’m doing it now, and will try to capture some sounds and photos every day through migration.

Hunkering down does have its pleasures. I hope you’re finding some lovely backyard joys, too. Stay safe and well, dear reader.

White-throated Sparrow

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