the Rookie Birder

I have watched birds all my life, but after reading "The Big Year," "Grail Bird" and especially Kenn Kaufman's "Kingbird Highway," plus Santa's timely stocking stuffer of "Sibley's 2003 Eastern & Western Field Guides," I made the decision to become a rookie birder beginning January 1st, 2006.

Monday, February 06, 2006

White-throated Sparrows at Humboldt Park

Humboldt Park on Chicago's west side
1400 North Sacramento Avenue

February 5th, 2006, 1115am

After a 5 mile morning run with Mike O, my running partner, I dropped him off and decided I wanted to see what the green space of Humboldt Park had to offer as far as winter birds. I parked at the park district field house off Humboldt Avenue, I was the only car in the lot.

I had only been here once before in the summer, and I didn't really notice the cattail marsh south of the field house. I walked down it on the west side, and saw American Crows, Rock Doves and the ever present European Starlings. But I wasn't looking for these; I wanted to see something I had not yet seen. Finches and Sparrows were what I had in mind. As soon as I got to the end of marsh on the south end, I found what I was looking for, a group of 15-20 American Tree Sparrows. It took awhile to ID them, as they were so skittish and difficult to see in the tall grasses and cattails. But with some patience, eventually several came out on the nearby trees and let me get a clear look at their dual colored beaks, rufous caps, gray head and that dark central spot just below the breast. Seeing them made me
feel good about the ID I made of these for the first time Friday at Rolling Savanna in the rain.

Around the bend as I headed north on the east side of the marsh, I immediately noticed a small group of 5-8 Dark-eyed Juncos in a tree right next to the path. Despite the cold, they seemed happy to chatter away in the wind. Other juncos I have seen seemed very skittish; these birds could care less about my presence.

That was it on the marsh side of the park, so I walked under the pedestrian underpass to the lagoon on the east side of the park. As soon as I got under Humboldt Avenue, there were Mallards and Canada Geese to welcome me to the lagoon. But it was a small group of sparrows that flew from the south side to the north side of the inlet to the marsh I was most interested in. From the other side of the water inlet I could see a little yellow between the eye and beak on the supraloral. What sparrow could it be?

I took a look in my Sibley's and learned they were probably WHITE-THROATED SPARROWS (photo Cheryl Johnson). A new sparrow so I was on my way across the bridge to see if I could get a closer look. I did. Clean gray breast, stark white eyebrow, that distinct yellow mark between the eye and dark bill. I would say they were most likely white-stripped adults. There were 10-14 of them in a hedge right at the mouth of the inlet and they let me move close enough to watch them for 10 minutes or so. I would later learn watching a short video online using my subscription at the BNA website ( that the scratching and digging they were doing was exactly like the birds I watched. It was like they had a video of what I watched. So even though this was my first time IDing them in the field, I was sure I had bird number 56 for the year, #24 for Chicago.

After watching this group I took off to see what else I could find, but besides Ring-billed and Herring Gulls, nothing new. I was cold and tired and hungry, time to go home and call it a morning. I found a new bird all on my own and that is hard for a rookie like me. I had found a lovely little bird:



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