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Winter in my Rear View Mirror

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I’m putting winter behind me literally & figuratively.  The calendar announces the official change of seasons, although March & April are two of the snowiest months of the year in my home state of Colorado.  To really see winter off, I’m enjoying a spring break photo trip to the Lower Rio Grande Valley of TX (well, I hope I am- truth be told I’m putting this in the digital hopper for my normal alternating Thursday release during a layover at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, on my way to McAllen…)  Highs this week in the LRGV are forecasted to reach the mid- or upper 80’s so snow shouldn’t be a worry and with plenty of specialties & rarities awaiting, having fun shouldn’t be a problem, either.)

I thought I’d share a farewell winter gallery of one of my favorite groups of birds- sparrows.  My friend John Barr established a feeder station in preparation for the Boulder Christmas Bird Count on a remnant piece of rural private property he has access to along Boulder Creek.  On count day it didn’t disappoint, turning up Palm Warbler and Red Fox Sparrow (a review species in Colorado.)  Soon thereafter a natty Harris’s Sparrow joined the party.  John was so jazzed by the success that he kept the station going through the rest of the winter, attracting a really nice mix of wintering sparrows & finches spiced with chickadees, small corvids, blackbirds, and the occasional opportunistic accipiter or shrike.  John kept improving the site, placing perches around a small old concrete slab that served as the feeder tray on the edge of a Russian olive thicket.  This provided the security of immediate cover for the birds while also enticing them onto photo-friendly perches.  Best of all, John followed the same routine each time he visited, parking his vehicle in the clearing next to the feeder station, adding seed, and then retreating to his car to watch & take photos.  Grown accustomed to the routine, the birds would descend to the seed almost before the car doors could be closed!  John got hundreds of crush shots throughout the winter and was kind enough to invite me several times to get in on the action with one of us shooting from the front seat and one from the back.  I hope you’ll enjoy the selection of winter sparrows below- all were taken out the car window.  Big thanks to John for inviting me to his winter sparrow photo paradise!  I hope my next post will change gears with some southern Texas specialties (and a review of a new lens I’m testing for photo birding travel.)  Best- Bill

The star of the show was this crisp Red Fox Sparrow, which persisted from 19 Dec. 2010 through at least 7 March 2011.

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An excellent winter Harris’s Sparrow was also tops, though it frustratingly liked to come out only well after sunset.
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Strong double-digit counts of American Tree Sparrow were amazing- I don’t see all that many in the Front Range of Colorado and they are usually doing their best to get lost in heavy cover when I do.  Here they could be photographed within 10 feet almost as much as I could stand.

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The Fox Sparrow seemed to throw in with 3 or 4 Song Sparrows that headquartered in and around the Russian olive thicket.  Songs, (along with the Fox & Harris’s) would almost always approach on the ground in contrast to the airborne assault of the other feeder birds.

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1st-winter White-crowned Sparrows made occasional appearances.

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Winter Dark-eyed Juncos are also hard to beat- all major subspecies are possible in Colorado but I didn’t see White-winged or Gray-headed on my visits.  I like them all but a male Cassiar (cismontanus sap.) was probably my personal highlight in this category.

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Bill Schmoker

Bill Schmoker

Bill is known in the birding community as a leading digital photographer of birds. Since 2001 he has built a collection of digital bird photos documenting over 640 species of North American birds. His photography has appeared in international nature publications, books, newspapers, interpretive signs, web pages, advertisements, corporate logos, and as references for art works. Also a published writer, Bill wrote a chapter for Good Birders Don't Wear White, is a past Colorado/Wyoming regional editor for North American Birds and is proud to be on the Leica Birding Team. Bill is a Colorado eBird reviewer and is especially fond of his involvement with the ABA's Institute for Field Ornithology and Young Birder Programs. Bill is a popular birding guide, speaker, and workshop instructor, and teaches middle school science in Boulder, Colorado. When he isn’t birding he enjoys family time with his wife and son.
Bill Schmoker

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