Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Suddenly Seeking Sparrows

Baird's Sparrow
Pull me in deeper.  Deeper still into this world of birds.  I CAN'T shut it OFF!  The life birds are harder to find and I realize I can't do this alone. An opportunity presented itself for both researcher and birder alike. This past weekend I made a 4 day sweep around Southern Arizona. This would be the first day of that event.  Without my birder allies, I would have never been so fortunate for the up close views on some of these very special birds.  My BIGGER JANUARY report continues!

Dr. Janet Ruth releases a Savannah Sparrow
Standing at the birder crossroads, I took a major step forward in my own research on the elusive birds of Arizona. A month ago, Dr. Janet Ruth sent out an email out seeking volunteers to flush sparrows for her banding research project.  We set up nets in three different locations, created semi circles and swept the grasses together flushing up sparrows into the nets as we crossed the golden grasslands.

We begin to set up the fine nets
Janet was studying Grasshopper and Baird's Sparrows.....both sparrows I needed desperately to understand.  I had seen one Baird's the weekend previous but did not have great views.  These sparrows run in the grasses and are difficult to find.  Together the 15 volunteers joined forces with Dr. Ruth and her assistant Jason to find these sparrows.

we prepare to flush sparrows
We flushed Grasshopper, Baird's and Savannah Sparrows by clapping hands and moving forward.  It reminded me of my travels and flamenco dancing in Spain years ago. There wasn't any singing allowed, but I could have sworn that several people were gypsies:)  Before the birds were banded, Janet would go over the important details for each of the species found.  For me, it's not about just "seeing" the bird.  I have to know....I mean really really know what to look for....what to listen for......etc.

Grasshopper Sparrow released after being weighed, etc
As we walked the fields of gold, I felt free.  I held the poles that would set the nets....and it felt right. When people talk about those moments in life that change a person's life, it was there at that point with these amazing people that I began to think....."I could do this."  I didn't know a single volunteer in that group but we were all a part of something greater. Something good.

the crown of the Baird's Sparrow is brightly colored
As we studied the top of a Baird's Sparrows head, we could see all the incredible detail up close.

banding begins
They set up their table and banded.....

Dr. Ruth explains the Grasshopper Sparrow in detail
 .....and I recorded.  At this point in my life, I am comfortable saying that I am an observer of all things. Perhaps that's why I love photography and travel so much.  These people carefully banded, weighed, and measured each sparrow.

Grasshopper Sparrow
 They were then released back around Davis Pasture in Sonoita where they were found.

Each volunteer had a chance to release a sparrow(s).  Adults don't smile much.  There's really not much to smile about some days.  But I watched as each adult released a sparrow back into the grasses and there was this wonderful smile that developed on their faces.  Observing these moments with the group made me realize just how powerful an experience this can be for many people.  They don't even realize sometimes that they let their guard down for just one moment as that childlike wonderment sneaks out.

There is something very powerful about participating in the natural world around us.  Most of us who read blogs, etc understand this very special bond.

But we understand that there is also a lot of work and preparation that goes into these projects.  Early mornings, sun burn, itchy hikes full of nasty burrs......

checking the health of a sparrow by how much fat is on the bird's breast
.......and yet somehow none of that matters.  Because at the end of the day, it all was worth it.  These days my life flies by much too quickly.  The only way I can stop time is by taking pictures of the moments......guarding them inside my mind forever.

Savannah Sparrow
 They completed their studies near Sonoita, Arizona over a 4 day period with great success thanks to the help of many dedicated volunteers.  The success of banding sparrows requires many more people when compared to the banding of an owl or hummingbird.

The afternoon came to a close and the volunteers exited the grasslands of Southern Arizona. We found our Baird's Sparrow, but we also discovered so much more.

A special thank you to Dr. Janet Ruth and Jason for giving us the opportunity to get close to the birds we love so much.  Check out more birds from around the world on Wild Bird Wednesday!

“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much”
Helen Keller


  1. Chris, what an interesting post on your banding experience. I enjoyed the photos. Congrats on your Sparrow sightings.. Happy Birding!

  2. Wonderful photos Chris! I love the sparrows. They are such sweet little birds and often overlooked

  3. Miałeś kolejne wspaniałe przeżycie. Nie tylko Ty, ale wolontariusze też. Sama bym chciała w takiej akcji brać udział. Pozdrawiam.
    You had another wonderful experience. Not only you, but also volunteers. She would love to attend such an action. Yours.

  4. Lucky you!!! This made me smile big!! ☺

  5. Lovely commentary here Chris. Its good to be part of something like this, makes the days far more worth while. Of course they are superb birds and your close ups really show off the head and plumage colours really well..... superb post

  6. "An observer of all things" - a great attitude- love it. Lots like a good time for you and the others. Jack

  7. Thanks so much for sharing your story and the wonderful photos!

  8. Great post - I'm lucky enough to be involved with a group that bands waders - seeing the birds in the hand is remarkable.

    Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne

  9. Chris, this is a very nice post and what a great opportunity!

    Really enjoyed it!

  10. Hi Chris!:) My first thought was what a fantastic close up of the Bairds sparrow.It's stunning!These birds are such dainty creatures, far smaller than I ever knew a sparrow could be.Your interesting post made me want to be a part of something like this. Well done Chris for all your photos and your commentary.
    Warm Regards.

  11. That is SO interesting.. What a joy for you to get to see that process. I always wondered how they do that…. LOVED this post. Thanks.

  12. Chris, what a opportunity to be part of something so interesting. They are such tiny birds, and the detail like you said is amazing.


  13. How wonderful! Sounds like you had a great day.

  14. What a great way to spend a day, this is wonderful and your images are very nice!!!

  15. What an awesome experience, Chris!!! I've always wanted to participate in a bird banding event: your fantastic documentation made me feel like I was there! The first photo of the Baird's is out of this world...Keep well!

  16. A really interesting post, and a wonderful way for both you, and us who read about it, to learn more and share the experience, and the smiles!

  17. A really interesting post Chris and what a wonderful experience :)

    I've attended a few ringing demonstrations and they are really informative. Its great to get close to bird species and really appreciate their plumage.

  18. Fantastic post! Oh, what a wonderful experience this must have been. I can read the excitement and even reverence in your description of how it affected you and others. Great photos.


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