Clay-colored Sparrow

November 13th, 2016: A trip to Jericho Park for a rarity

Only in Vancouver would passerines still be coming through in mid-November. I was excited to head out to Jericho Beach Park to look for a Clay-colored Sparrow. Clay-colored Sparrows are rare in Vancouver, so I’ve not seen many.

Jericho Beach Park is south of the Burrard Inlet and a little west of downtown. For me, it was on the way to work (at UBC). It’s a great spot with a confluence of habitats: city park, ponds, marsh, woodland, and ocean shore. But if you’re planning a trip, it’s best to go very early since it can be pretty full of people at times, making birding tough.

Satellite view of Vancouver with Jericho Beach Park
Satellite view of Vancouver with Jericho Beach Park

It was relatively cool today, however, so sauntering in at a leisurely 10:30AM wasn’t an issue. In fact, I turned up lots of birds (eBird list). Highlights were Snow Goose, a Eurasian Wigeon mixed in the with the American Wigeon, some “bonies” (Bonaparte’s Gull), a Merlin, a late Common Yellowthroat, and a pair of “late” Yellow-rumped Warbler. I write “late” because we have a few Yellow-rumps overwinter in Vancouver, but nearly all of them depart.

A "fall" (non-breeding) Yellow-rumped Warbler
A “fall” (non-breeding) Yellow-rumped Warbler

And of course, there was the Clay-colored Sparrow! I love seeing these sparrows and have only seen them a handful of times in the past. They’re absolutely beautifully patterned. But they’re also really not a bird that’s easily appreciate by non-birders, since they epitomize the “LBJ.”

Their faces are all about stripes and I find myself drawn to the light eyebrow, moustache, and crown stripes over the darker stripes. I don’t know why this is since I’m usually drawn to the darker lines on Lark Sparrow, Song Sparrow, etc. Maybe that’s another reason I love the Clay-coloreds so much.

A Clay-colored Sparrow singing
A Clay-colored Sparrow singing

Hearing their songs buzz their way across the prairies out east is just awesome. Those 2–4 buzzes are unlike anything else and, while they can be tough to locate, they’re just great to hear. I say “prairies,” but they like all shrublands actually. I’ve often seen them in areas that have recently been burned at are starting to grow back.

Anyway, I was thrilled to find this first Clay-colored Sparrow for me in Vancouver. But on the way out, I happened across another rarity: a Palm Warbler. They’re less rare, to be sure, but even stranger to see so late in the year. It was perched, with its tail pumping away. What a day!

An "eastern" Palm Warbler from MN
An “eastern” Palm Warbler from MN

Leave a Reply