A Flutter of Fame


We reached our “15 minutes of fame” in the world of bird-watching but now it has stretched into a 5th week of fame. Let me explain. We’ve told you before we “bird” and we participate in “Project Feederwatch” so it should come as no surprise that we are looking out of the windows a lot to see who is visiting our feeders and suet baskets.

On December 21, 2013, I was sitting at my usual spot at our dining table next to a large window, typing away on my laptop, when I glanced out the window and saw a bird that looked “different.” That means he was the size and shape of a house sparrow but his markings were not what I would expect on a house sparrow. Curt was on the other side of the house snow-blowing and I knew if I didn’t get the ID right, he’d be skeptical.

What to do? Quick! Before he flies away. Write down field marks – need pencil, paper….Grab a bird book – page through ten pages of sparrows…no time!! Wait! There sat the camera. I slowly picked it up and shot off a burst of pictures before the bird flew off. Whew!

A new species! Split second decisions! Lightning fast reflexes! Damn, my life is exciting.

Harris's Sparrow -left: my first frantic shots, right: two weeks later

Harris’s Sparrow -left: my first frantic shots, right: two weeks later

When Curt got back inside I showed him the pictures and we identified the bird as a Harris’s Sparrow. This little guy only breeds in far northern Canada in the summer, then spends his winter in Nebraska to Texas. The only time he should be in Wisconsin is when he’s migrating through and then it’s the far western corner of the state. When a wayward bird like this shows up, the first thing birders do is post the sighting to a listserv for bird fanatics. There is usually one in each state. We did and the first emails started a day later and in two days the birders starting showing up. We knew that would probably happen or we wouldn’t have posted the sighting. And yes, we told them they were welcome.

It’s been a month now and our little Harris’s Sparrow still shows up everyday. No reason to head out into the winter wind when he’s got a ready supply of food. More cars show up everyday too, sitting on the road or in our driveway…binoculars and spotting scopes sticking out of the windows. It doesn’t bother us but we forgot to mention it to our neighbors. Our immediate neighbor called us last week. Her teenage daughter gets home from high school around 3pm and reported to her parents that there were suspicious looking cars parked at the road. We explained about the birds and reassured her all was harmless. They just look like peeping toms.

Peeping birders make neighbors wonder

Peeping birders make neighbors wonder

Tonight while I was out Curt had a visitor. A bit unusual to get a knock on the door at night as we live out on a country road. It was a neighbor who regularly walks our road with another gal. We do have neighbors but it’s not like in the city. She wanted us to know they had seen some strange cars stopped by our house. Checking to see if we were okay. Curt, once again, explained about the bird.

So, this started out as a story about birds and birders and all the quirkiness that goes with that but it has ended up as tale about good neighbors. People watching out for each other, making sure the neighborhood is safe. Checking on that retired couple (us) who lives on the hill. Sweet.

This has been one weird winter. Lots of snow, ultra-severe cold, a lost feathered visitor. And it only gets weirder. Another bird not common in Wisconsin in winter, a Northern Mockingbird, showed up in our yard. I’d better warn the neighbors.

Northern Mockingbird

Northern Mockingbird


8 thoughts on “A Flutter of Fame

  1. How fun. That’s so fascinating that people will drive to come see that bird. It’s also interesting that he is content to just hang around your place for the winter and that he can always be found… I suppose you are feeding him though, like you said. Reading things like this makes me realize there is so much to notice and appreciate around us all the time.

  2. Jeanne, this is fabulous! This will keep me looking out the windows even more- (other than to check how cold it is or how much snow has fallen! …. your cousin – Linda

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