June 8 2012. “So what was your Bird of the Day today?” My companion asked as we drove home. Hmmmm. Well, I kind of liked the female Wood Duck with her two babes, but the Savannah Sparrow was really unusual and showed no fear of us, and the two sparring Spotted Sandpipers were quite a spectacle; and then there was a surprising Purple Finch on the tip of a tamarack. Hard to decide.
We’d had a long day in the field, most of the morning was spent helping a university student with a project involving bird populations. It was there that we saw the female Wood Duck. We were watching over a pond when first, a female Mallard with about eight well-grown youngsters erupted out of hiding, quacking and paddling furiously away from the edge of the pond, and then a Wood Duck and two ducklings followed squealing and panicked. I caught a momentary glimpse of a Red Fox following along the bank; presumably it had tried an ambush. Female Wood Ducks have eye make-up to rival Cleopatra, long sweeping teardrop lines emphasize their doe-eyes. From this human male’s point of view they are very cute but just a bit too precious at times.
In the afternoon we were exploring an abandoned water-filled quarry and sat for a while to enjoy the sounds and coolness of a fresh water spring. As we sat quietly, about fifty meters away two Spotted Sandpipers started an elaborate and energetic face to face display. Spotted Sandpipers are pretty diminutive birds but in an effort to look bigger both raised themselves on tiptoe, puffed up their shoulders and flashed their underwings. Sometimes it seemed to be a display of aggression and at other times maybe courtship, but the eventual arrival of a third bird into the mix convinced us that we’d been watching two males sparring over one female; and all that goes along with that. Watching the display reminded me of a similar confrontation I’d seen last year between two male Pectoral Sandpipers, I could never figure out what that scrap was all about since the birds had left their Arctic breeding grounds and were well on their way south; perhaps their ‘she’s mine’ hormones were still at work.
I think though that the Bird of the Day was the Savannah Sparrow that was cooling its feet and drinking in the nearby fresh water spring. It seemed an odd place for a Savannah Sparrow, we usually associate them with the margins of dry field where they perch atop a post or scrubby branch and sing their appropriately dry song: “Tsit Tsit Tsit Tsit Tsit-Seeeeeeeeee -zah.” This photo shows quite clearly the bold yellow area that runs from the beak back and over the eyes; without that it might easily be taken for a Song Sparrow.