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March 16, 2013

In March, new birds arrive to feed

March is considered a quiet time in the birding world, at least in our area. Yet, there are changes happening — beyond the early Daylight Saving leap forward. The birds at the feeders are changing.

The first groups of redwings and grackles have invaded feeders and, yet, wintering tree sparrows linger on. A resident downy woodpecker still visits, and the goldfinches — though showing a bit more yellow — are still frequenting thistle feeders. Early spring migrants may be making feeder stops, so you should watch your feeders carefully.

It was five years ago when Doug Chickering of Groveland shared with us some of his feeder birds and his discovery of a new spring visitor. It flew in to the base of the far feeder pole at late dusk. There was just enough light to see that it was smaller than the cardinal that fed there. We get several cardinals at dusk, sometimes as many as nine.

The small bird immediately started to forage at the base of the feeder and my first impression was of a song sparrow. There had been a song sparrow out there earlier. I have learned by hard experience not to let an open bird go half identified, so I brought my binoculars to bear. The bird was feeding with its back to me. The heavy streaking at the side seemed, at first, to confirm my original impression. Yet I wasn’t convinced. The bird seemed rather big, and my natural instinct was to turn it into something else, something more exotic.

This usually doesn’t work, still I waited for the bird to move, to give me a better look. In the dim light there was no discernible color, but as soon as the bird lifted its head, I recognized it to be a fox sparrow. We always get a fox sparrow in the spring; its arrival is one of our welcome heralds of the onset of spring.

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