The tiny and normally retiring Le Conte's Sparrow speaks to the quirks of birders. Today, we had sensational bugling giant cranes that 4 feet tall with 7 foot wingspans, and odd mega-billed bogsuckers (snipe) in abundance, and it was this Lilliputian ochre-colored puffball that had everyone jumping around and cameras clicking. We had seen two Le Conte's on the way out the dike, but neither was cooperative, instead behaving in the shrinking-violet manner so typical of the species. Finally, after some serious mucking, we stumbled into a group of four. This one was quite the extrovert, leaping high in the weeds and allowing us to fawn over him for a minute or two. Unfortunately the light was not great and photos, not so great either.The Le Conte's Sparrow is quite dashing, really. I think even a person with only marginal interest in avifauna would find one nice. From the creamy crown stripe to the intricate streaking of the back, they exhibit the best of the subtly beautiful sparrow adorments. Having to work hard to see one - at least around here - adds to the thrill of seeing one.
The wetland these Le Conte's frequented was also interesting, and perhaps telling about the inclinations of the bird. The patch that we saw them in was a bit of an oasis in a sea of invasive Reed Canary Grass, Phalaris arundinacea. Canary Grass contains little in the way of biodiversity, and thus food for sparrows. On the other hand, Le Conte's wetland was loaded with copiously fruiting Water-plantain, Alisma subcordatum, as well as three or four species of smartweeds. Sparrows really go for the achenes (seeds) of the latter. Also mixed in was nice cover in the form of two native sedges, River Bulrush, Bulboschoenus fluviatilis, and Soft-stemmed Bulrush, Schoenoplectus tabernaemontani. The latter is one of the most cumbersome binomials in North American botany - Skee-no-plek-tus tab-ern-ee-mon-tan-eye. Ten syllables. Up until fairly recently, it was called Scirpus validus - Sker-pus val-ih-dus. A thrid-grader could pronounce the earlier name; now no one knows what to say. No matter, the name's not important to Le Conte's Sparrows and they liked hanging out in the stuff.
With the continued fairly mild weather projected for the next week, these sparrows ought to linger. If the chance arises, go have a look.