Posing

(Burrowing Owl Update Below)

Golden-crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia atricapilla)

I’ve noticed that birds have agency when it comes to having their pictures taken. If they don’t want it, I have a heck of a time getting their portraits. They seem to know exactly when my lens has them in the frame and in focus, and at the instant my finger starts to press the shutter button, they’re gone. But when they feel pretty and want their pictures taken, they’ll pose endlessly. That was the case with this Golden-crowned Sparrow. Two and then three of them perched on this big rock near the northwest corner of the park and nothing could roust them. Walkers, runners, a photographer setting up a gangly tripod, no problem. So I picked the nearest one and ran the video. Is this my good side? Let me show you my other side! This bird is so pretty, and maybe it knows it. But while it spreads a bit of sunshine with its crown feathers, it seems to spread sadness with its song:

Around the turn of the twentieth century, miners of the Klondike and elsewhere in the Yukon Territory, British Columbia, and Alaska knew the Golden-crowned Sparrow as “Weary Willie” because it was forever singing, “I’m so tired!” (Burroughs et al. 1986). Others called it the “No Gold Here” bird, and disliked it because it repeatedly sang this unpleasant, but often correct, phrase. Perhaps the bleak outlook of the miners, coupled with the remote, often wet, windy, and cold habitats near tree line, influenced impressions of this handsome sparrow; apparently miners had little motivation to document the home life of their avian neighbor.

Birds of the World, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.gocspa.01

That’s another way of saying that scientists don’t know nearly as much about this bird as about its sparrow cousins. What’s known is that it spends the brief summer mating, making nests, laying eggs and all that in the far north, near the tree line in northwest Alaska, the Yukon, and nearby. When that gets too cold, it migrates south and spends the winter all up and down the Pacific Coat from British Columbia to Baja California. We see it in Chavez Park regularly. Then in spring, the reverse.

When they’re here they’re often in company with their nearest genetic cousins, the White-crowned Sparrow. They like to munch on fresh vegetation. This is one reason why we put up plastic cages around the baby plants we set in the ground recently as part of the Native Habitat Planting Project. (The cages also keep away other fresh green raiders, notably Ground Squirrels.) Besides greens, the sparrows live on seeds. They do a good job minimizing weed seeds on the ground. Their very sharp eyes and energetic work habits clean up an area in short order.

You can see more items about them here on chavezpark,org. My favorite post is “A Sparrow’s Life,” Mar 22 2018.

Burrowing Owl Update

A chill northwesterly wind prevailed this Monday morning and gave the Burrowing Owl little rest. It perched in spot B for the third day in a row, allowing park visitors to see it from the paved perimeter path, but few humans were out this early. As the camera ran unattended, the owl alerted repeatedly but briefly, and then decided to perch a bit lower, with possibly less wind. It could have chosen to shelter in one of the numerous crevices in the rocks beneath its feet, but it preferred to stand out and take the blow. The rest of the week is forecast as cold and dry, with more wind likely.

Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia) Dec. 12 2022

I also want to share these fine photos of the owl taken yesterday (Sunday 12/11) by photographer Keenan Quan. Thank you, Keenan!

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