Set the fuse

Date 1 April 2021 | Category Days in Pictures, Thoughts about Things

It all started one year ago with a bird and a telephoto lens, changing the course of history.

White-crowned sparrow
The most important bird in the world

Birders talk about a “spark bird”, the one that gets you interested / obsessed with birding. And this is mine right here, this unassuming little thing with the sharp black-and-white striped head. I thought for sure it was some rare and precious specimen, but it turned out white-crowned sparrows are super hecking common. I just hadn’t been paying attention.

I had noticed birds before, of course, but only the big obvious ones, that I could capture with a phone camera: geese, gulls, crows, ducks, that sort of thing. And they pretty much only showed up in wide scenery shots.

Geese on False Creek
Morning commute for the honkers

I’ve discovered and shot many, many birds in the last year, but white-crowned sparrows still hold a special place in my heart. The little bit of David Lam Park near the ferry dock was my most reliable place to see them, because the bushes made for excellent nesting spots; however, you could find them throughout Davie Village and up the seawall to the edge of Stanley Park.

White-crowned sparrow on a bench
Posing on a bench

Speaking of nests, I was able to get a few shots of juveniles. I never actively looked for them, of course, and I kept my distance, but when you see a little birb looking like the senior Senator from Vermont, well, you can’t not take a photo.

Scraggly white-crown fledgling
It really was standing out there in the open!

Same as when you see one doing this cute little head tilt thing.

White-crowned sparrow tilting head

Throughout the summer I watched them grow up, watched the babies turn into young adults, mostly independent but still hanging out with their parents a lot. I kept waiting in vain for them to get their grownup colours, but it turns out their final change occurs only during their first spring.

white-crowned sparrow on a bench
A juvenile delinquent

Then, in the fall, song sparrows emerged from Stanley Park to take over the seawall, in what I’m told was an annual mini-migration: retreating to heavily wilderness-y areas like Stanley Park in the spring to raise their young, and then spreading out again. But that process—at least in my neck of the woods—involves pushing the white-crowns out. My downtown sightings dried up, stopping completely in late October.

White-crown at sunset
My last white-crowned sparrow of the year

But then! In mid-March, after months of fretting, I started seeing and hearing them again—first by Stanley Park, then quickly spreading to their old haunts. And all was right with the world!

white-crowned sparrow
Belting out their tunes
white-crowned sparrow in the green
The sights and sounds of spring

I still don’t know where they’ve been, and I’m kind of curious… Right now, though, I’m just happy they’re back. Here’s to another year of birding!

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