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  • Writer's pictureGregg Severson

Hankering for a Harris's Sparrow

One of the bird species that I really wanted to find this fall was a Harris's Sparrow. They are a visually striking sparrow, that is Canada's only endemic breeding bird species. They breed on the northern plains and winter on the southern plains, but a few always sneak over to eastern Minnesota, especially in the fall.

One of the prime spots for me to target them is at Coldwater Spring. There are always a ton of sparrows at Coldwater Spring in the fall, with a good variety of species. Furthermore, it is right on my way to and from work, so it is easy to go there without adding any distance to my day over and above what I need for commuting! However, despite several visits, I wasn't able to pull a Harris's out of the crowd of sparrows there.

On October 15th I headed to the Bass Ponds unit of the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge. Although there are often sparrows there, it was actually Northern Pintails that were at the top of my mind as a target species. When I got down to the Hogback Ridge trail, I saw lots of sparrows in the brush and grasses there. I took time to look through them to see if I could find a new sparrow for the year. None of the close birds were anything unusual - lots of White-throated Sparrows and Song Sparrows. But as I moved further along a flying bird caught my eye. It was relatively distant, but even from a distance I could tell that it was larger and had some black near the face. I moved towards that area slowly, so that I wouldn't flush the sparrows and blackbirds that were feeding and flying about. I located the unusual bird feeding in the short grass - it was a Harris's Sparrow! I took some record shots, but then continued following the Harris's to see if I could get a better pic. Eventually, it flew over to a brush pile, which allowed better views since it was willing to sit out more in the open with the protection of that brush pile nearby.

Harris's Sparrow
Now that is a handsome sparrow!

After the success of the Harris's, I continued on to look for the Northern Pintails, but I found none! Recent rains had raised the water levels quite a bit, and I guess the Pintails moved to better foraging locations. In any case, I was very happy to find the Harris's Sparrow and get that for my year list!

A map of my route to work via the Bass Ponds area of the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge

Mile biked on the Harris's Sparrow trip: 36.0

Miles biked during this time (since the last new bird species): 93.3

Miles biked year to date: 3053.2

Species count (MN): 227

Species count (overall): 228

My bike birding eBird profile: (Please note that you need a free eBird account to see profiles in eBird)

Fundraising links for the two organizations I am supporting with this green big half year. These causes are really important and they could really use your dollars to do a lot of good!

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