This little guy, a fox sparrow (Passerella iliaca) has been bringing in our days every morning here in Seward with the loveliest song. Day by day, he’s grown a bit tamer. Today he was gracious enough to allow us to get these photos.
“LBB’s,” my undergraduate ornithology teacher called them. Little brown birds. You see one, and even if you get a really good look at it, when you go to Peterson’s or some other bird guide, what you see quickly becomes a blur of what you think you saw mixed in with a handful of similar-looking birds. But the songs are compelling and unique, and so you keep going back and forth from binoculars to field guides, and if you do this often enough over enough years, distinct species begin to take form.
Here he is, singing his heart out. No doubt some avian version of something clear and strong about being in the right time and place, eager and ready. We humans hear that in birdsong, and it lifts us.
There are four subspecies of fox sparrows, each geographically unique, except when they overlap. Which they do. And when they do, the birds interbreed. More LBB’s. More scrutiny through binoculars. More head scratching over pictures in bird books.
When I approached too close, he went for a familiar place: the ground. Fox sparrows love underbrush and are often heard rustling through leaves or glimpsed flitting from one low willow to another.
We’re lucky. We who live in North America. These migratory passerines breed up here. Which means they sing. In the places they head to during the winter, they don’t breed, and they typically don’t sing.
Before he flew off, he perched atop a wooden sign and gave a backward glance. The early morning sky was gray. I returned to the camper to make a blueberry pancake and fry some bacon while Barbra cut a grapefruit in half and made us big mugs of coffee.