I wanted to find Eurasian Tree Sparrows, and I didn't just want to drive the city streets of St. Louis hoping I'd spot one in a tree or on a wire. So, like so many other times this year, I turned to the WWW for hints, answers and a fast track to the location of the "only in St. Louis" bird.
I came upon a sight that listed a dozen places where it could be found, the first of which actually gave an exact address of a house outfitted with a dozen bird houses that were home to the little brown guys. I drove there shortly after an abandoned search for a Buff-breasted Sandpiper and easily found the house. On the porch was an older gentleman, sitting in his chair enjoying the evening.
Not sure if I should just walk up to him I got out my binoculars and camera and started wandering the neighborhood, in search of the bird. Having no luck, I threw caution to the wind and approached the man, saying! " Either I will sound crazy to you, or you'll know exactly what I am talking about."
He looked at me with a perfect poker face as though I was speaking another language. I continued, "You wouldn't happen to know anything about the Eurasian Tree Sparrow?"
Know anything? Ha! Paul, as he is known,(don't even bother asking him his last name), bought the house 40 years ago and it wasn't long before he started noticing these strange sparrows, who want nothing to do with common tree or house sparrows. Over the years he has put up houses for the birds and they live there year round, except for a odd September vacation, where they disappear to who knows where and return in October. Many a foreign visitor has been disappointed to arrive at just the wrong time. And they do come from all over, including as far away as England.
He has kept a log book and has people sign it when he is there to greet them. He has kept these since 1979 but his original book is gone, borrowed by a reporter doing a story on him and the birds and never returned. Paul took me for a tour of the backyard bird houses, and invited me to sit and chat on his porch and even offered me a photo of the birds, he hands out to all visitors.
As we chatted the birds came in and flew out and eventually, after Paul bid me a good night and went in the house, one bird alighted in the house hanging by the front door and let me watch and photograph it before it too went in to sleep.
I was thrilled. Sure, it wasn't a difficult bird to find, but it probably was one of the most rewarding birds I've seen this year. Like so many other times before, it's not just the birds I have seen, but the places they have taken me and the people I have met along the way that has made this a truly great Big Year.
If you are passing through St. Louis, make your way to Dogtown and tell Paul, Robert sent you.
484 birds and counting. And if anyone is keeping score,(Fred), that puts me in the Top Ten on the E-bird list for 2012.