Pine Warbler and Field Sparrow

Later this morning, under a sky veiled in filmy-white, I walked through a light mist that must have been fog. No sunlight made its way through the mist, but the morning felt cool and spring-like, not cold or gloomy.

Out of the fog, two clear images emerged along the way. A Pine Warbler flew across the road in front of me, in a flash of warm, deep yellow, and stopped on the top of a utility box – not the most picturesque setting, but it was colorful and beautiful, just the same – a small, slender bird with yellow throat and breast and olive-yellow head, yellow spectacles around the eyes, and blurry olive streaks on the sides. Recently, the Pine Warblers’ musical trills have been among the most frequent bird songs, one of the first to sing in the morning, and often singing outside my office windows off and on all day.

Near the north end of the old field along the highway, several White-throated and Song Sparrows had flown out of the thickets to forage in the weedy, short grass along the roadside – and among them was a Field Sparrow. It flew up from the grass into a small, raggedy tree on the edge of the field and sat in clear view – a diminutive, pale, but pretty sparrow with a light-reddish brown and gray-striped face and head, brown-streaked wings, a long tail and plain grayish breast – and a white eye ring and pink bill.

Field Sparrows used to be so common here I pretty much took them for granted, and their cheerful, bouncing songs rose from many old fields and pastures as surely as the grasses, weeds and blackberry vines. These days I see and hear them much less often. They are not considered seriously threatened, but their populations are declining throughout their range, probably because of loss of habitat. In this area, more and more of the brushy old fields and pastures they need are being replaced by subdivisions, shopping centers and other suburban development.

A Field Sparrow is a good example of a bird that thrives on “abused land” that’s given a chance to recover, and is a testimony, perhaps, to the value of this kind of land – and its natural place in the process of succession.

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