Fox Sparrow and Sharp-shinned Hawk, December 30

On a cool, softly-overcast day, the sun often breaking through high, many-layered clouds, a sparrow flew out of some weedy thickets in a field across the road in front of me as I walked – and perched near the top of a small bare tree along the roadside.

I expected to see a White-throated Sparrow or maybe a Song Sparrow – but instead discovered a large, plump bird with a proud head and striking red-brown coloring, with contrasting dove-gray patterns on the head and face, red-brown wings, and white breast heavily spotted and streaked with red-brown. A Fox Sparrow.

I hadn’t seen a Fox Sparrow in several years, but its vivid coloring and shape and behavior are familiar. It was like seeing an old friend because I used to see them often in the winter, when we lived in a different place in Oconee County. This is the first time I’ve seen a Fox Sparrow here in this neighborhood. It stayed perched quietly in the little tree for maybe two or three minutes, giving me a good long look before it flew again, back across the road and out of sight in the shrubs of the field.

Just as I turned around and started to walk away, a compact, sleek gray hawk with a long tail flew suddenly out of the trees behind me like a phantom and swooped low across the road, skimming the top of the weeds and shrubs, then flying up and a little higher and away toward the trees on the other side of the highway, in a crisp and distinctive flap-flap-flap – glide pattern of flight – a Sharp-shinned Hawk.

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