Passerella iliaca. The Fox Sparrow. Long has this bird been an interest of mine. It is one of the most widespread sparrows, but also one of the hardest ones for me to find. In the summer time, I have the Slate-colored Fox Sparrows staked out in their willow carr haunts, but even there they are not common and a pleasant surprise to encounter. The Colorado subspecies, schistacea, is a rare wintering species in the valleys below the mountains in which it breeds, so when one showed up in Paonia, Colorado at my friend Dennis Garrison's office in Paonia, I decided that a Fox Sparrow was worth going after. But this was mostly because of the other Fox Sparrow currently there: iliaca, the Red Fox Sparrow. Long had I dreamed of seeing the nominate Fox Sparrow, the rusty red denizen of the northern Boreal realm, and the only Fox Sparrow of the eastern United States. So, on 16 December, I made the drive down. On the way, I picked up a few good year birds: Chukar on the road to Paonia, Harris's Sparrow in my friend Jason Beason's yard, and an Evening Grosbeak at Dennis Garrison's house. We then arrived at the sparrow spot. Sure enough, as soon as we arrived, we were greeted by the Slate-colored Fox Sparrow.
Passerella iliaca schistacea: Slate-colored Fox Sparrow, Paonia, Colorado.
The Red Fox Sparrow, however, was a no show. So I waited. And waited. I got to talking to Dennis about life in general, and we sorted through the numerous Juncos, with Gray-headed, Pink-sided, Oregon, and Slate-colored being present (and probably one or more subspecies of the above but I am not good enough to seperate that well). A Cooper's Hawk mobbed t
he feeders, a very reddish Song Sparrow almost gave me a heart attack every time it jumped out, and the Slate-colored Fox Sparrow put in quite a show. Just as Dennis began to say that it should show up at any time, there was a flash of red: it was the bird we were waiting for!
Passerella iliaca iliaca: The Red Fox Sparrow, Paonia, Colorado.
My lifer Red Fox Sparrow sat around for about a minute under the feeder, kicking up vegetation like an oversized junco. It soon flew back into the depths of the wood pile, and I was headed home. The bird was well worth the trip, and as I saw the some Lewis's Woodpeckers fly over the road, I realized it was good to be back in Colorado, and couldn't wait to see what tomorrow would bring.