Foam Lake Birding No. 147

No. 147
            This Thursday, morning as I watched a very rainy and windy day unfold, I was pleased to see the arrival of the last of our transient birds.  So far only the White Crowned and White Throated sparrows have arrived but the Harris Sparrow, Lincoln's Sparrow and Swainson's Thrush cannot be too far behind. 
            As we were watching the new arrivals a Cooper's Hawk suddenly flew into our back yard and landed in a tree near the feeders.  At the moment the hawk appeared all the birds including the Grackles and Robins disappeared.  The hawk sat for a few moments and before I could get my camera it flew off.  Almost immediately after the hawk flew away the Robins returned followed by the rest soon after. 
            The transient bird that I will cover this week is the American Tree Sparrow.  This close relative and lookalike of the ever present Chipping Sparrow is quite common in rural areas but not so in urban ones.  Both species sport stripy brown wings, tails and backs with soft grey breasts and bellies topped off with rusty red caps.  The real difference is that the Tree Sparrow has a smallish black spot in the middle of its breast whereas the Chipping Sparrow never has. 
            However, both my wife and I had a tough time identifying this bird at first because it did not look like anything that was pictured in the common bird books.  Our bird most closely resembled a Tree Sparrow except that it was too dark and also had some faint breast striping near the shoulders of the wings.  In many ways it also resembled a Lincoln's Sparrow.  Finally my wife looked at the Ken Kaufman guide and there it was - the American Tree Sparrow.  Kaufman's guides use actual photographs instead of paintings which is usually a handicap but not in this case.  Kaufman's photo and mine looked exactly the same.  The point to all this is that birds are not clones and sometimes there is considerable variation between individuals of  the same species as was the case here.  In such situations a variety of guides are very beneficial in identifying aberrant birds. 
            This week's photo of the American tree Sparrow was taken in our back yard right after the April snow storm.