Friday, February 24, 2017

Bobbing for Apples and "Pishing" for Birds

Bobbing for apples was a pretty common party game when I was a kid. The game, simply put, went something like this. Someone would place a variety of apples into a large pan or bucket of water. Those playing the game would have the hygienic opportunity of trying to retrieve one of the elusively floating apples using only their mouths. Each player would get a turn until everyone had an apple or gave up on trying. Unless the apples were small, it required quite a few head dips and apples bobs to actually get one of the "used" apples. It seemed like good clean fun as a kid, but that game doesn't pass today's standards for preventing the spread of germs.

Yesterday I was walking around a friend's property in Utah County with one of my twin sons. We were looking for some macro birds (aka the big birds of prey) because my son is not a birder and the micro or "tweety" birds don't really keep his attention. We found two large, likely female, Cooper's Hawks and a Sharp-shinned Hawk. All three had crops that were bulging--a sign that there were a few less micro birds living in the area.

Just as we were leaving my friend's place I decided to play "pishing for birds", a super evolved form of the old bobbing for apples game. Pishing is better observed than explained, but it involves making a "pish, pish, pish" sound with your mouth. It tends to capture the attention of small birds hiding in thick brushy areas. You never know what you'll get when you "pish" for small birds. Well, within seconds of starting my pishing yesterday I won the prize. A rare little gem popped right up from its hiding place to a vantage point that allowed the two of us to make eye contact. It was a White-throated Sparrow, a sparrow considered rare for the state of Utah. As is usually the case when one of these is found in Utah it was floating in a pan of water, I mean hiding in a brushy area with a group of lookalike friends, the White-crowned Sparrows. The white and brown stripes on the head of White-throated are similar to our ubiquitous White-crowned Sparrows, but the yellow lores and white throat patch separate the rare sparrow from the more common sparrow. The bill of a White-throated is also kind of a dark gray rather than the almost orange color for the bill of a White-crowned.

White-throated Sparrow Utah County, Utah, USA

White-throated Sparrow Utah County, Utah, USA

White-throated Sparrow Utah County, Utah, USA
I am always amazed at the odds of being in the right place at the right time when finding a rare bird because the earth is a pretty big place.  Yesterday, I was in the right place at the right time for a Utah County, and Utah for that matter, birder.

Below are three images to compare the appearance of the White-throated with both a juvenile and adult image of  the more common (in Utah anyway) White-crowned Sparrow.

Adult White-throated Sparrow (Utah County, Utah, USA)
Juvenile White-crowned Sparrow
Adult White-crowned Sparrow

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