White-crowned Sparrow

Back in 1983 or so, Dean and I spent the summer in Southern California. Dean had a summer job at Rand and we got to stay in various homes in the area — house sitting for other employees of Rand. I’d just begun to “bird” in earnest and California held a wealth of birds I’d not seen before. I especially remember seeing my first California towhee and California thrasher. I also saw dozens of Anna’s hummingbirds and several Bullock’s orioles. I don’t have my California list in front of me, but it goes on and on.

One place we stayed was near the Topanga Canyon in the Santa Monica Mountains. The house overlooked the city of Los Angeles, had a courtyard and was full of Real Art. The couple who lived there were high up in the Rand administration and somewhat wealthy. They had a woman who came in and cleaned their house — daily. This woman and I talked a lot — she loved cats (as did I) and she was an avid birder. She invited me to accompany her on an overnight trip to see some of the few remaining California condors in the wild, but I declined for a reason I don’t recall, but could kick myself now.

Her favorite bird was the white-crowned sparrow. In fact her license plate read wht crwn or something like that. She said it meant white-crowned sparrow. I’ve wanted to see one ever since, but never did. Until yesterday morning.

I’d just slipped a half a bagel into the toaster and was waiting for it to pop up so I took a look out the kitchen window. There, hopping among some spilled seed was a large sparrow with black and white stripes on its head. And no yellow spot between its eyes nor white at its throat. My first thought was white-crown! I ran to get the camera and of course it was gone when I got back. I thought I might be seeing one soon since one had been spotted a few streets away according to the Maryland birding email list to which I belong.

I sort of feel like my long ago connection with the birdwatching housekeeper in the Santa Monica Mountains was rekindled for a while when I finally saw the bird she cared enough about to pay extra for vanity tags.

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