My Witt's End

Little Things in Life

If you're a birder and keep a life list and are only slightly obsessed with the number of birds you've seen (even when, years later, you can't remember what the bird looks like, or when and where you saw it) the relative size of the bird also fades in significance. A bird on the list becomes a number. You agonize when the powers that be decide to lump species together, like the three distinct species of juncos, into one because it reduces your number. Of course you cheer the insightfulness of these same committees when they split a species, like Winter Wren into eastern versions and western Pacific Wren. Your number goes up.

This lumping and splitting seems to be more prevalent with small birds than it does with larger birds--a completely novice observation on my part. Recently, Susan and I were able to up our numbers (me more than she since she just makes a mental note of new life birds whereas I rush to any of three electronic devices to enter information and admire my numbers--610 North American species with no trip to Alaska, thanks for asking) with a trip to the West Coast and here in our back yard.

The western bird (609 as he's referred to) was the Nutmeg Mannikin in Santa Barbara, California. Actually, we saw this bird there a year ago and were unable to identify it--a fact that drove us a bit bonkers. When we saw it then we did not have a camera, thus were left with nothing other than our memories to go on as we searched our field guides. This year, while looking for the elusive Blue-footed Booby, we talked with a local birder who casually mentioned the Nutmeg Mannikin as a now-countable species in California. We checked the field guide and Ka-Ching! It took us a couple days to find and photograph the little guy.


Nutmeg Mannikin, Lake Los Carneros, Goleta, California

Number 610 was close to home, the Wake Robin Trail in Mentor Marsh, Ohio. Every fall there are reports of the hard-to-find LeConte's Sparrow passing through this area on migration. Like clockwork the birds started appearing in the usual spot and identified by Jerry Talkington, our local sparrow magnet. We were unable to chase the bird on its first appearance, however, did not hesitate when it was spotted again on October 21. And, as luck would have it, Jerry happened along after we'd been searching for about an hour. With his guidance and knowledge of the bird's habits, we were able to get fleeting glances (about the best one can hope for with this five-inch ball of orange feathers) of this elusive bird.

Photos of the LeConte's Sparrow didn't happen. We hardly got our binoculars on this bird that pops out of the high grass for about two or three seconds. Our views of it were good enough to add it to the life list, however.

Here are a few more cooperative creatures we saw while looking for the LeConte's Sparrow.


 Praying Mantis


 Song Sparrow


 Swamp Sparrow




John R April 16, 2014 @10:51 pm

The mantis is a female as indicated by the abdomin full of eggs and mother is looking for a sturdy stem and dry place to form her egg mass.

Susan J October 23, 2013 @10:46 am

I love to share in the memories, by your words. Lovely job once again!

Clyde October 22, 2013 @01:46 pm

Great story, great images.

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