[Featured image: Grasshopper Sparrow at Viña Vieja Park, Pasadena, 10 November 2016]
I decided to do a “chase” today for a rare species: a Grasshopper Sparrow that was reported at Viña Vieja Park in Pasadena, approximately 10 miles from my house. While that species is certainly not a life bird for me (as they aren’t all that rare in the east), I have never heard or seen the species in California.
I arrived at the park at approximately 10:15 am. The park is small and predominantly composed of manicured grassland and landscape trees (certainly an alien environment for me to see this species in). Before I even parked my Jeep, I noticed a group of birders at the south end of the park with their binoculars, spotting scopes, and cameras all trained on the same area. I walked over quickly, slowing as I approached so as not to scare away whatever they were looking at. Another birder away from the group spoke.
“The Grasshopper Sparrow is on the fence.”
Lo and behold, there it was. Plain as day. I raised my camera and snapped a few pictures. It flew to the ground. It flew up into the tree and I snapped a few more. I saw and photographed the rarity and wasn’t there 60 seconds. It felt like cheating.
Also overhead in the tree shading our location was a small flock of Pin-tailed Whydahs. These are an introduced species that are not countable under American Birding Association rules, but are on your checklist if you enter them into eBird (as they want you to), which I did.
I left after 15 minutes with my Los Angeles life list expanded to 280 and my California life list expanded to 304. I headed east to Horsethief Canyon Park for my second attempt at getting the Thick-billed Kingbird that has been present there. I once again failed. Sometimes rare birds are easy. Sometimes they’re not.