Arlene Koch’s famous backyard habitat near Easton, PA which has lured in countless uncommon, unusual, and rare birds over the years is currently hosting a first winter Harris’s Sparrow as well as an adult ‘Gambel’s’ White-crowned Sparrow! I was able to make a quick stop by her house this past Sunday and was happy to get great views of both of the rare sparrows and also enjoy the constant activity of the hundreds of other feeder-birds in her yard. Of the 25 species seen during the time I was there, all but 3 were actively visiting the feeding areas around the yard!
Harris’s Sparrows are rare winter and early spring visitors to Pennsylvania, with at least one found nearly annually in the state. This species normally breeds in central Canada, and then migrates down to the Great Plains and Texas. There are actually two Harris’s Sparrows overwintering in Pennsylvania right now; Alrene’s bird and an adult male found by Vern Gauthier in Cumberland County along the Big Spring.
The adult ‘Gambel’s’ White-crowned Sparrow visiting the feeders in Alrene’s yard, along with 7 other ‘Eastern’ White-crowned Sparrows, is quite a rarity in it’s own regard. The ‘Gambel’s’ is one of five subspecies of White-crowned Sparrow, and breeds from Alaska to the Hudson Bay, overwintering south of there down to Mexico and generally avoiding the eastern states. This subspecies is told from ‘Eastern’ and ‘Mountain’ by the lack of black color in it’s pale lores and it’s orange bill. The bill is also shorter in this type, and the head shape thought to be more compact. In direct comparison to the adult ‘Easterns’ at Alrene’s, this bird did have a noticeably darker bill but the shape and structure of it’s body and head seemed fairly normal and if it weren’t for the lack of black lores it wouldn’t be very easy to pick out.
There were also at least 3 interesting Dark-eyed Juncos which I think may qualify for being ‘Cassiar’ types – hybrid ‘Oregon’ X ‘Slate-colored’. One bird had particularly bright peach-colored wash on the sides of it’s breast and down it’s flanks, while the other two (one shown below) were also quite pale and colorful. Overall, these three birds didn’t seem to fit with the other “normal” ‘Slate-colored’ Juncos around the feeders, and I think more photos from other birders visiting the site would be useful.