Well, nearly. From March 10, 2000, I became a serial poster to South Bay Birders, whose site still exists and maybe their list-server too. Here’s my first offering, which demonstrates how tough the Yankee sparrows are for the newbie:
“I have been in the area for a few weeks and have got fairly confident with separating your sparrows, gulls and hawks. It seems as though the golden rule with the last of these is to assume a Red-tail until there is compelling evidence to the contrary! And the immature sparrows really got me for a while.
“I am left with one intriguing sighting at Sunnyvale Baylands Park on the 17th of last month. I saw a small, dark sparrow up a tree near the entrance parking lot. I was able to get the binoculars on to it from a distance of about 30 feet, so the view was not bad. When I say dark, I mean that black would be an overstatement but not by much. And I assumed sparrow because of its somewhat conical bill. It had a short tail and there was the suggestion of a paler eyebrow. It was also possible that the head was paler than the rest of the body with darker ear patches. The light was not great and any of these effects could have been due to it (I have seen enough crows with apparent markings to be aware of this).
“The bird flew off, fortunately in to another tree with a handful of others. I was now further away but its companions showed as all dark too. I may have caught a paler wing bar on one or two and one that was facing me definitely seemed to have a streaky chin. I fancied also that the bill may have been slightly paler than the rest of the bird.
“And that’s it. They took off before I could get closer. I have been back several times since without seeing anything remotely like them. I cannot find such a uniformly dark sparrow in my field guide nor any small passerine of that colouring. My suspicion now is that I was looking at a flock of escapees but perhaps someone out there will be able to put me right.”
Can anyone guess what species I eventually logged?