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A Needle in the Haystack

The haystack is the lupine and coyote brush of the southern shore of Abbotts Lagoon in Pt. Reyes National Seashore. The needle is North America’s smallest sparrow, Le Conte’s Sparrow (Ammodramus leconteii). A bird that Pete Dunne describes as “secretive bordering on clandestine”. It was this needle that brought me to this lagoon on the inner reaches of the Pacific Plate on a Saturday morning.

The directions were simple: from the parking lot, head down the Lagoon Trail, past the second bridge the trail peters out. Keep the lagoon to your left, the beach to the right. Walk counter clockwise around the third lagoon, past the dead cow, cross the small creek bed and the Le Conte’s was seen at the base of the lupine ridge about 200 feet from the creek.

Forty minutes later I stood before the lupine ridge. Among the lupine was song and savannah sparrow and a house wren but no Le Conte’s. There were plenty of turkey vultures waiting on fence posts for their turn at the cow . I followed the ridge back and forth, willed the needle to appear at the top of a lupine bush. Was that it moving through the lupine like a feathered mouse? No just a song sparrow.

After about twenty minutes into the search a small flash of orange shot out of a lupine bush into another bush. I looked at the far bush, the sun at my back. A bird appeared at the top of the lupine bush, long enough to go through my checklist: bold striped head pattern, orange buffy wash and white belly, dark streaked sides. Le Conte’s Sparrow, Lifebird No. 499!

A note on the sketch: this sketch was heavily influenced by the line work of R. Crumb. I recently rewatched the documentary Crumb and I completed all the line work with my Noodler’s fountain pen, adding cross hatching and contort lines, before I added any paint.

Le Contes, B&W

Le Conte’s spread without paint, just the line work.