Neil and Janet Buffett keep an eye out for a black-throated sparrow in their Winter Harbor yard. PHOTO BY JACQUELINE WEAVER

Rare bird makes appearance, draws attention in Winter Harbor



WINTER HARBORBarnacle Lane is seeing more excitement than it ever has with the arrival of a feathered friend who has wandered far, far from home.

Birders from all over Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts are arriving at the doorstep of Neil and Janet Buffett to catch a glimpse of a black-throated sparrow.

“It was found during the Audubon’s annual Christmas bird count Jan. 1,” said Seth Benz, director of the bird ecology lab at the Schoodic Institute. “The word quickly got around. Folks have been coming from all over to see it.”

Benz said the sparrow is usually confined to arid areas of the Southwest but can be found slightly north of Colorado.

Black throated sparrow PHOTO BY ROB SPEIRS

Black throated sparrow
PHOTO BY ROB SPEIRS

The pale gray sparrow with a distinctive black-and-white head pattern was spotted by Chuck Whitney, Ed Hawkes and Debbie Hawkes.

“The conjecture is this bird got caught up in one of the westerly winds sweeping the continent and was brought over this way,” Benz said. “For whatever reason, it took up residence in Winter Harbor.”

He said the mild winter also might have had something to do with the bird’s path. Temperatures have just recently begun to dip into the low double digits.

However it got here, the Buffetts couldn’t be happier with their unexpected visitor, who pecks at the black sunflower seed and cracked corn that is in their bird feeder and scattered on the ground.

The sparrow also seems to be quite social, not found alone but usually in a flock of juncos and goldfinch.

“It’s been fun,” said Janet. “This has been our best entertainment this winter.”

Neither Neil nor Janet recognized they might be hosting a special guest, but they now welcome anyone who cares to wait to spot it. They have even invited a few people in.

“Some feel like they’re intruding or trespassing,” Janet said. “We tell them no.”

“One of the bird watchers said a group of men up the street were ‘very important people.’ I don’t know who they were,” she said.

Janet said the visiting birders often stand quite a distance away and use high-powered binoculars and long lenses to capture an image.

The Buffetts, on the other hand, can watch the black-throated sparrow from their kitchen window overlooking the bird feeder on the front lawn.

Benz said the attraction for birders is that they can add the black-throated sparrow to their “life list” of bird sightings without traveling to the Southwest.

Asked if the sparrow had been given a name, Benz said real birders don’t anthropomorphize.

In fact, if anything, they are more likely to use the bird’s scientific name, Amphispiza bilineata.

Jacqueline Weaver

Jacqueline Weaver

Reporter at The Ellsworth American
Jacqueline's beat covers the eastern Hancock County towns of Lamoine through Gouldsboro as well as Steuben in Washington County. She was a reporter for the New York Times, United Press International and Reuters before moving to Maine. She also publicized medical research at Yale School of Medicine and scientific findings at Yale University for nine years.[email protected]

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