Readers who have been with me a while will remember “Buddy,” the white-spotted male junco who lived near my workplace for years. Unusually-colored juncos aren’t as rare as, say, the recently-spotted yellow cardinal, but they aren’t common either. (In my field work in the Sierras we banded ~500 juncos, and only one had a color abnormality.) As a lover of both rare birds and juncos, I get pretty excited about them when I find them.
This particular junco flashed up out of a bush as I was walking past. The size, tail, and movement pattern all said “junco”—but when the bird landed in a tree and I got a good look, my brain’s bird-ID function got confused: “Big chickadee!” it suggested. “Small kestrel! Big-small-chickadee-kestrel-junco!”
I rushed home to get my camera, but my strange quarry was gone by the time I made it back. I returned several times in search of the unusual junco. I did find some other creatures on these searches:
My junco quest benefited at least one animal: on one trip I found an injured squirrel, who I brought to a wildlife rehabilitator for treatment.
And then, chasing the umpteenth junco that would surely turn out, again, to just be a normal junco… I found her:
You can see from this picture why I momentarily thought “kestrel” when I first saw her: the black and white on the face, the blue and orange on the back, are broadly reminiscent of that diminutive raptor.
Isn’t she stunning?
Like Buddy, who had a mate every year I knew him, this unusual junco has been successful in finding a mate:
(Yes, both of these juncos look like females. It’s possible that one is unusually pale for a male.)
Walking around my neighborhood with my camera and long lens, I got quite a few remarks from passers-by: “That looks heavy!” “What are you photographing with that?” When I said I was photographing birds, one man said, “Birds! There aren’t any birds here! You should go to Montana.” A woman recalled seeing interesting birds in other countries, and recommended companionably that I travel.
Of course I do like to travel—but there are interesting birds everywhere.