Nature Watch: White-crowned sparrow's fun feeding habits


Q: I know the Old Sam Peabody Bird from visits to Greylock, but for the past few days have seen a small flock at our seed feeder of similar birds, but with more intense white on the head. What can you tell me (us) about them? -- Susan, Cheshire

A:My guess is you are not seeing the white-throated sparrow, so common at Mount Greylock summit, and its higher reaches, but the white-crowned sparrow.

"The smart black-and-white head, pale beak and crisp gray breast combine for a dashing look -- and make it one of the surest sparrow identifications in North America," according to Cornell University's All About Birds website. They are mostly ground feeding birds, often satisfied with seeds other birds have scattered beneath feeders, but will also visit feeders.

I usually only see the species during spring migration, although some winter here. Watch as they look for seeds beneath a feeder by "double scratching," a ploy they share with the towhee: They will hop backward dragging their feet to turn over leaves then hop forward. I find it especially fun to watch this technique on our deck.


Hoosic River Revival

My love for local rivers stems from a compulsion to be on, in or near water. Or is it the other way around?

Regardless, thanks to Matt Kelly, of New Ashford, who introduced me to kayaking the Hoosic some years ago. I have grown to appreciate that Berkshire anomaly, flowing north and west rather than what we are more use to, major streams flowing southerly.

I can't help being reminded of the novel and film title "A River Runs Through It," when I think North Adams.

"Imagine a downtown North Adams where the revitalized Hoosic River is the gem in the center of a vibrant city," said Judith Grinnell, coalition founder and chair of The Hoosic River Revival Coalition, when I interviewed her for a Berkshires Week feature in August, 2011. For this writer who has attempted to promote river walks throughout the Berkshires, it wasn't difficult to imagine such a place. The difference between a river flowing freely and one contained within tall concrete walls is akin to night and day. Few people, except senior citizens who grew up in North Adams, remember what the river was like some 60 or more years ago, before the flood control shoots were installed.

The HRRC is working to modify the flood structures so they maintain protection, improve river ecology, allow access and are aesthetically pleasing. It has happened in other communities and can happen here in this North County city, if the community doesn't give up.

On Tuesday, the Hoosic River Revival Coalition will offer an interesting, touching program that will capture the attention of adults and children with a story based on many hours of talking with North Adams residents and hearing their stories about North Adams and the Hoosic River.

It will be held at the First Congregational Church, 134 Main St., North Adams. Performed by world-renowned storyteller Judith Black, winner of the prestigious Oracle Award -- storytelling's most coveted prize -- it is scheduled as "a one-time-only public performance." Doors open at 5:30 p.m. Pizza and beverages will be served at 6 p.m. The performance begins at 6:45 p.m. Seating is limited, so it is recommended you arrive early, or reserve a place by calling (413) 212-2996 or email

Suggested donation for the event is: Adults, $2; children 12 and under, free.

Questions and comments for Thom Smith: Email


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