Friday, May 23, 2014

Virginia Rail, Spotted Sandpiper, American Pipit and Lincoln's Sparrow

[Lake St. Clair Metropark, MI. May 2014]

Lake St. Clair Metropark offers a variety of habitats: the lakeshore, marshy areas, woodlands, and, of course, the lake itself. All of these support an interesting mix of shorebirds, rails and herons, warblers, flycatchers and waterfowl.

In this post we will explore some marshland species such as Virginia Rail and Marsh Wren as well as Sparrows and a couple of shorebirds:
  1. Virginia Rail
  2. Marsh Wren
  3. Savannah Sparrow
  4. Lincoln's Sparrow
  5. Song Sparrow
  6. White-crowned Sparrow
  7. American Pipit
  8. Spotted Sandpiper
  9. Dunlin
We start with the rail:




Virginia Rail seen at Lake St. Clair

At this time of year, the Virginia Rail can be quite vocal -- betraying its presence through its distinctive calls ("kiddick" and grunting). However, sighting this bird in the reed bed is a different matter,  even though this rail is commonly found from coast-to-coast across North America, it is highly secretive and rarely seen. This is an attractive rail -- showing shades of ochre, grey and brown.

Another bird that's completely at home among the cattails is the Marsh Wren:



 Marsh Wren seen at Lake St. Clair

These incessantly noisy, tiny wrens are found across the country. However, the Western race (seen in California here) is paler; but, more significantly, vocalizes differently -- hence, it is within the realm of possibility that the Western race will be split off into its own species.

Savannah Sparrow is found in grasslands and other suitable habitat; at this venue, however, two migrating individuals were seen by the lakeshore:



Savannah Sparrow seen at Lake St. Clair

Identification of the Savannah Sparrow is made easier by its field marks including a pinkish bill and legs and a yellow eyebrow.  Compared to the crisp white look of the Savannah, Lincoln's Sparrow is largely grey with a thin eyestripe:


Lincoln's Sparrow

Song Sparrows are most numerous at Lake St. Clair:


Concluding with the Sparrows, a White Crowned was sighted briefly and at a distance:


Sparrow-like but belonging to the Motacillidae family is the American Pipit:


American Pipit seen at Lake St. Clair

The pipits were seen by the Lakeshore; their loopy flights (resembling a sine wave) and their loud "peep" calls giving them away.

Shorebirds have been poorly observed this Spring at Lake St. Clair -- part of the problem being the cleanup efforts (optimized by Park Staff for humans not shorebirds) that have disturbed suitable habitat. However, one shorebird prefers marshy areas where it breeds: the Spotted Sandpiper.



Spotted Sandpiper seen at the lakeshore lunging at an insect (topmost) and perched on a fallen tree

When it comes to naming birds, it may be universally agreed that no single convention works best -- and, since many species are seasonally dimorphic, even descriptive names are valid only some of the time.

Hence many a birding neophyte in Winter is left puzzled wondering why Black-bellied Plovers or Spotted Sandpipers lack black bellies and spots (eg., see the Fall version of the Spotted Sandpiper in SW FL Last Fall). Unsurprisingly, the Black-bellied Plover is also known as "Grey Plover" outside of the US. Either name is apt 50% of the time!

However, in Spring, Spotted Sandpiper looks just like the name says. Moreover, the (presumed) male, will perch on higher ground (seen on a sign post and a fallen tree) and will whistle loudly.

The Dunlin seemingly presents no such quandry:

Dunlin seen at Lake St. Clair

It is, however, a little known fact that Dunlin comes from dunn (Anglo-Saxon for "brown").

From rails to sparrows and sandpipers, Lake St. Clair offers a unique assortment of species that will delight the birder.

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