Friday, October 31, 2014

Sparrow Extravaganza: White-throated, American Tree, Swamp and Song Sparrows plus Dark-eyed Junco

[Macomb Co. Hotspots. Oct, 2014]

The family of American Sparrows comprises, besides its namesake species, also plump Towhees and delicate Juncos numbering in all about two score distinct avian species. Of this wealth of "cryptic brown jobs" that grace our land, we shall endeavor to briefly profile a small selection of a half-dozen species that were observed in Fall at Lake St. Clair, Wetzel SRA and Wolcott Mill Metropark:
  • White-throated Sparrow
  • Dark-eyed Junco
  • Song Sparrow
  • Swamp Sparrow
  • American Tree Sparrow 
  • Eastern Towhee
We start with the White-Throated Sparrow:

White-throated Sparrow seen at Lake St. Clair Metropark
White-throated Sparrow is an abundant species across North America with a population, though declining, estimated at 140 million -- that's almost one sparrow for every two humans in the US.

White-throated Sparrow seen at Lake St. Clair Metropark
Breeding mainly across Canada, these distinctive sparrows move south to the US in winter.

White-throated Sparrow seen at Lake St. Clair Metropark
The yellow lores, white throat and supercilium, black eye-stripe and whiskers are all distinctive identification features of this sparrow.

In contrast to the White-throated Sparrow, the Dark-eyed Junco lacks the complexity of facial markings -- presenting simply a pink bill set against a slate-grey face with a dark eye (compare with Yellow-eyed Junco).

Dark-eyed Junco seen at Wolcott Mill Metropark
The Dark-eyed Junco comes in several races including the Oregon as well as the Grey Headed subspecies.
Dark-eyed Junco seen at Wolcott Mill Metropark
The white flash of the tail (see above) is distinctive as these small sparrows flit about the shrubbery looking for seeds to eat.

Dark-eyed Junco seen at Lake St. Clair Metropark

Other sparrows observed included:

Song Sparrow:
Song Sparrow seen at Lake St. Clair Metropark
Not terribly visually distinctive (unlike, say, the spectacular Olive Sparrow which has an unparalleled and unmistakable dark green back); this sparrow, however, more than makes up in song what it lacks in looks. Its stuttered, loud trilling is an indelible musical feature of marshlands in Spring and Summer.

Also observed was Swamp Sparrow:
Swamp Sparrow seen at Lake St. Clair Metropark

Swamp Sparrow seen at Lake St. Clair Metropark
Lacking the bold streaks of the Song Sparrow on its chest, Swamp Sparrow is a richly russet sparrow with a white throat and grey, un-striped chest.

Much brighter with a grey face, crisp rusty crown and two white wingbars is the American Tree Sparrow:


American Tree Sparrow seen at Wetzel SRA

American Tree Sparrow seen at Wetzel SRA
A winter resident, these distinctive sparrows are a familiar sight in fields of tall grass and shrubs.

Our last sparrow is a Towhee -- in this case, a juvenile Eastern Towhee that was observed foraging in the leaf litter:

Eastern Towhee seen at Lake St. Clair Metropark
This is our (as in those that live in the Eastern US) only Towhee -- a group of large, rotund sparrows that find their center of diversity and abundance in the West and Southwest of the country with signature species such as Abert's Towhee, California Towhee and the very special Green-tailed Towhee.

Bonus bird: a beautiful American Robin set against the red berries of a Hawthorn tree:

American Robin seen at Lake St. Clair Metropark
While warblers, tanagers and grosbeaks steal the show with their colorful flamboyance in Spring, the Sparrows gain ascendancy in the Fall as the former scurry away to tropical climes with the approach of Winter's colder temperatures.

1 comment:

  1. The Song Sparrow's "fledgling zeee calls" is particularly appealing as heard at the audubon.org website, Hemant. V. McGrath's Nelson's and Saltmarsh Sparrows will, of course, be target species at the Bunche Beach Saltmarsh in the coming months.

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