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Friday, January 30, 2015

Superb Sparrows featuring Nelson's, Swamp and Savannah plus Eastern Meadowlark and Western Kingbird

[SW Florida. December 2014]

Nelson's Sparrow has proven to be stubbornly averse to photographic observation with this blogger's prior attempts having been resoundingly defeated and rendered utterly fruitless on more than one occasion. Would a winter trip to SW Florida finally break the jinx?

A quick tour of hotspots in Southwest Florida including Bunche Beach Preserve (Ft. Myers), Church Rd (Felda) and Festival Park in Cape Coral, yielded a thrilling assortment of iconic species -- including the elusive Nelson's -- with species such as:
  • Nelson's Sparrow
  • Swamp Sparrow
  • Savannah Sparrow
  • Florida Scrub-Jay (endemic)
  • Eastern Meadowlark
  • Western Kingbird; and,
  • Loggerhead Shrike
We start with the sparrows:

Optimistic that the time was ripe for lifting the curse of the "no show" Nelson's, this blogger jumped at the opportunity to meet up with Bob Pelkey behind the Publix at John Morris and Summerlin at Bunche Beach Preserve.

Nelson's Sparrow seen at Bunche Beach Preserve
After diligently slogging through the tall grass in marshy habitat, and frustratingly beguiled into mis-identification by the odd Palm Warbler, our quarry was finally sighted. However, it would take a repeat attempt before the Nelson's Sparrow would acquiesce to photography.

Nelson's Sparrow seen at Bunche Beach Preserve
Both Nelson's and Saltmarsh Sparrow can be found at this venue (indeed, both were seen) and their similarity can spark confusion. The difference boils down to the degree of buffiness and the boldness of the streaking on the flanks -- Nelson's is buffier overall while Saltmarh's streaking is crisper and bolder.

Nelson's Sparrow seen at Bunche Beach Preserve
Elation over the successful sighting and (digital) capture of the Nelson's outweighed any concern over soggy footwear due to water-logging in this marshy area. A small price to pay for a Lifer!

Not too far from the Nelson's was the other sparrow species -- Swamp Sparrow:

Swamp Sparrow seen at Bunche Beach
With a grey face, black eyeline, reddish back and an unmarked grey breast, the Swamp Sparrow ranges across the Eastern half of the US. Contrast this with the Nelson's Sparrow which is much more restricted in its distribution -- found breeding only in the interior US and coastal North Atlantic.

Swamp Sparrow seen at Bunche Beach
Our third sparrow in the series is Savannah -- observed well at Harns Marsh:

Savannah Sparrow seen at Harns Marsh
Harns Marsh has been reliable for sparrow observation on prior occasions (eg., a Grasshopper Sparrow in Feb 2013) and Savannah Sparrows on this visit were found fairly commonly -- alternately flushing from, and dropping into, the thick grasses.

Savannah Sparrow seen at Harns Marsh
Compared to its breeding plumage (eg., a specimen from Michigan in May), there is less yellow on the supercilium but otherwise both alternate and basic plumages are similar. Savannah Sparrows are found coast to coast in the US and it is uniquely the Western subspecies,  the Belding's Savannah Sparrow, that tends to be darker and larger billed.

In Cape Coral, the target species was the Florida Scrub-Jay:

Florida Scrub-Jay seen at Festival Park
Endemic to Florida and classified as "Vulnerable", it is a delight to see these beautiful corvids amidst the ugly suburban sprawl of Cape Coral.

Florida Scrub-Jay seen at Festival Park

Also reliable at Festival Park is the unsung Icterid, Eastern Meadowlark:

Eastern Meadowlark seen at Festival Park

Eastern Meadowlark seen at Festival Park
While many of our blackbirds are atrocious songsters (Grackles, Red-winged and Yellow-headed Blackbirds, etc), it is only the Orioles and Meadowlarks that can truly musically impress.

Eastern Meadowlark seen at Festival Park

Southern Florida is fortunate to attract a unique mix of overwintering flycatchers -- besides the drab Eastern Phoebe, there are the more flamboyant Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Vermilion Flycatcher, and Western Kingbird as well.

While a trip with Bob to Church Rd failed to offer up Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, we were kept amused by a small group of Western Kingbird:

Western Kingbird seen at Church Rd

Western Kingbird seen at Church Rd

It is always a delight to observe these bold and noisy tyrant flycatchers. 

Finally, Southern Florida is one of the few places where Loggerhead Shrike is thriving -- even in suburban areas:

Loggerhead Shrike seen at Festival Park
We end with a Bonus Bird:

Sandhill Crane seen at Harns Marsh

A Sandhill Crane flyby seen at Harns Marsh.

Sparrows are the "little brown jobs" that can both confound and delight in equal measure and a Lifer in the form of Nelson's Sparrow assured that this excursion to SW Florida was a success on many levels -- not least for finally breaking the Nelson's jinx!

1 comment:

Bob Pelkey said...

It is wonderful to be reminded of the sparrows wintering at San Carlos Bay, and see the other species you represent so well close to home in SW Florida, Hemant.

There was news of the government considering the install of billboards at the approach to Cape Coral at the bridges this week.