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Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Colorado Gold: Six Special Sparrows featuring Vesper, Brewer's, and Lark Sparrows

[Boulder, CO. Aug/Sept 2015]

The Colorado Gold Rush from 1858 to 1861 was the greatest gold rush in American history -- attracting 100,000 men to engage in a frenzy of prospecting about 85 miles from Pike's Peak in the Rockies. This resulted in not only the production of over a million ounces of gold (worth over $1B in today's prices!) but also the establishment of the new towns of Boulder City and Denver.

And, today, long after the rivers and mountains have been exhausted of the yellow metal, gold can still to be found in Colorado -- but of the feathered variety.

The "feathered gold" that was discovered by this "prospector" on a recent trip to Boulder, Colorado, was in the form of 6 species of American sparrow, namely:
  1. Vesper Sparrow
  2. Brewer's Sparrow
  3. Lark Sparrow
  4. Song Sparrow
  5. American Tree Sparrow
  6. Spotted Towhee
We start with Vesper Sparrow:

Vesper Sparrow seen at Rabbit Mtn
Vesper Sparrow is found coast to coast in the US. Although named for its behavior of singing in the evening, this beautiful and heavily streaked, grey-brown sparrow has a preference for open spaces. It is precisely for this reason that the Vesper's numbers are declining -- as a direct consequence of loss of habitat and modern farming techniques.

Vesper's Sparrow has been seen before on this blog -- for example, here in Kirtland's Warbler territory.

Our next sparrow is Brewer's-- unlike Vesper's, this sparrow is restricted to the Western US.

Brewer's Sparrow seen at Rabbit Mtn
Brewer's Sparrows in the US thrive in sagebrush habitat; in Canada, a different subspecies lives in mountainous habitat at treeline. They will winter in Arizona (eg., at Sabino Canyon) south to Mexico.

While both Vesper's and Brewer's Sparrows seem rather nondescript; Lark Sparrow is unmistakable (thanks to the prominent cheek patches):

Lark Sparrow seen at Rabbit Mtn
Not only is Lark Sparrow distinctive looking but, as the sole member of its genus, it also exhibits some unique behaviors -- especially in courtship where the male struts like a turkey.

Song Sparrows can be quite variable between Western and Eastern races:

Song Sparrow seen in Boulder Co.
The Western race, as can be seen here, shows more grey in the overall color scheme.

American Tree Sparrows do not breed in the lower 50 US states -- preferring Alaska and Canada for their nesting grounds.

American Tree Sparrow seen at Brainard Lake
The individual above was part of a flock that must have arrived for the winter.

Finally -- Spotted Towhee:

Spotted Towhee seen at Rabbit Mtn.

This large sparrow is commonly seen in thickets across the West and resembles our Eastern Towhee.

The Colorado Gold Rush is but a mere footnote in history -- however, birders to the state can still enjoy prospecting for a treasure that lives on -- the rich and varied birdlife of the region that warrants attention from the intrepid birder -- an argument so aptly attested by these six special sparrows.

1 comment:

Bob Pelkey said...

This report offers me flashbacks to many sparrow observations, Hemant. Sparrows have been encroaching well into Florida as reported in eBird alerts for well more than a month. Having learned of the preferred territory of my regional sparrows, I am greatly looking forward to seeing them again.