Saturday, December 19, 2020

Sparrows at Metro: Fox, White-throated, Lincoln's and more ...

[Fall 2020. Lake St. Clair Metropark]

Lake St. Clair Metropark was formerly known as Metrobeach Metropark and many locals still refer to it as simply "Metro". Due to its varied habitats -- including swamp, woods, lakeshore, and aquatic -- it attracts a fine assortment of species which in turn attracts a motley assortment of birders including this blogger. And, at Metro, a fine assortment of sparrows may be observed in the Fall which we explore in this post.

We start with the Fox Sparrow:



Almost as big as a thrush, this large sparrow shows bold, broad streaking and rich red hues. Like many other sparrows, Fox Sparrow forages on the ground using the "double scratch" technique.


The race we see in the Eastern US, is the red morph. However, more common on the West Coast is the slate-colored (image below is from 12/2015 at Bixbee Park). Note the distinctive arrowhead markings on the chest.


Another sparrow that is much more common in the West is White-crowned Sparrow:




The black lores of this individual are characteristic of the Eastern race.  These are lacking in Gambel's race more frequently seen in the West.


The juvenile White-crowned shows brown stripes on the crown. The White-crowned Sparrow is seen at Metro in both Spring and Fall migration. It is found in brushy areas or in the leaf litter on the forest floor.


A much more dainty sparrow is Dark-eyed Junco:



The Dark-eyed Junco comes in many morphs with the slate-colored being found in the Eastern US. 

Unlike the other sparrows, Song Sparrow is a year-round resident at Metro:



Song Sparrow are conspicuous unlike a couple of Field Sparrows who pass through silently:


Perhaps the most numerous migrant through Metro, is White-throated Sparrow:



The White-throated Sparrow at this time will render its autumnal subsong on occasion with faint rings of "O Sam Peabody, Peabody ..." being frequently heard.


Unlike White-throated Sparrow, Lincoln's Sparrows are never numerous in migration:



In many ways, its appearance is quite the opposite of Fox Sparrow -- it is smaller, much more finely streaked and hued in subtle shades of grey and brown.


Also observed was Swamp Sparrow:



Finally, if sparrows abound, the American Sparrowhawk is surely around:



A Cooper's Hawk seen at Metro. Related to the Eurasian Sparrowhawk, this accipiter is a specialist bird hunter. Curiously, in the 1800's "American Sparrowhawk" was a name assigned to the American Kestrel (which is not a hawk at all but a falcon!).

After the heady days of summer, the magic of migration begins anew as songbirds and shorebirds head South. And in this avian movement, we must pay particular attention to the LBJ's (little brown jobs) that are fascinating in their own right despite living in the shadow of the more charismatic warblers.  

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