Monday, November 19, 2012

American Tree Sparrow

I just completed three weeks of business travel. The first week to Tacoma, WA, the second to Atlanta, GA and this past week back to Leominster, MA.
A stop on the way up to Tacoma netted two new life birds and a new Washington bird and while my annual trip to Atlanta didn't produce any lifers, I did see most all the cool eastern birds I usually find there.
I only had time to bird for about an hour and a half during the Leominster trip before I had to make my way to Boston's Logan Airport to start the long flight home. Instead of birding at my usual spots I decided to try something new. Since I was on my way to Boston, I decided to make a stop along the way. A check on Google maps found that Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge was just a short detour off my route.
It turned out to be a great a place for birding making me wish I had gotten up a little earlier so I could have spent more time there.

As I walked along a trail that splits a large marsh, I kept flushing a sparrow out in front of me until it got tired of that game and flew back behind me. I hadn't seen a lot of birds yet so I decided to backtrack and see if I could get a closer look.
When I finally got a decent look at it I decided that it was a Chipping Sparrow as it looked like one and is a bird that I have typically seen in during my past trips to the area. However, at one point I caught a glimpse its breast and I was quite sure that it had a dark spot right in the middle.  Perhaps this was a American Tree Sparrow. Both sparrows belong to the genus Spizella and are similar in appearance and while I've seen a Chipping Sparrow many times, an American Tree Sparrow would be a lifer for me!
I never got any better looks, but I took as many pictures as I could hoping that I'd be able to get a positive ID once I reviewed them. Sure enough, as you can see in the top picture, the bird has a black dot on its breast.  There are other field marks indicative of an American Tree Sparrow. Its lower mandible is yellow.  A Chipping Sparrow's lower mandible is black like the upper.  The stripe through its eye is brown instead black like a Chipping. And as can be seen in the lower image, it has two bright white wing bars compared to the duller bars on the Chipping Sparrow.
What a nice surprise on such a short outing!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Northern Wheatear

On Oct 28, Dave Irons submitted two posts to OBOL along with a link to BirdFellow where he reported some great birds on the Washington state coast. The birds included two juvenile Bar-tailed Godwits, a Tropical Kingbird, a Wilson's Plover, a Common Eider and this Northern Wheatear. All were found within a 20 mile stretch between Tokeland and Westport. 
As luck would have it, I was heading to Tacoma, WA the very next day on business. Since the day was a travel day, I had time to divert off I-5 and try my luck at seeing these birds and in fact ended up seeing three out of the five, dipping on the Tropical Kingbird and the Wilson's Plover.
The Northern Wheatear and Common Eider were both seen in Westport; the Wheatear along the coast at Westhaven State Park and the Eider in Westhaven Cove. These were the last two stops on my trip and the dreary day was getting even darker as it was past 4:00 in the afternoon.
Dave's directions for finding the Wheatear were right on and I found it almost immediately after scaling the rocks at the point just east of the jetty. It was moving about among some large boulders somewhat out of range for my camera lens, but I decided to take some early pictures as Dave was right about another thing; it was highly mobile and not very cooperative. It wasn't long before it flew off below the rocks closer to the water and I didn't see it again. Luckily I was able to salvage a couple of the distant shots. 
Quite the sight as this bird normally only frequents Alaska and the northern reaches of Canada in all of the Americas!