Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Harris's Sparrows!

Every visit to Pheasant Branch Conservancy promises something exciting to see and hear. My excursions are never disappointing and I feel lucky to have this amazing natural area to explore so close to home. As I previously mentioned, I wasn't expecting to find a Harris's Sparrow this fall migration. Because I saw one at the conservancy last year, I doubted I would have back-to-back sightings. More on that later.

New England Aster

I enjoy walking in the direction of the rising sun as I make my way up the drumlin trail. Bejeweled with dew, the prairie grasses and wildflowers glisten in the sunlight. There are still asters and goldenrod in bloom, but the bright prairie colors are fading. The oaks at the top of the drumlin are just beginning to glow with bright red accents.

Carrion Flower fruit 

This fall I've been photographing the spectacle of sparrow migration on the eastern slope of the drumlin. I typically locate birds by listening for their calls and songs and this particular spot has been a concentration point. I suppose there must be something good to eat there. The dense brushy habitat also provides excellent cover from predators.

White-throated Sparrow

White-throated Sparrow

October is the best time of the year to observe and photograph a variety of sparrows at the conservancy. Increasing numbers of White-throated Sparrows have moved into our area over the past few nights, along with more White-crowned Sparrows. There are also dozens of Swamp, Song, and Lincoln's Sparrows. They're generally observed foraging together in mixed sparrow flocks during migration as well.

Lincoln's Sparrow

I've discovered from experience that the best time to look for Harris's Sparrows at the conservancy is when there is a noticeable increase of White-crowned Sparrows. Amazingly, I've found two in the past week, which I wasn't expecting to happen. The first was on October 3rd, but I didn't get a photograph of it. Yesterday I found a tailless immature Harris's Sparrow.

Harris's Sparrow

We'll never know for sure why its tail feathers are missing. Perhaps it had a close encounter with a predator and narrowly escaped with its life, or maybe it has a nutritional deficiency. Otherwise, it appeared to be in good health. Although the bird's ability to steer and break will be compromised without tail feathers, it appeared to have no trouble flying and diving into cover while I was observing it. If it survives, the bird will eventually grow new tail feathers.

Here are all my Pheasant Branch Conservancy Harris's Sparrow records since my first sighting of one in October of 2003 (link indicates photograph):


So, I do typically get them in back-to-back years! The 2008 to 2011 gap is interesting, though. It's also worth noting that most of the time I've been able to get a photograph of visiting Harris's Sparrows.

Pheasant Branch, Dane, US-WI
Oct 8, 2013 7:00 AM - 9:15 AM
54 species

Canada Goose
Ring-necked Pheasant
Cooper's Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Sandhill Crane
American Woodcock
Ring-billed Gull
Mourning Dove
Chimney Swift
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Blue Jay
American Crow
Horned Lark
Black-capped Chickadee
Red-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch
House Wren
Winter Wren
Sedge Wren
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Eastern Bluebird
Hermit Thrush
American Robin
Gray Catbird
European Starling
American Pipit
Orange-crowned Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Palm Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Eastern Towhee
Chipping Sparrow
Field Sparrow
Fox Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Lincoln's Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Harris's Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
House Finch
Purple Finch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

All images © 2013 Mike McDowell

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