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Posts Tagged ‘Vesper Sparrow’

Grasslands National Park is one of the quietest places in North America.  The peace and beauty of this place for the past three and a half days has been wonderful.  I am staying at The Crossing at Grasslands, which is adjacent to the park.  Here is the view from my balcony.  The other direction overlooks a little pond with ducks and Wilson’s Phalaropes.

My most important target bird here was Baird’s Sparrow, so I looked up the locations within the park where it had been reported in eBird.  On Monday morning, I headed to the closest of those locations, the road to Two Trees.  I heard it singing as I slowly drove the road, so I got a recording, but I wanted to see the little sparrow.  However, I felt intimidated by the huge grassy area with no landmarks and even with my scope, I could not find the bird.  Plus, I was distracted by the mosquitoes that swarmed all around.  I figured it might just have to join Black Rail on my life list as a heard-only bird. I continued with my day and the ecotour drive.

The next morning, I was more determined and confident about finding the Baird’s Sparrow.  I decided that it made the most sense to go back to where I had heard it.  It had to be there and it was close to where I was staying.  I went back to the road before breakfast to look for the sparrow.  Again, I heard it.  And, then I saw it.  I got a good look with the scope and then slowly walked into the field a few feet at a time.  The sparrow flitted from one bunch of grass to another, but I was able to keep track of him.  Finding my own Baird’s Sparrow was one of the highlights of my birding life and I will never forget that beautiful morning on the prairie.

Baird’s Sparrow

The rest of my time here is a jumble of birds and other wildlife, quiet and solitude, peace, and gorgeous scenery.  I was frequently alone on hikes or at stops along the roads.  But, when I have met others, everyone has been exceptionally friendly.  If birding can be a vacation, this is it.

I certainly was getting practice with common sparrows, like Vesper.  They were so numerous in spots that I worried I would hit one with the car.  Like the pretty little Horned Larks, they like to hop down the road in front of the car, staying just a few feet ahead.

Vesper Sparrow

Black-tailed prairie dogs were fun to see and I counted at least 30 at the dog town.  While their conservation is secure in the U.S., they are threatened in Canada and the government is taking steps to protect them.

Black-tailed prairie dog

I was also pleased to see a couple of beautiful Chestnut-collared Longspurs on the ecotour drive.

Chestnut-collared Longspur

Eastern Kingbirds are everywhere; they are much more abundant here than at home.  This morning, I even had a pair on my windowsill.  A Western Kingbird was the first bird that I saw after I crossed the border, but I have seen very few since then.

Eastern Kingbird

Swainson’s Hawks are fairly common here, too, and surprisingly they do not always flush from fence posts when I stop.

Swainson’s Hawk

And, a flight shot.

Swainson’s Hawk

Sharp-tailed Grouse seem to be easy to find. Here is the second or third that I’ve seen so far on this trip.

Sharp-tailed Grouse (female)

It has been wonderful to have a few days to relax and be a little lazy after pushing so hard at the start of the trip.  I had hoped to find Sprague’s Pipit and McCown’s Longspur here, too, but it wasn’t meant to be.  The longspur doesn’t appear to be as common as I’d hoped and I think that the pipit could turn into a nemesis bird for me.  The combination of my poor vision and hearing and desire to actually SEE the bird, field marks and all, before counting it makes it challenging.  However, I have more opportunities for both still on this trip.

Tomorrow I head to another Canada park, Cypress Hills Provincial Park.

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Big Bend sunset.  Photo by Warren Jones.

Big Bend sunset. Photo by Warren Jones.

After our group met in Hondo, Texas, it was on to Neal’s Lodges in Concan in hopes of seeing Golden-cheeked Warblers and Black-capped Vireos.  We found the warbler quite cooperative and all had great views at Neal’s and again at Lost Maples SNA.  The vireo, however, did not want to be seen as much as we wanted to see it.  One flashed by a couple of times, but I did not get a look that I could count.  A lovely Tropical Parula was a bonus bird at Neal’s, though, which we all saw well.  Another treat at Neal’s were the plentiful and cooperative Bell’s Vireos.  Unlike their black-capped cousins, these birds perched in the open for us.

The most awe-inspiring experience in Concan for me, though, was our visit to the Frio Bat Cave where 10 to 12 million Mexican free-tailed Bats emerge from the cave and whirl into the sky just before dark.  We stood outside the cave entrance where we could hear the whoosh, feel the breeze created by their wings, and smell the odor of the bats (surprisingly not unpleasant) as they flew a few feet over our heads and ascended into the evening sky.  I found this amazingly peaceful.  An added bonus was a Canyon Wren who hopped around on the rocks outside the cave entrance while we were listening to the guide and waiting for the bats to exit the cave.  It was an unexpected treat to get close looks at a bird that is more often heard than seen.

At Big Bend, a Greater Roadrunner appeared in front of the lodge before we even got the cars unloaded, a sign of the good birding ahead.  The Colima Warbler, the reason that we were in Big Bend, rewarded those of us who climbed the Pinnacle Trail with wonderful views.  It was also great to have quality views of Common Black-Hawks and Gray Hawks.  Another interesting sighting was a Blue-winged Warbler at the Sam Nail Ranch.  We were puzzled when we saw the bird because it should not have been there.  It is a bird of the Eastern US.  But we could not make the bird into anything other than a Blue-winged Warbler.  Later we learned that the bird had been discovered the day before our sighting and was reported on the rare bird alerts.

Seeing a bird really well can be as exciting for me as seeing a life bird.  I suppose you could call it seeing life field marks.  Such was the case with the Vesper Sparrow that I watched in front of the camp store at Big Bend.  The little sparrow stretched its neck upward to reach the grass seeds and seemed to not care at all that I was watching from only 10-15 feet away.  It was exciting to be close enough to actually see the rufous shoulder patch.  Now I could understand why this bird was once called Bay-winged Bunting, and before that, Grass Finch.  The name Vesper Sparrow was first used by New England naturalist Wilson Flagg in 1858 because he thought that the bird sang most fervently during the sun’s decline until dusk.

Christmas Mountains Oasis provided a wonderful stop on our way from Big Bend to the Davis Mountains.  Carolyn Ohl-Johnson, CMO’s owner, was a delightful host who was interesting, energetic, and very welcoming.  I got my 500th ABA bird there – a male Varied Bunting.  Carolyn wrote about our visit on her blog and posted a photo of our group.

Montezuma Quail.  Photo by Warren Jones.

Montezuma Quail. Photo by Warren Jones.

We wrapped up our trip with two days in the Davis Mountains and we were rewarded with incredibly close long looks at the star of Davis Mountains State Park, Montezuma Quail.  On two separate visits, both a male and female came within 10 feet of us.  They also fed surprisingly close to javelinas on one of those visits.  These sightings occurred at the official quail viewing station where the feeders also drew in quite a few other birds.  My favorites were the Green-tailed Towhees who also allowed us wonderful close looks.

Back at the Hotel Limpia, a charming Say’s Phoebe graced the lobby entrance with her constant presence as she attended her nest on the porch.

Say's Phoebe.  Photo by Warren Jones.

Say’s Phoebe. Photo by Warren Jones.

Many thanks go to Warren Jones for permission to use his photos in this post.

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