Sunday, July 21, 2013

Underappreciated Sparrows

Many people go out looking for warblers and shorebirds, but not often do birders go out specifically looking for sparrows.  Maybe it is there cryptic coloration or nature, or their LBJ status.  I am guilty myself.

This past spring, while participating in the birdathon, I came to the realization that I have never seen many of the sparrows that are on my life list.  One Sparrow in particular, the Lark Sparrow, was only a fleeting glimpse during a previous birdathon.  I did get looks at Henslow's Sparrow through a scope and close up views of Grasshopper Sparrows during the birdathon this year.  However, due to the fast pace nature of a birdathon, I wasn't able to really look at them close.  So, with recent reports of all of these sparrows actually being seen on the west side of Cincinnati, I decided to set out to see if I could find them.

My primary goal of the trip was to find and get a good look at a Lark Sparrow.  More on that later...

It is a good hour and a half drive to these spots from my house, which is twenty miles or so EAST of Cincinnati.  I had the day off and all day to bird, so I started out before the sun came up.  This is unusual for me any more, as I usually start work at 4am and don't like to get up early on my days off.  I headed for Miami Whitewater Wetlands first, to look for the reported Henslow's Sparrow that is reported to be nesting here.  The humidity and warm temps were already noticeable as the sun was starting to rise.  The place was surprisingly quiet.  I could hear Dickcissels calling from the far fields.  Tons of Common Yellowthroats, but no Sedge Wrens yet.  I proceeded on.

Then I though I heard the very delicate, short call of a Henslow's Sparrow.  No sparrows in sight.  Just far away Dickcissels.  I just kept walking.

I then spotted a small sparrow just sitting on the side of the bike path.  Not a field Sparrow.  Not a Savannah or Song.  It is a Henslow's Sparrow.  Very Close!

Henslow's Sparrow

The trail winded ahead to where I would be closer to the bird.  I was hoping that it would stay put.  That it did.  It appeared to have no tail, but it was just the way it was sitting.  They look as delicate as their song.

Henslow's Sparrow

Really a very beautiful sparrow!  This is the first close up of one for me.

Henslow's Sparrow

Henslow's Sparrow

As the sun was up now, it was already getting hot quick.  I was soaked in sweat by 8:00am.  Time to move on.  

After the wetlands, I headed to the Kilby Rd. Gravelpits on the West Side of Cincinnati.  This is also called the Smith Tract, which is owned by the county park system.  I was looking for Grasshopper Sparrows.  
I saw some movement, then a bird.


A Dickcissel.  They were very numerous at all my stops.  While not a sparrow, still cool to see them.

After not hearing any Grasshopper Sparrows, I decided to carry on to my next spot.  I have read reports that they have been found at another location close by, Campbell's Lakes.  On arriving at the lakes, the heat was almost unbearable.  I decided to get out and walk around.  I quickly spotted a Red-headed Woodpecker and Blue Grosbeak.    I could hear no Grasshopper Sparrows.  I continued on walking.  I could hear lots of chips in the grasses that I suspected were the sparrows.  I continued walking.  Just as I was heading to the car, I heard one sing.  It was a ways away from me, so I headed in that direction.  
I then saw a small sparrow like bird fly down into the grass.  A couple of fisherman were walking a trail to one of the back lakes, and flushed a bird.  About that time, two birds came flying past me chasing one another.  One of them landed on a small shrub.  

Grasshopper Sparrow

Grasshopper Sparrow!

Again, this is the closest I have seen one.  It is really a stiking little bird.  Very spunky too.

Grasshopper Sparrow

Grasshopper Sparrow

I really like the yellow shoulders.  The back of the bird was just as cool.  It was a pattern that would definitely make it hard to see in walking in the grasses.  Very pretty, the back of a Grasshopper Sparrow.

Grasshopper Sparrow

Close up of the neck.  I found the pattern on the neck to be very cool!

Grasshopper Sparrow

As the heat was now unbearable, I decided to head east towards home.  The spot that is most reliable for Lark Sparrow was on the way home, so I decided to go there next.  The spot were they are usually seen one wouldn't think to be a destination for birders.  It is a semi - abandoned condo complex that has foundations that were never finished or developed.  As I approached the condo complex, I noticed a bird in the middle of the road.  It was just pacing back and forth.  I stopped the car, to find that it was indeed a young Lark Sparrow!  It still had down on its head.  I fumbled to get my camera.  I then happened to relize that I was parked in the middle of a highway and glanced up at my rear view mirror only to find a cement truck barreling down on me.  Yike!  I quickly pulled into the complex and parked.  When I got out of the car, the Lark Sparrow flew into the tree line.  Dang!  The bird never re-showed.  One for next time I guess.

Keep cool while out birding, and most of all have fun!  If possible, take a new or young person out birding.


  1. Donald, you got some excellent shots of some wonderful sparrows, most of which I would love to see! I am glad you did not get hit! Keep on birding!

  2. These are amazing sparrows! I hope to see them one day as they are rare to Arizona. Hot summer temps are challenging but I will say all does pay off:)