Tuesday, October 2, 2018

2 October 2018: No orange sparrows, but a surprise Sanderling!

I've been looking hard for Nelson's and LeConte's sparrows, because it's that time of year. The first time I went out with Gwyn, and we were pretty sure we saw one - it certainly looked like an orange sparrow - but it was distant and we never got a better look at it, so we couldn't call it to species. What a shame! 

Nelson's Sparrow habitat... maybe? It's pretty flood-damaged this year.
I've been back to that same marsh a couple of times since then, and have checked another promising marsh a couple of times, but no luck. There are only 3 eBird records for Nelson's (two of which were two days in a row at the same spot, so that's basically the same record) and 1 for LeConte's in La Crosse County, so it seems like a bit of a long shot. But maybe we just need more birders out there looking. I plan to keep trying...

Swamp Sparrows are super abundant in those marshes, so at least I have something to look at!

Meanwhile, I added a FOGY today with a lucky run-in with a Sanderling (#231)

I've been checking the little scrap of beach near work on a regular basis, mostly because it's so convenient, but occasionally something good turns up there. That's where I happened across that group of Willets in the spring - also a very good bird for La Crosse - and I've occasionally seen other shorebirds there, but usually just something ubiquitous like Spotted Sandpiper or Semipalmated Plover. But, you never know. We'd had some rain yesterday and last night along with not-very-good migration conditions, and sometimes that means the migrants are getting a little desperate, and a scrap of beach might look pretty good to a tired shorebird. Still, I nearly didn't check this morning because I was tired and there was a thick wet fog in the air, which sticks to my glasses and does a good job of blinding me when I bike through it (I carry a cloth to use as a windshield wiper, but it's still annoying). But there I was, with binoculars and even my camera, and there was the Sanderling!

Arctic birds, and especially juveniles (like this one), can be quite nonchalant about the presence of a potential predator. So I stood about 12 feet from the water's edge at one end of the beach, hoping my bright yellow bike jacket wasn't too scary. The bird finished its bath (yes, it was bathing, never mind the wet fog - clearly an arctic bird!) and started foraging toward me, ultimately going right past me. It looked up a couple of times when I moved more than my shutter finger, but otherwise didn't seem at all worried. The light wasn't great, but it's hard to avoid getting a decent photo with the bird that close!

Sanderlings are rare in La Crosse (no sign of any last year), and this was one of the species I'd hoped to find if I'd made it to Jaegerfest but otherwise thought I would miss, so I was very pleased to see this bird!

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