Sunday, October 7, 2018

7 October 2018: A very good non-orange sparrow!

The hunt for LeConte's and Nelson's Sparrows continues... unsuccessfully. Yesterday it brought me through the quarry on the bluffs above La Crosse, where there is some interesting and varied habitat. There are lots of grassy bits, most of which turned out to have been mowed recently (hopefully after the Henslow's Sparrows were all finished breeding!), and a few marshy bits, so I focused my efforts in those areas. No luck, but it was a nice morning with several first-of-fall sightings: Sharp-shinned Hawk, both kinglets, Hermit Thrush, and White-crowned Sparrow. A few warblers are still passing through (Nashville, Tennessee, three American Redstarts all together, two Palm, and of course oodles of Yellow-rumped), so there was a nice variety for the day.

Today I headed up to New Amsterdam Grasslands, which is the most extensive grassland in this area and reminds me of a place in Kansas where LeConte's were regular in the fall. I walked around the property and followed a deer track through one section. It's an interesting place - several old fields strung together into one protected area, with each field having its own character (amazing variety on the theme of "grassland") with thicker or thinner or taller or shorter grass, more or less forbs, and no shrubs to many shrubs. Here's one section with a few shrubs that are coming nicely into fall color:

The old fence lines host several varieties of fruiting trees (wish I could tell you more than that!) that are absolutely loaded with berries, like branches-drooping-to-the-ground loaded. Here's a pic from last year, when the light was much better, of a Field Sparrow modeling some of the berries:

I saw lots of Field Sparrows today, along with 10 other species of sparrows. By far the best was a Harris's Sparrow (#232)!

The light was dim and gray, it was drizzling, and there's a branch in the way... but it's a Harris's Sparrow! Not quite as rare here as LeConte's or Nelson's, but still a bird that I did not expect to find this year (even while secretly hoping that I would). Harris's Sparrows are pretty sparse throughout Wisconsin, and my best chance at this species would have been at Wisconsin Point if I'd made it to Jaegerfest. I don't think anyone there saw one during the official field trip, though - so it's extra special to have seen one just 10 miles from home.

Eleven species of sparrows is pretty good for the La Crosse area, so I tried to document a few more of them despite the on-and-off drizzle:

Vesper Sparrow

Shy Lincoln's Sparrow

Chipping Sparrow in winter plumage... and the rain
Hopefully I can get back up there soon to check for LeConte's again, in between checking marshes for Nelson's and scoping the lake for Snow Geese, scoters, that darn Horned Grebe that somehow eluded me in the spring despite being common here during migration, and possibly a very lost jaeger!

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