Thursday, August 17, 2017

Crops & Clips: It's only a sparrow

Out on a trail which traverses the north prairie of Nelson Lake (Dick Young/Nelson Lake Marsh Forest Preserve) in Batavia, Illinois, a passerby stopped to watch me as I was intently focusing my camera into the high grass. I turned to say hello and he asked me what I was seeing. "A Henslow's Sparrow," I replied. His response was "Oh, only a sparrow," and he moved on his way.

A dramatic sky over the southwest prairie at Nelson Lake preserve:

Nelson Lake SW prairie looking south HDR 20130502

True, most sparrows are unobtrusive LBJ's (Little Brown Jobs). They can sometimes be difficult to identify or even find as they move around near the ground or perch on a distant shrub. Yet they are an interesting lot and, on closer inspection, quite varied and beautiful.

The most common sparrows of my childhood were called "Chippies" by my grandmother, who fed them bread scraps in the back yard we shared. Only after I found them pictured in my first bird book did I realize their proper name was English Sparrow, and that it was introduced from Europe. Later I learned that they were the only "true sparrows" I was ever likely to see in the US.

Renamed "House Sparrow," they populate most of the urban areas of North America including Mexico but not the high mountains or northern Canada. Although they are present in shopping centers less than a mile from our south Florida home, I have never seen one in our back yard or the wetlands near our home.This male is enjoying a meal in our daughter's feeder in Batavia:

 House Sparrow male 2-20130115

Closely related to weaver finches, the Old World "True" Sparrows (Family Passeridae) deserved naming rights before the LBJ's of the USA were ever discovered. I have yet to see a European Tree Sparrow, the other immigrant from this family, although it is quite common in St. Louis, Missouri and is also seen southwestern Illinois. The native sparrows in the Americas belong to a distinct family, Emberizidae, related to the Old World buntings.

Probably the best known representative of the American sparrow family is the Song Sparrow, which breeds all across the northern USA, up the Pacific Coast into southern Alaska and in much of the southern 2/3 of Canada. It migrates into all of the lower 48 States but does not reach southern Florida. It is appropriately named for its exhuberant melodic song (Nelson Lake, June 5, 2016) :

Song Sparrow HDR 20160605

The Savannah Sparrow resembles it but is smaller, with a proportionately shorter tail. It may have yellow "eyebrows" which vary in intensity among its several subspecies:

Savannah Sparrow 06-20170723

During the winter, White-crowned Sparrows invade the lower half of the 48 States after breeding in northern Canada and the Rocky Mountains. They are large and quite handsome birds. This one was in our daughter's back yard:

White-crowned Sparrow 05-20141010

White-crowned Sparrow on our daughter's fence:

White-crowned Sparrow 5-20130505

The immature White-crowned Sparrow has dull brown stripes on its crown before they are replaced by white:

White-crowned Sparrow portrait 01-20161014

Somewhat similar but more compact is the White-throated Sparrow, another winter visitor to the lower forty-eight:

White-throated Sparrow HDR 3-20161020

The Swamp Sparrow also has a white throat but its back is rufous and its head and breast are grayish. It breeds in wetlands of Canada and the north central and northeast portions of the US, migrating into the southeastern states and Mexico. We often see them in south Florida during winter:

Swamp Sparrow 03-20161007

I could go on, but my archives include over 1600 photos of most of the 37-40 species of sparrows (and related towhees and juncos) which I have seen.  Here is a scattering of favorite sightings.

Henslow's Sparrow is threatened by loss of habitat. It is a tiny reclusive and quite rare breeder at Nelson Lake:

Henslow's Sparrow 06-20170727

Vesper Sparrow, known for its beautiful evening song. One sang on the roof of our Illinois condo until the entire surrounding area was developed:

Vesper Sparrow (Pooecetes gramineus) 3- 20100410

Field Sparrow, a persistent singer on the open prairie and wooded edges. Its pink bill and clear breast are distinctive:

 Field Sparrow 2-20110707

Fox Sparrow, quite a large sparrow, which breeds in the northwestern US and into northern Canada, is a common winter visitor to the woodlands of NE Illinois:

Fox Sparrow 2-20101017

American Tree Sparrow, another visitor from the north, at our daughter's feeder:

American Tree Sparrow 2-20130227

Grasshopper Sparrow, fairly common breeder near our Illinois home, which even visited our south Florida neighborhood one winter (Illinois, July 24, 2017):

Grasshopper Sparrow 02-20170724

Grasshopper Sparrow (SE Florida, February 1, 2011):

Grasshopper Sparrow 3-20110201

Finally, a rare find in a vacant lot near our home were 2 or 3 pairs of Lark Sparrows, at least one of which raised a family. They persisted from mid-May through late July, 2017. There were very few historic records of them breeding in our county:

Lark Sparrow 002-20170524

Lark Sparrow feeding fledgling (July 2, 2017):

Lark Sparrow adult feeding fledgling HD 02-20170702

When you read this I should be nearing the conclusion of several weeks of travel between Florida, Illinois, Wisconsin, the Texas Panhandle and the Gulf Coast off Corpus Christi, Texas. Therefore I prepared this post in advance. This has limited my computer face time and I have had to depend upon my iPhone. I will try to catch up upon my return home to Florida before going  back to Illinois.

Here is a view of sunrise from our south Florida back patio to satisfy my urge to publish some nice reflections:

Sunrise SOOC 2-20091122

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Linking to Misty's  CAMERA CRITTERS,

Linking to Eileen's SATURDAY'S CRITTERS,


Linking to SKYWATCH FRIDAY by Yogi, Sylvia and Sandy


Linking to BirdD'Pot by Anni

Linking to Wild Bird Wednesday by Stewart

Linking to Wordless Wednesday (on Tuesday) by NC Sue

Linking to ALL SEASONS by Jesh

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Blue & Gold: Birds of midsummer

As July gives way to August, the morning chorus diminishes in the grasslands and woodlands of northeastern Illinois. The prairies take on an increasingly golden hue. This is the prairie pothole at nearby Nelson Lake preserve in Batavia:

Nelson Lake pothole 20170721 Common Yellowthroats are still tending to nests and singing, usually out of sight in the high vegetation:

Common Yellowthroat 06-20170727

Common Yellowthroat 04-20170727

The songs of orioles and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks no longer ring through the treetops. Many bird species are busy with the affairs of raising families. Energy must be conserved and diverted into replacement of feathers during the post-breeding molt.

Indigo Buntings continue to sing from treetop perches:

Indigo Bunting 01-20170711

Indigo Bunting 04-20170629

Indigo Bunting HDR 01-20160512

 Indigo Bunting 01-20170629

 We visited Lippold Park, also in Batavia. This is the small marsh and pond, with the pavilion and fenced treetop walk in the background. (Mary Lou just received a phone call):

Lippold Park pavillion 20170728

The prairie at Lippold is protected and well-managed. It was alive with wildflowers:

Lippold Park prairie sign 20170728

Lippold Park wildflowers 20170728

American Goldfinches are very late breeders and are only beginning to gather flower down for their nests. I waited patiently for one to alight among the flowers, but instead they moved among the low shrubs:

American Goldfinches 01-20170728

American Goldfinch 08-20170728

American Goldfinch 04-20170728

American Goldfinch mirrorless 01-20170715

Two years ago in late August I did catch one singing among the flowers at this same location:

American Goldfinch singing 20150826

The plumage of an adult female American Goldfinch is more subdued:

 American Goldfinch 20140918

Bells and whistles... go together like a goldfinch and thistles. Common as they are on the prairie, I never tire of seeing, hearing and photographing goldfinches around and above me. 

August through September is their peak season, as the thistle begins to go to seed, providing them both food and shelter. Other birds have nearly finished their breeding and are hiding away to molt, but the goldfinches are eating the seeds and gathering the down of the thistles for their nests. 

 At Lippold park on August 25, 2011, a female goldfinch was harvesting down for her nest:

 American Goldfinch with thistle down 2-20110825

This male was collecting thistle down at Nelson Lake back in 2011:

American Goldfinch and thistles 20110707

One of the few bird species to feed their young no insects, they engorge the thistle seeds and nourish their young with a protein-rich "milk" that is secreted from their stomach linings. A fledgling goldfinch appears bigger than its mother as it begs to be fed:

 Baby Goldfinch wants Milk 2-20100815

One of my favorite goldfinch captures is this one, reflected in the creek at Lippold Park:

American Goldfinch HDR 04-20160505

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Linking to Misty's  CAMERA CRITTERS,

Linking to Eileen's SATURDAY'S CRITTERS,


Linking to SKYWATCH FRIDAY by Yogi, Sylvia and Sandy


Linking to BirdD'Pot by Anni

Linking to Wild Bird Wednesday by Stewart

Linking to Wordless Wednesday (on Tuesday) by NC Sue

Linking to ALL SEASONS by Jesh


Please visit the links to all these memes to see some excellent photos on display