Sparrow Workshop February 16th 2014 Trip Report and List

It was a very successful trip with more than ten species of sparrows and almost 100 species total for the day. Sparrow highlights included Le Conte’s and Harris’s and other highlights included Golden-crowned Kinglets, American Oystercatcher, Crested Caracara, and Tropical Kingbird.

Vesper Sparrow one of 11 sparrow species seen Photo Stephan Lorenz

Vesper Sparrow one of 11 sparrow species seen Photo Stephan Lorenz

Six intrepid sparrow chaser set out from Houston towards Baytown just around sunrise. We quickly arrived at the Baytown Nature Center where we spotted our first sparrow while waiting at the entrance station. Among the throng of House Sparrows (not really a New World Sparrow) mobbing the feeder, a single juvenile White-crowned Sparrow comfortably mixed in, but the pinkish bill and peaked crown gave it away. At our first stop we walked towards Wooster Point and quickly learned that the swampy and marshy areas supported appropriately enough Swamp Sparrows. We studied the overall gray head and under parts, compared to the rufous wing panel. In typical fashion birds were out on the mudflats foraging and surprisingly the first Savannah Sparrow of many during the day was mixed in.

The sharp calls of at least a dozen Swamp Sparrows came from the marsh and we saw several more fearlessly hopping along the water edge. Scanning along the edge of the marsh we spotted a different heavily streaked sparrow and after studying the tail and body proportion realized that is was something different. The long tail, broad streak, overall brown color and strong submoustachial nailed it as the first Song Sparrow of the day. A few minutes later we could study Song Sparrows at leisure as they foraged in the trail, something Swamp Sparrows rarely do, plus we learned the distinct “yip” (like a miniature Chihuahua) of the Song Sparrow, which are quite vocal during the winter. Plenty of birds distracted us, but any serious search for the White-winged Scoters that had been recently reported was thwarted by dense fog. The small woodland behind the gazebo held the expected White-throated Sparrows, which emerged momentarily from the dense yaupon. We discussed the difference between “tan” and “white” morphs. On the way out of the nature center we spotted a Great-horned Owl on a nest actively brooding chicks, which we were unable to see.

The next stop was at San Jacinto Monument, what I call the sparrow capital of Harris County, and while we did not see all the hoped for sparrows we still managed great views of quite a few. Sparrow corner in the picnic area was busy as usual and we got great views of Song Sparrow and White-crowned Sparrow and after waiting patiently great studies of Harris’s Sparrow, a bird with extensive black on the head and we could study the strong white wing bars, peaked head (like a White-crowned), pick bill and relatively plain face besides the black. It was neat to see three sparrow species close to each other. We flushed a sizeable flock of Savannah Sparrows, but two Golden-crowned Kinglets were a welcome distraction with one bird coming down to eye level, hanging upside down clearly revealing its namesake crown. Kathleen had spotted a bird that sounded a lot like a junco so we circled back around and sure enough we found no less than six “Slate-colored Juncos” an uncommon bird on the eastern and southern side of Houston. With the Harris’s and Junco in the bag we made two more quick stops. Marching through the grass, just the right height and density, we flushed a Le Conte’s Sparrow which unfortunately only gave flight views, but some of us saw it very close as it fluttered on weak wings just above the grass, with its short tail drooping. The streaks, small size, and overall golden color were apparent.

Near the marsh the Vesper Sparrow stake out delivered with three birds studied at length in the scope. The white eye rings, hooked white malar, and even the rufous shoulder patch all clearly visible. In flight we saw the striking white outer tail feathers and even heard their soft call, so similar to a Savannah Sparrow.

After lunch we had trekked all the way to El Franco Lee Park and after a quick lunch stop walked through the denser grasses to look for more Le Conte’s Sparrow. A small dark sparrow that flushed late and sneakily disappeared was “intriguing”, maybe a Henslow’s, but it appeared too brown and not small enough (I returned two days later, found it in the same spot, doing the same behavior, but with a slightly better glimpsed retroactively added the only Lincoln’s Sparrow to the trip list). While we saw two more Le Conte’s Sparrows in flight, a nice perched view eluded us, maybe next time.

We were able to rest as bit as we transferred to Galveston where we headed straight to East Beach. The goal was to explore the marshes for Seaside and Nelson’s Sparrows, while we quickly flushed 2-3 Seaside Sparrows, which mainly evaded good views, Nelson’s were surprisingly absent. I have noticed that Le Conte’s Sparrows are low in numbers this year and wonder whether the two species are correlated since they share breeding ranges. Possibly it was a poor breeding season for both species last summer? Shorebirds, gulls, and skimmers provided a nice break from the sparrow slog. Right around sunrise we made a last minute stop at Pelican Island, where the yellow under parts of the Tropical Kingbird looked so much more colorful in the low light when it finally made a last minute appearance. A fitting end to a successful day with great company and I hope to see all of you on future trips.

Trip List:

  1. Gadwall (Anas strepera)
  2. Mottled Duck (Anas fulvigula)
  3. Blue-winged Teal (Anas discors)
  4. Northern Shoveler (Anas clypeata)
  5. Northern Pintail (Anas acuta)
  6. Green-winged Teal (Anas crecca)
  7. Lesser Scaup (Aythya affinis)
  8. Ruddy Duck (Oxyura jamaicensis)
  9. Neotropic Cormorant (Phalacrocorax brasilianus)
  10. Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus)
  11. American White Pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos)
  12. Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis)
  13. Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)
  14. Great Egret (Ardea alba)
  15. Snowy Egret (Egretta thula)
  16. Little Blue Heron (Egretta caerulea)
  17. Black-crowned Night-Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax)
  18. White Ibis (Eudocimus albus)-two seen in flight at EFLP
  19. White-faced Ibis (Plegadis chihi)
  20. Roseate Spoonbill (Platalea ajaja)
  21. Black Vulture (Coragyps atratus)
  22. Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura)
  23. Osprey (Pandion haliaetus)
  24. White-tailed Kite (Elanus leucurus)-beautiful bird seen perched near East Beach
  25. Northern Harrier (Circus cyaneus)
  26. Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus)
  27. Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)
  28. American Coot (Fulica americana)
  29. American Avocet (Recurvirostra americana)
  30. American Oystercatcher (Haematopus palliatus)-a pair near East Beach
  31. Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus)
  32. Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularius)
  33. Greater Yellowlegs (Tringa melanoleuca)
  34. Willet (Tringa semipalmata)
  35. Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes)
  36. Ruddy Turnstone (Arenaria interpres)
  37. Stilt Sandpiper (Calidris himantopus)-a few distantly at San Jacinto Monument
  38. Dunlin (Calidris alpina)
  39. Least Sandpiper (Calidris minutilla)
  40. Western Sandpiper (Calidris mauri)
  41. Long-billed Dowitcher (Limnodromus scolopaceus)
  42. Wilson’s Snipe (Gallinago delicata)
  43. Laughing Gull (Leucophaeus atricilla)
  44. Ring-billed Gull (Larus delawarensis)
  45. Herring Gull (Larus argentatus)
  46. Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon) (Columba livia (Domestic type))
  47. Eurasian Collared-Dove (Streptopelia decaocto)
  48. White-winged Dove (Zenaida asiatica)
  49. Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura)
  50. Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus)-on nest at Baytown Nature Center
  51. Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon)
  52. Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus)
  53. Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens)
  54. Crested Caracara (Caracara cheriway)-flyby at San Jacinto Monument
  55. American Kestrel (Falco sparverius)
  56. Monk Parakeet (Myiopsitta monachus)
  57. Eastern Phoebe (Sayornis phoebe)
  58. Tropical Kingbird (Tyrannus melancholicus)-great to see at the traditional spot on Pelican Island
  59. Loggerhead Shrike (Lanius ludovicianus)
  60. Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata)
  61. American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos)
  62. Carolina Chickadee (Poecile carolinensis)
  63. House Wren (Troglodytes aedon)
  64. Sedge Wren (Cistothorus platensis)
  65. Marsh Wren (Cistothorus palustris)
  66. Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus)
  67. Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (Polioptila caerulea)
  68. Golden-crowned Kinglet (Regulus satrapa)-great views of two at eye level San Jacinto Monument
  69. Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Regulus calendula)
  70. Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis)
  71. Hermit Thrush (Catharus guttatus)
  72. American Robin (Turdus migratorius)
  73. Brown Thrasher (Toxostoma rufum)
  74. Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos)
  75. European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)
  76. American Pipit (Anthus rubescens)
  77. Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum)
  78. Orange-crowned Warbler (Oreothlypis celata)
  79. Common Yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas)
  80. Yellow-rumped Warbler (Setophaga coronata)
  81. Vesper Sparrow (Pooecetes gramineus)
  82. Savannah Sparrow (Passerculus sandwichensis)
  83. Le Conte’s Sparrow (Ammodramus leconteii)-good flight views San Jacinto Monument and EFLP
  84. Seaside Sparrow (Ammodramus maritimus)-flushed 2-3 times East Beach
  85. Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia)
  86. Lincoln’s Sparrow (Melospiza lincolnii)-identified retroactively
  87. Swamp Sparrow (Melospiza georgiana)
  88. White-throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis)
  89. Harris’s Sparrow (Zonotrichia querula)-great views San Jacinto Monument
  90. White-crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia leucophrys)
  91. Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis)-six birds at San Jacinto Monument we excellent
  92. Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)
  93. Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus)
  94. Eastern Meadowlark (Sturnella magna)
  95. Great-tailed Grackle (Quiscalus mexicanus)
  96. Brown-headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater)
  97. American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis)
  98. House Sparrow (Passer domesticus)
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