Sparrow Workshop February 22nd 2014

By 7:15 am we had reached our first birding spot for the day the usually productive corner of Porter and Longenbaugh Road on the Katy Prairie. We were not disappointed within moments we had three species of sparrows in the same binocular view. I did not even have time to assemble my scope. Along the margin of the brushy fence line bold Harris’s Sparrow were feeding in the short grass and upon closer inspection we found 2 or 3 Vesper Sparrows mixed in. The small sparrow with longer tail and plain gray undeparts and their “surprised” looks on their faces were Field Sparrows, indeed an odd trifecta.

Lincoln's Sparrow maybe next time Photo Stephan Lorenz

Lincoln’s Sparrow maybe next time Photo Stephan Lorenz

We studied the birds at leisure and when they conveniently flew into the bare trees had great scope views with Harris’s Sparrow always a favorite. Not wanting to ignore the throngs of birds on the other side of the road we swiveled the scope and had several Savannah Sparrow, studying this variable species in detail. In the background dozen of White-winged Doves were feeding on the ground alongside Brewer’s Blackbirds.

We continued down the road with Vesper Sparrows, Savannah Sparrows, and White-crowned Sparrows hopping in front of us along the edge of the pavement for incredible close views. A small flock of singing White-crowned Sparrows came close and we were able to study the song and field marks closely. Zonotrichia sparrows sing regularly during the winter months with White-throated and White-crown leading the charge. Sparrows were out in abundance around the porter potty storage facility, an interesting and unaesthetic habitat, but it allowed for detailed comparison of the similarly streak Vesper and Savannah Sparrow. We focused on overall shape, proportion, and size and were soon able to separate the two species quickly.

Driving towards Paul Rushing Park we checked every raptor carefully, but all turned out to be the ubiquitous Red-tailed Hawk. We added a few ducks at the park, but no sparrows were using the recently mowed fields. Sharp Road was relatively quiet and after a few stops and headed across town right around noon.

We set up picnic at sparrow corner of San Jacinto Monument and while reenergizing with snacks spotted a group of Dark-eyed “Slate-colored” Juncos feeding in the short grass. Juncos are not common in the eastern and southern areas of Houston and were a welcome addition to our sparrow list. We digressed a bit to study the shorebirds on the mudflats, where Long-billed Dowitcher, Stilt Sandpiper and Greater Yellowlegs were all duly identified. Checking the brushy margins again we finally located White-throated Sparrows, unusually uncommon throughout the day, and had ten minute scope views of an incredibly cooperative Song Sparrow. We studied the face pattern, rounded head, long tail, and strong submaler in detail. This was by far the best view we had on any sparrow during the day.

Now came the “work” part of the workshop and after tromping through the right grassy spot we flushed three Le Conte’s Sparrows and had fleeting views in flight. The small size, yellowish face, and weak fluttery flight were all apparent, plus their sneaky behavior as the dropped into the dense grass to not be seen again. In the marsh we only managed to hear Swamp Sparrows with on short flight. Incredibly where there were dozens the week before there were almost none, we were definitely not “swamped” with the species for the day, thanks Tina, I’ll remember that one for future trips. It could have been the windy conditions in the later afternoon or the recent warm weather, but they have definitely thinned out. Walking out of the woodland we located the last minute Golden-crowned Kinglet. A quick stop to scan the sandbar behind the Monument Inn revealed hundreds of gulls siting and flying in the ship channel, adding a few species for our cumulative list, which topped out at a respectable 93 species for the day. On a last note, where are the Chipping Sparrows this winter?!? I hope all of us enjoyed the trip, I know I did, and also hope to see you on future trips.

Total List:

  1. Gadwall (Anas strepera)
  2. American Wigeon (Anas americana)
  3. Blue-winged Teal (Anas discors)
  4. Northern Shoveler (Anas clypeata)
  5. Green-winged Teal (Anas crecca)
  6. Canvasback (Aythya valisineria)
  7. Ring-necked Duck (Aythya collaris)
  8. Lesser Scaup (Aythya affinis)
  9. Ruddy Duck (Oxyura jamaicensis)
  10. Pied-billed Grebe (Podilymbus podiceps)
  11. Neotropic Cormorant (Phalacrocorax brasilianus)
  12. Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus)
  13. American White Pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos)
  14. Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis)
  15. Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)
  16. Great Egret (Ardea alba)
  17. Snowy Egret (Egretta thula)
  18. White-faced Ibis (Plegadis chihi)
  19. Black Vulture (Coragyps atratus)
  20. Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura)
  21. Osprey (Pandion haliaetus)
  22. Northern Harrier (Circus cyaneus)
  23. Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperii)
  24. Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus)
  25. Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)
  26. American Coot (Fulica americana)
  27. Sandhill Crane (Grus canadensis)
  28. Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus)
  29. Greater Yellowlegs (Tringa melanoleuca)
  30. Ruddy Turnstone (Arenaria interpres)
  31. Stilt Sandpiper (Calidris himantopus)
  32. Sanderling (Calidris alba)
  33. Least Sandpiper (Calidris minutilla)
  34. Long-billed Dowitcher (Limnodromus scolopaceus)
  35. Wilson’s Snipe (Gallinago delicata)
  36. Laughing Gull (Leucophaeus atricilla)
  37. Ring-billed Gull (Larus delawarensis)
  38. Herring Gull (Larus argentatus)
  39. Forster’s Tern (Sterna forsteri)
  40. Royal Tern (Thalasseus maximus)
  41. Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon) (Columba livia (Domestic type))
  42. Eurasian Collared-Dove (Streptopelia decaocto)
  43. White-winged Dove (Zenaida asiatica)
  44. Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura)
  45. Inca Dove (Columbina inca)
  46. Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon)
  47. Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus)
  48. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius)
  49. Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens)
  50. Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus)
  51. Crested Caracara (Caracara cheriway)
  52. American Kestrel (Falco sparverius)
  53. Eastern Phoebe (Sayornis phoebe)
  54. Loggerhead Shrike (Lanius ludovicianus)
  55. Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata)
  56. American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos)
  57. Cave Swallow (Petrochelidon fulva)
  58. Carolina Chickadee (Poecile carolinensis)
  59. Tufted Titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor)
  60. House Wren (Troglodytes aedon)
  61. Sedge Wren (Cistothorus platensis)
  62. Marsh Wren (Cistothorus palustris)
  63. Golden-crowned Kinglet (Regulus satrapa)
  64. Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Regulus calendula)
  65. Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis)
  66. American Robin (Turdus migratorius)
  67. Gray Catbird (Dumetella carolinensis)
  68. Brown Thrasher (Toxostoma rufum)
  69. Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos)
  70. European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)
  71. American Pipit (Anthus rubescens)
  72. Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum)
  73. Orange-crowned Warbler (Oreothlypis celata)
  74. Pine Warbler (Setophaga pinus)
  75. Yellow-rumped Warbler (Setophaga coronata)
  76. Field Sparrow (Spizella pusilla)
  77. Vesper Sparrow (Pooecetes gramineus)
  78. Savannah Sparrow (Passerculus sandwichensis)
  79. Le Conte’s Sparrow (Ammodramus leconteii)
  80. Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia)
  81. Swamp Sparrow (Melospiza georgiana)
  82. White-throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis)
  83. Harris’s Sparrow (Zonotrichia querula)
  84. White-crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia leucophrys)
  85. Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis)
  86. Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)
  87. Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus)
  88. Eastern Meadowlark (Sturnella magna)
  89. Brewer’s Blackbird (Euphagus cyanocephalus)
  90. Great-tailed Grackle (Quiscalus mexicanus)
  91. Brown-headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater)
  92. American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis)
  93. House Sparrow (Passer domesticus)
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