Late in the summer while running along the Trans Canada Trail, I began to flush small sparrows from the side of trail at this one spot near Iber Rd. @ the Trans Canada Trail. Always, the sparrows would ‘spray’ into the air and drop into a weedy field just S of the trail. Their small bodies and high-metallic tseets strongly suggested they were Spizella sparrows and my assumption here was that they were all Chipping Sparrows. One day, however, I reminded myself that I had heard a Clay-colored Sparrow singing some time in mid July approximately 500 m NE of this area and I couldn’t shake my curiosity, wondering if there’s more than just a building number of Chipping Sparrows in that field…
Photo: A crude map of my walking route. I cover a small area thoroughly and take roughly 90 min to complete this transect. Amazingly I have so far encountered 9 species of sparrows here! Dark-eyed Junco and White-crowned are the inevitable 10th and 11th….later this week, perhaps.
Photo: A fresh basic (fall) Clay-colored Sparrow showing the buffy suffusion to the head and buff bib typical of fresh fall plumage. It’s possible that this bird is a first fall immature but I am not certain. 19 September 2016.
On the 12th of September I decided that I’d stop by this general area and walk about, seeing what I could flush up. Immediately, I was taken aback at how many sparrows were seeking refuge here and was most surprised when I observed a Clay-colored Sparrow flush from the long grasses and land at the base of tree. I have since found out (from a much better survey today, on the 19th) that I moved a bit quickly and this made the sparrows quite nervous and skulky. Here’s my checklist from the 12th: http://ebird.org/ebird/canada/view/checklist/S31562021. I went back to the site on the 13th late in the afternoon and saw more birds than I did on the 12th but they flushed even sooner, with many birds flushing into cedars, out of view. Here’s my checklist from the 13th: http://ebird.org/ebird/canada/view/checklist/S31568507. Today, September 19th, I moved very slowly and pished very lightly and this tactic allowed for less flushing and more curious birds peering out from vegetation. This method is the method I will be sticking with moving forward. In some cases, I was kneeling still for approximately 5 min, watching birds come in low through the veg. I was thrilled to tally 3 Lincoln’s Sparrows today and I realized a Le Conte’s in late Sept/early October is a real possibility here. It’s a very special field! Here’s my checklist from the 19th: http://ebird.org/ebird/canada/view/checklist/S31659474
Parking and Tactics
I park at the dead end of Bobolink Ridge roundabout (see Robert Grant and Bobolink in map) and walk N along the sidewalk of Robert Grant then cut in to the sparrow field very close to the treeline along Abbot St. E. I walk W along a path there, but I move extremely slowly! The area at the base of the treeline adjacent to the ‘weeds’ is where I typically tally my Clay-colored Sparrows. Clay-colored’s flush miles out so keep your eyes up and into the ‘weeds’ for movement. I have found they are not responsive to pishing and have not used playback (my thinking being I think it’s best to keep the disturbance low here to keep this area ephemeral for other birders); I don’t want to stress the birds so much that they move along. The shrubs adjacent to the first hydro tower are dynamite and many birds flush from the ‘weeds’ to that area. I spend 20-25 min patiently working the flock as they move about in that area. I typically cut S and walk to the next hydro tower and carefully work that area, too. Always, I am very quiet and I move very slowly, pishing only to draw freshly-landed flushed birds into view.