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The Blackburnian of the Prairie

Updated: Oct 31, 2022


I have to admit, the first time I heard that phrase, I was quite taken with it. What is this "Blackburnian of the Prairie"? Well, it is a LeConte's Sparrow. It is a beautiful one, too. Shockingly, it is orange. One of two "orange" sparrows we get here in Indiana. "Get" is a bit of an overstatement. This is a bird that nests in the central plains of Canada and northern Minnesota and Wisconsin. It winters in the central, southern portion of the US. We are really just hoping to get a few birds that have been blown off course on their trip north or south. As slim of a chance as that seems, we get some every year. Based on all this rambling, you have probably already guessed that I have some photos of one to share. Not true. I have passing photos of two to share.

Before I dive into that though, let's talk about the rest of the weekend. My weekend actually started at Eagle Creek on Saturday. I had looked at the winds, and Sunday was the better day. With that in mind, I stayed local and birded the park. Sparrow numbers were low. Palm Warblers were also a bit scarce. I birded the south fields for a bit and then headed towards the Discovery Center. I wanted to try and track down a Winter Wren that was being seen in the area. The poor thing has received a lot of harassment, and I was hoping the newness of the bird had wore off; making it a bit easier for me to bird it. I go to the area and poked around a pished a bit, but I did not see or hear the bird. I moved on and hit a nice little pocket of kinglets, yellow-rumps, and my first juncos of the year. While birding them, I found the Winter Wren. It was feeding deep in the brush and would not pish out of cover. Maybe next time. Before I tracked the wren down, I had actually gotten a bit sidetracked. As I had pulled down the road to the Discover Center, I noticed a couple of small birds flit up along the road and bounce down into the ravine. I walked back up the road after parking to track them down. I was sure it was a fool's errand, but it actually worked out. There was a very active pocket of warblers and kinglets working the ravine and moving towards the main road. All I was finding, at first was Yellow-rumps. Then, a Bay-breasted Warbler with a bit of bay left on its flanks popped up. I kept pishing and searching through the birds coming in. Eventually, I had a small plain warbler come in just above me. It was keeping itself in the sun, and every time I moved, it would move with me. It eventually figured out I was nothing to worry about and popped down into the bushes to start feeding. That's when I figured out it was a female Black-throated Blue Warbler. I managed to get ahead of her and grab a few shots as she fed. Not long after, the flock disappeared, and I was left to start my wren hunt. All in all, a pretty good morning at the park.

Sunday, I was up and out the door at the early hour of 5:30 AM. I was going to bird Goose Pond. While I have already talked about how it is a bit ridiculous to expect to find a LeConte's Sparrow, I look once or twice every year about this time. Hope springs eternal in birders. I arrived about ten minutes before sunrise and started scouting up and down the road a bit; waiting for the sun to clear the horizon. I was not seeing much. Most years, it seems the Swamp Sparrows are numbering in the hundreds. This year, I have not had that overwhelming of numbers. Oddly, they also seem more shy than normal. Pishing has pushed them back into cover as much as it has brought them out to see what is going on. This year has been a bit of a banner year for Lincoln's Sparrow, though. It is a bit tough to complain about that. They are a sharp-looking sparrow. I was not alone Sunday morning. Michael Brown was there looking for Nelson's Sparrows. While we did not bird together, we did chat for a bit and compared notes on what we had seen that morning. My day was going a bit better than his. As I was walking down the road, I was keeping my back to the sun and periodically stopping to pish for birds. About halfway down the road, I heard a short, high-pitched note from behind me. I knew it was different. I turned to face the tall prairie grass and started scanning it. I was facing directly into the sun and was pretty much blinded. This is actually what got me onto the bird. I looked down to shelter my eyes for a second and caught some movement in the grass not ten foot away. Fighting the sun, I could just make out a tiny sparrow head poking up out of the weeds. I moved around to put myself at an angle to the sun and was able to make out a juvenile LeConte's Sparrow. In retrospect, I should have moved back to where I was and just sat in the road to gain some perspective and shelter from the sunlight. Instead, I stayed at an angle and shot into some odd lighting. The bird is molting an looked a bit rough. It eventually bounced off into the tall prairie grass, and I assumed I had seen the last of it. I crossed the road into the weeds and birded from there for bit. Strangely, the juvenile bird came back. I spent a while trying to track him through the weeds and eventually lost him. That is when I spotted the second one. This one was a adult and looked pretty nice. The short version of the rest of the day is that I lost them both and birded on down the road. On the return trip back to my car, I managed to track them both down again, but I only managed decent photos of the young bird. I will just have to count myself lucky to have seen them at all. Overall, the morning was slow, but the numbers of Lincoln's Sparrow and the pair of LeConte's really made my day. Sparrow season is one of my favorites.

Thanks for reading,



2 commentaires

21 nov. 2022

Your sparrow piece was really great. I struggle with sparrow identification but I will keep at it. How lucky we are to have you share your knowledge. Thank you!

Mike Timmons
Mike Timmons
26 nov. 2022
En réponse à

Thank you for taking the time to read it and comment. I really appreciate it. Keep at it, it gets easier. Sparrows are one of my favorite families to photograph.

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