Wednesday, October 7, 2009

How to Find Nelson's and LeConte's Sparrow

While up along the coast of Lake Michigan I realized that not everyone knows how to find Nelson's and LeConte's Sparrows. If you live in the right location these two species should be seen almost every year. If you live somewhere in their migration route they can easily be missed but if you know where to look you will probably find them.

The first key to finding these sparrows is to know the habitat. Any marshy areas and wet fields are good places to check. They usually do not associate with the marshy habitat that only contain cattails. They can also rarely be found in dry fields but I wouldn't suggest looking for them in this habitat unless you are hoping for some other species in the field as well.

It also helps to walk through the habitat instead of walking along the edges depending on the size of the area. If the area is large it is extremely important to walk through the middle, if it is small you can bird from the edge.

Learning the flight pattern is also a big help. If you can ID it in flight you won't waste a bunch of time chasing around the common sparrows (not that they aren't worth chasing around). Both sparrows should be able to be ID'd in flight by their short, sharp, worn looking tails. Once you have realized it is either Nelson's or LeConte's then you can look for the some field marks to ID between the two. Watch for a pale rump that contrasts with the rest of the body and prominent white stripes on the back for the Nelson's and look for an overall very pale buffy colored bird for identifying the LeConte's.

When perched these two birds are relatively easy to ID. Overall color is much different and with a little experience a split second look can ID it for you. A couple field marks to look for when beginning though is streaking on the nape and the distinctness of streaking on the sides. The Nelson's has a plain gray nape while the LeConte's has a gray nape that is streaked. And the LeConte's has very distinct streaking on the side while the Nelson's has blurry, indistinct streaking.

A bunch of people from the Indiana Audubon Society at McCool Pool. This is a great place to find both of these species. Everyone got looks at both species on this trip out. I won't try to name everyone in this picture.

Walking back from our successful wade through the meadow. Another thing to keep in mind is to be prepared for the habitat. I had not brought waders so my boots were flooded very quickly after entering the meadow and once I was back on solid ground I had to pour the water out of my boots. Directly behind me is Alison who was also not prepared so decided to go without shoes into the marsh. Everybody else was ready with waders which is the way to go when looking for these species.

Thanks to Chad Williams for these two photos.



Kelly said...

...waders, eh? That sounds like fun. Thanks for the information...I want to learn more about these birds and be able to go out and find them.

Kelly said...

...thanks for info, Rob. I've not been there--now I'll make it a point to get there. The Cincinnati Birding club is going there tomorrow for a field trip, but I have another obligation. So close...yet so far!

Gunnar Engblom said...

Hi Rob,
My English is not good enough I guess. Waders are those long rubber boat pants that fishermen use? Plain wellies aren't tall enough?
I need both species. A target next time in the US if I can find the right habitat.

Chad said...

This was a good time! No doubt! I would def. do it again.

Eric Ripma said...

@Gunnar-I use the term waders and wellies interchangebly. Wellies would be tall enough in most areas.