Sunday, October 19, 2008


There, a much easier to type acronym for a sparrow with a name five times longer than it is: Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow. Whatever you call it, this secretive species is a real charmer, one of the best-looking of the North American sparrows. Not only does the finder of one get to revel in its subtle ochraceous tones, here in Ohio finding one is always a great coup. We certainly get them here, and undoubtedly in much greater numbers than is ever reported, but they still are among the rarest of the regularly occurring Ohio sparrows.

A bunch of us got a great fix of NSTS today, and on to that uno momento. I attended the Audubon Ohio biennial assemby in Bellville this weekend, and on Saturday was treated to some great talks. There were a number of others, and I heard all were good, but I could only make two of them. Dave Russell gave a great program on all of the work that the Avian Research and Education Institute is doing. This operation is based out of Miami University, and spearheaded by Dave and his better half, Jill. In addition to all of the bird banding they do near Miami, AREI also heads down to Mexico each winter and catches "our" birds down in their ancestral homelands.

Then, it was onto an informative and entertaining talk by "The Birdchick" aka Sharon Stiteler. She lives in Minnesoota (Minnesota for those who don't speak the lingo), and has what must be the most heavily hit bird blog on the net. Sharon has developed bird-blogging into a science and shared lots of interesting info about the blogosphere. Great stuff and if you get the chance to hear her at one of the festivals, do so.

Kudos to Audubon Ohio for a fine assembly and we'll look forward to the next one.

The Ohio Ornithological Society helped sponsor the assembly, and in that capacity I led a field trip to Funk Bottoms Wildlife Area this morning, along with Ethan Kistler. Our targets included those secretive Ammodramus sparrows; the one mentioned above and the Le Conte's Sparrow, which is probably even harder to find.

The day dawned crystal clear and with a cool snap; today marked the most serious frost I have seen yet far this fall. The scene above is Funk, with its vast wetlands stretching off into the horizon. By midmorning temps had moderated and it was an absolutely spectacular day to be afield. We had lots of good birds: raptors, sparrows, a few Palm Warblers amongst the Yellow-rumped Warblers, Sandhill Cranes, calling Red-headed Woodpeckers, and many more. But our real efforts were devoted to Ammodramus-finding.

I REALLY wish I could say this photo was mine, and was a fruit of our marshy toils this morning. It is not. This magnificent photo of a Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow comes courtesy Kent Nickell and Flickr. We did see one and really well, but not well enough for any attempt at photos like this. When a NSTS sits out all teed up like this one is, they really look showy and rather conspicuous with those bright buffy tones. Not too tough to see.

Here's the more typical reality of NSTS'ing. Our bird is in this photo, but you'll never pick him out. The plants are River Bulrush, Bulbochoenus fluviatilis, and the sharp-taileds like to skulk in these sedges and other browned sedges and grasses. Then, those beautiful golden-brown tones blend them incredibly well with their backdrop. Fortunately for our group, with a fair bit of perseverance and tracking effort by Ethan Kistler and Becky Thompson, we finally traced the bird to this bulrush clump. I saw the gleam in his little sparrow eyes amongst the bulrush and got him in the scope. Amazingly, he stayed put long enough for the entire group to admire him via the scope, a stroke of luck that doesn't happen very often in the world of Ohio sharp-tailing.

Our fine group of this morning, posing at the site of the NSTS. It was a lifer for a number of our crew, and they had to work for it. From L to R: Sharon Stiteler, Ethan Kistler, Julie Dougherty, Dawn Zickefoose, Lyn Boone, Lisa Casamatta, Mary Warren. Front Row, L to R: Pam Barber, Becky Thompson, Diana Dugall.

Thanks to everyone for making it such a great field trip, and the the Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow for enriching our lives.

1 comment:

Julie Zickefoose said...

Birders named Zickefoose are quite a bit scarcer than NSTS's, Jim. Nice capture! Hi, Cuzin' Dawn!