Thursday, November 14, 2019
A plethora of pipits
The virgately branched inflorescence of a tall goldenrod, Solidago altissima, shimmers with crystallized ice. It was 1 F when I made this shot. A vast field of iced over Indian grass forms the backdrop. Conditions such as these can make for good birding, as 1) birds are often more approachable in bitter cold, and 2) species that typically forage in fields such as this are forced to roadsides to find spilled grain, weed seeds and other fare.
Make no mistake, #2 is not a good deal for birds, as the incidences of road strikes by vehicles can skyrocket. Fortunately, the back roads of northern Marion County and southern Wyandot County, where I was yesterday, see relatively little traffic. Despite seeing scads of birds foraging along roadsides, I saw not a single roadkill.
American pipits breed in the northernmost reaches of North America, in the tundra, and in high alpine meadows in the western part of the continent. The nearest nesters to north-central Ohio, where I made yesterday's observations, are about 1,000 miles to the north. Many pipits pass through Ohio in both spring and fall migration, but they are largely overlooked. The birds are prone to foraging way out in big agricultural fields and are easily missed. They are powerful flyers and diurnal migrants, but if one is not familiar with their flight calls as they pass high overhead, they'll pass by undetected.
The peak fall passage extends from mid-October through November. This recent early wintry weather forced pipits out of the vast agricultural hinterlands and to the roads where people could see them. Much of Ohio was awash in pipit reports, shedding light on just how many birds move through the state.
ASIDE: This beautiful little sparrow is NOT named for the plant community of scattered large trees, which is properly spelled savanna. Rather, the common name stems from Savannah, Georgia, where Alexander Wilson bagged the first specimen. As a "species" the Savannah sparrow is widespread and complex. Nearly 30 subspecies have been described and many of these variations are quite different in appearance.
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