Friday, April 24, 2009

Golden-crowned Sparrow and Canada Plum

Golden-crowned Sparrow madness. If you are an active Ohio birder with any sort of penchant for listing, you’ve heard about our first state record Golden-crowned Sparrow. This western species was long overdue here, and our inaugural visitor has been in residence for about three weeks. The site is a very rural residence in Hancock County, and circumstances are not conducive to uncontrolled mobs descending on the place to sate their thirst for this yellow-capped beauty.

So, in a remarkable display of congeniality and cooperation, the homeowner opened the place up on Wednesday and Thursday so that all who wanted could come see the bird. And many dozens have, and nearly no one has been disappointed. I was there bright and early yesterday, and got to see the sparrow. Now, I am not much of a lister. But, insofar as my Ohio list goes, I am fairly rabid. The Golden-crowned Sparrow was #359 for me, just a tick shy of the magical 360, and I suspect only a few have eclipsed that milestone.

Got one ringer in reserve – my true Ohio nemesis bird, the Tricolored Heron. We get multiple birds annually, just have never chased one, or otherwise stumbled onto one. Got to keep something “easy” on tap, but I think I’ll go after the next tricolored that pops.

Circumstances didn’t allow for good photos, but here it is: Ohio’s first state record Golden-crowned Sparrow, which depending on your criteria and interpretation, is about the 420th species for Ohio.

A slightly better shot. Golden-crowned Sparrows normally occur in far western North America, breeding all of the way to northern Alaska. This individual is now molted into breeding plumage and looks magnificent. Thanks again to the homeowner for allowing us to descend and take in this bird.

In a remarkably fortuitous circumstance, I had had plans for many weeks to meet Pam Menchaca, who works for the Wood County Park District, on this day and only twenty minutes from the Golden-crowned Sparrow. She was going to show me some of their properties, and we were mostly looking for salamanders. But, while driving a rural Wood County road, I glanced over and noticed this treelet in full bloom.

Few plants are yet in bloom in northern Ohio, but this plant is one of them, and it was a great find and a “life plant” for me. It is Canada Plum, Prunus nigra, an endangered species in the state and only known for a few spots. Here we see the smooth bark broken up with lenticels, as is the case with many of the woody plums and cherries. This species also has blunt thorns armoring the twigs.

Without doubt, Canada Plum looks best in flower, and the blooms emerge prior to leafout. Brian Riley with the state Division of Forestry is the one who has found most if not all the other sites, all or nearly all of which are also in Wood County. I don't think this site is a population that Brian has already found, but it might be - he does get around.

A diagnostic character of Canada Plum is these bright blood-red calyces (cup subtending the flower), with smooth lobes fringed with glandular hairs. All of the blah blah blah botanical techno-speak aside, this is just a very good-looking plant, and I was glad to finally see it.

Not a bad day – new state record bird and a doozy at that, and a life plant which is a stunner to boot!


Tom Arbour said...

Hmm...This picture looks strangely familiar...but that just might be because the everything in wood county looks about the same...what road was this one off of? I can check to see if it is one of Brian's Sites.


Haiti said...

I may be the only one but I enjoy photos of the beginnings of birding expeditions. Preparing is always fun.

*I Donated to Cornell Ornithology!*

Jared Mizanin said...

Very pleasing shots of the plum. And excellent job on #359! I guess I'll just throw my meager list of 276 in the trash :(

How'd the sally hunting go? I got my lifer Four-toed yesterday...woo-hoo!

Jim McCormac said...

Thanks Jared,

And you've got one bird that no one else in Ohio does - Common Ground-Dove!

Tom, I sent a note off to Rick and Brian letting them know where I found the plum, and asking if it is a new site or one that they knew about. Hopefully a new one!


Dawn Fine said...

Great day! I havent ever seen a golden crowned sparrow. Very cool that it came to Ohio.