Monday, April 29, 2013

Rare Grasshopper Sparrow at Stratford Point

I was conducting a waterfowl survey at Stratford Point earlier today and walking on the perimeter path with my Shetland Sheepdog Zach when he flushed a small brown bird out of the grass ahead of me. Instantly your mind goes to sparrow, but what species? I knew it was something great by the time two or three seconds had elapsed and it made its way to the rock revetment wall. It was small with long wings and flew with irregular motions, staying low to the ground, without calling. This secretive type of maneuver was enough for me to think Grasshopper Sparrow, and a quick look at the bird with my binoculars as it sat on the revetment wall confirmed it. Good job Zach!

Here is a photo of it later after it moved down to the fence line along the lighthouse while we continued our survey.

Zach accompanies me to help flush waterfowl and gulls from the perimeter of the site which is part of the survey protocol in the historic shot fall zone, but occasionally he also comes up with something else hidden along the edges. Grasshopper Sparrows are grassland birds that are very difficult to find outside of breeding areas because of how uncommon they are and how secretive they try to be. I do not have any personal records of a bird during spring migration, but I do have some in the fall including one at Stratford Point on October 24, 2010 that came only 13 days after another seen by Frank Mantlik and me at the community gardens in Stratford. My last Grasshopper Sparrow was October 13, 2012 at the Aspetuck Land Trust's Trout Brook Valley Conservation Area.

If you see the below photos you can get a good look at the white crown stripe followed by the first record shot I got of it sitting on the wall. Even that sort of view would be sufficient to identify this bird with its bold white eye ring and orange face.

The end of April through May is a wonderful time for all sorts of birds including scarce species like this all the way to the extremely rare. This is only the beginning!

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation Technician

Photos by Scott Kruitbosch © Connecticut Audubon Society and not to be reproduced without explicit CAS permission

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