Thursday, April 28, 2011

Grasshopper Sparrow

When I visited my patch yesterday, I knew there had been steady migration over New Jersey during the night, so I was hoping to see some warblers or other new arrivals. The southerly air flow over the state has brought us unseasonably hot temperatures but also several successive nights of heavy migration. As it turns out, the warblers I saw the previous day seemed to have moved on since there were fewer singing Yellow Warblers and a lot fewer Yellow-rumped Warblers. The orioles and catbirds were still around, though.

Shortly after I started my usual route I saw a small bird fly out of a small wetland area and land at the edge of the nearby ballfield, where it joined some Chipping Sparrows and started foraging. As I tracked it in flight, I saw that it had a short tail and looked yellowish, so I was expecting a Savannah Sparrow, a species I have been seeing at that park almost every day. Instead, when I focused my binoculars on it, I saw this guy:

A Grasshopper Sparrow! This was the first I had seen in Middlesex County, so I couldn't believe my eyes when I recognized it. Unlike with a few other sightings, this time I remembered to take photos. Even if they are not great, they show an identifiable bird.

Grasshopper Sparrows are locally common in areas with lots of grassland habitat. That habitat is scarce in Central Jersey, and as a result Grasshopper Sparrows are very hard to find outside of a few known breeding locations. New Jersey classifies their breeding population as threatened due to the continued loss of grassland habitat, either to natural succession or new subdivisions.

When I finally left the Grasshopper Sparrow, I figured that nothing else I would see on the walk could beat it, and that turned out to be true. However, it was still a fun walk as I got nice views of some of the bird species that have arrived over the past week. I saw a couple of Bank Swallows, my first of the year, cruising back and forth along the Raritan River. They seemed to be checking out the muddy banks on the opposite side of the river, but I have no idea if they will stick around for the breeding season.