I don't know if I've mentioned it, but for a while during my time at the Marsh House, I got really into sparrows. I was reading Mike McDowell's blog on a daily basis, soaking up every bit of knowledge I could on the various sparrows I saw on the marsh and at my feeders. I racked up a pretty impressive yardlist of sparrows, with Chipping, Field, White-crowned, White-throated, Swamp, Fox, Song, and American Tree sparrows all making regular appearances.
It's been a while since I was studying sparrows intensively, however, as it's been a while since I left the Marsh House. Besides, I'm now waaaaay farther south than Pennsylvania, so some of those sparrows that were so familiar to me up there don't even come down this far (I'm talking to you, Fox and Tree sparrows). So I'm hoping you'll all help me out with this new crop of sparrows, all seen at Estero Llano Grande State Park. I'll just put up the photos and my best guesses, and you guys can just set me right with your bird-braininess. (I meant that as a compliment!)
Late in the day, Estero Llano Grande State Park
First, I'll list the species that can be found in the RGV at this time of year; no sense talking myself into thinking I'm seeing a Baird's Sparrow or something when they don't even come down here. I'm at least realistic enough to check the range maps first! This list was compiled from RTP's Field Guide to the Birds of Texas and the National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America (which I really like because it has the range maps right next to the descriptions and illustrations of the birds). Here's our list of choices:
Seaside (we were about five miles north of the Rio Grande River and about thirty miles inland)
Song (though this is too far south, according to Ntl Geo guide)
Here we go!
1. Please just tell me these aren't female Red-winged Blackbirds. I thought so at first, but these birds looked too dark to me.UPDATE: They are indeed lady RWBL. I should've gone with the first instinct instead of trying to overthink it.
And is it just me, or do they have the two-color bill (pink on bottom, black on top) of the... no, this is certainly not an American Tree Sparrow. Never mind. I'll just be quiet now.
On the chance that you'll see more than I did in the "group" photos I took of these birds, here's an uncropped shot to make huge and look at (because I know you've got nothing better to do than geek out over sparrows!)--
Are these just lady RWBL or what? I've seen those before, but these looked different somehow. Now I'm starting to think I'm a fool. I know what the problem is, though: I saw the list the rangers were keeping at the first big observation deck; they had Lincoln's, Savannah, Swamp, and even American Pipits--you name it. Now I'm trying to make every brown streaky bird into something exotic!
The first step is admitting you have a problem.
2. Moving on! UPDATE! Song Sparrow!
Look at that bird; couldn't you just scream Clay-colored Sparrow!? Okay, maybe not. I found it interesting that he sat on his haunches like that the whole time I watched him. Is he a juvenile? At this time of year? I wouldn't put it past those booger house sparrows to be breeding in the winter, you know.
3. Look at this little bird:Song Sparrow? But where's his hatpin spot?
UPDATE--Savannah Sparrow--John pointed out the pink bill and short tail. Nice! I'd heard them before and seen them from a distance, but now I feel like I'll know them right off. I hope.
I know you're saying, "didn't you get a picture of his back?" Yes, I did! I wish these birds had sung a little bit--NONE of them were singing when I watched them. That sure would've helped.
How are you feeling about this one?
4. The one with the long flat forehead:
It's the Lincoln's, isn't it?! Yeah, just kidding. It can't be. But what the heck is it? UPDATE! I had suspected a Pipit, especially because that weird head shape didn't match any sparrows. I knew they'd seen American Pipits from that big observation deck across the pond, so I should've known. Don't know that I'll count this as a lifer, however, as I was not able to make the ID myself. I even took the Lincoln's Sparrow off the lifer update list to the right, because I didn't have a pic and I couldn't for the life of me remember which bird it was. So the American Pipit remains a potential lifer for me, but having this photo to study will make my next sighting a good one!
5. Finally, what I thought was a sparrow but is a Yellow-rumped Warbler, I think:
I see the hint of the yellow on his sides and on his rump (though it may just be a pixel-illusion), and his warbler beak. It's a YRWA, isn't it? UPDATE: John and Elizabeth confirmed that it's a YRWA. He looks so smooth, though, don't you think? Almost phoebe-ish in his shapeliness. Usually they look like little blurs flitting through the trees, but this guy stopped and posed for me. America's Top Yellow-rumped Model!
I sure hope you sparrow buffs show me some love and help me with these. At this point, I don't even want them for the lifelist--if I can't ID them with surety even after staring at their photos, I don't feel like they belong on the list. I learned a lot about shorebirds by studying photos and noticing general types and shapes. Sparrows just seem to defeat me sometimes. I like the easy ones--Fox, Field ID'd by his call, Chipping, Tree -- those are gimmes. Too many times I've stared at the same streaky-breasted head-stripy birds and been lost.
I know some people are "naturals" at remembering bird songs or field marks. I have trouble remembering my phone number. I may not be a natural, and my list may be meager after four years of effort--but, as they say, it is what it is. I am what a am: a beginning birder.