Last weekend after a terrific Pelagic on Saturday (more on that in another post), I was out in the field on Sunday doing my best to act as a field guide to West Coast Pelagic Leader, Todd McGrath, who was visiting our area and co-led on our Saturday NY Pelagic. Todd and I had gotten off to a great start to the day when we heard first and then saw the Jones Beach LI Northern Shrike. The way we both keyed in on the mostly elusive Northern Shrike brought a chuckle and a nice complement from Todd.
I decided that we should then head out to Shinnecock Inlet LI, to look for Gulls, which would also give Todd an opportunity to photograph some of our Gull species like Great Black-backed Gull which is not a common bird in Texas. While Gulls were the target species, it was the discovery of Sparrows along Dune Road that encouraged me to do this post. On our way to Shinnecock Inlet, we ran into some of my friends, Tom Burke, Gail Benson, Shai Mitra and Patricia Lindsay. They were Sparrow searching and had a Seaside Sparrow all lined up for us when we arrived. Full credit goes to Pat who had scouted the bird the day before and probably bribed it to stick around for us the next day.
We then began looking for Saltmarsh Sparrows which were known to be in the area. Shai and I while searching near the edge of one of the marsh areas, kicked up one Sparrow which when it flew and landed, definitely looked good for a Nelson's and then as I moved to angle for a better look. Spotted another Nelson's type closer to where I was standing just before it flew, joining the other bird in a low brushy area that was in the marsh itself. Before I go further with our search in the field. A bit on the history of Sharp-tailed Sparrow.
Since the split of the Sharp-tailed Sparrows in 1995, field guides have identified some of the important distinctions between Saltmarsh and Nelson’s Sparrow. However this has been a top level approach and a more granular level approach digging into the more subtler distinctions is sorely lacking in field guides. Nevertheless, more research, including studies of skins and digital photography has helped further the understanding of these subtle distinctions within the subspecies. With this in mind, the 6 of us spent about 2 hours working the area on Dune Road, patiently trying to get sufficient looks at the Saltmarsh Sparrows. During this time the discussion turned to subspecies identification and as such I attempted to document our findings with some field notes and photographs which I am sharing in this post with some comments on what the subspecies type were deemed to be.
This image shows the back of the candidate for Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow.
Tags: Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow, Nelson's Sparrow, Saltmarsh Sparrow