Thursday, June 9, 2011

Singing Prairie

Gerry H. and I drove about Scott and Dakota counties, despite record-breaking 103-degree temperatures and howling winds on 7 June.  We searched unsuccessfully for Henslow's Sparrows and Hooded Warblers. But just north of Randolph, Minnesota, despite these less than ideal conditions, we found three prairie birds blasting away with their songs.
This year appears to be a banner year for Dickcissels in our region.  You may recall from a previous post that this species tends to be nomadic, with greatly fluctuating annual numbers (June 5, 2010). This bird was one of many on territory on this grassland.  Dispite our photographing and occasional heavy truck traffic, this bird repeatedly returned to his post.  All the while he sang, "Dick-ciss-ciss-ciss."
Fewer Savannah Sparrows also sang in the prairie.  They sing a dreamy, lisping "tsit-tsit-tsit, tsee-tsaaay." Savannah Sparrows are identified by their yellow lores (barely visible in this photo).  They often have central breast spot, where it not for the yellow lores, could be confused with Song Sparrows.
We saw one Grasshopper Sparrow, which obligingly sang his "pi-tup-zeeeeeeeee" as he perched atop another post in the grassland.  One problem is that, in my old age, I no longer hear the "zeeeeeeeeeee."  Instead I hear the "pi-tup" and know that the "zeeeeeeeeee" is being sung only by the bird's open beak.  The sparrow in this photograph is a rather pale individual.  Notice that, like a Savannah Sparrow, its lores are yellow.  The bend of the wing is also yellowish, a field mark not mentioned in many field guides.  Unlike the Savannah Sparrow, this sparrow has unstreaked underparts.

The songs in this blog are used with permission from Thayer Birding Software and the song quotes are from Roger Tory Peterson's Eastern Birds. Details on both publications are in the recommendation box at the right of the blog post and can be seen by clicking on the links in this paragraph.

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