Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Sparrow Safari

Erika and I drove 20 miles south of Olympia to the Scatter Creek Wildlife Recreation area. Our quarry were Vesper Sparrows, common birds in eastern Washington, but known mostly from Thurston County in the west. The sparrow is reported in eBird almost every year, especially from Scatter Creek. The species, however, is locally uncommon and in danger of extinction in western Washington (Wahl et al. 2005). Habitat destruction and an invasion of Scotch Broom, an invasive, introduced European plant—the yellow plants in this photo— have adversely affected Vesper Sparrow populations. 
We saw a lot of sparrows at Scatter Creek. Savanna Sparrow sang from behind nearly every clump of grass and even from within the Scotch Broom.  These sparrows are identified by the yellow pathes that runb from their bills and along their eye stripes. Below they are streaky on top of white  breasts and bellies.

We were greeted at the wildlife area by many singing White-crowned Sparrows. Notice that the face is gray between the eye and the bill—indicating this birds are the expected, and abundant, race in the area, Zonotrichia leucophrys pugetensis, the Puget Sound White-crowned Sparrow.
Just the other day, I wrote how infrequently we find Chipping Sparrows in western Washington. When it rains, it pours. Chipping Sparrows, with their rufous crowns and black eyelines, were abundant at Scatter Creek.
Our last sparrow seems to me to be a Vesper. I had trouble identifying it. The bird appears to have its ear coverts surrounded by a brown line and its eyering seems to be white. (Look carefully at this image—what first appears to be the bird’s eye is actuality an ear spot.) The stripes on the upper breast show a faint, yellowish wash. I tried to record the bird’s song, but it was drowned out by singing White-crowned Sparrows. The Vesper Sparrows of western Washington are a distinct subspecies from those in the eastern part of the state and are named Pooecetes gramineus confinis. They have more slender bills than do other populations and creamy-colored underparts. 

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