Sunday, November 2, 2008

Eye on the Sparrow

Don't have a cow: The non-birding scene at Hague Dairy

Hague Dairy is one of the big local birding hotspots, but until now, I haven't been there. The prospect seemed both intimidating and unpleasant: it's a bit a a drive from my place, in an out-of-the-way rural area outside Gainesville, and it's not open to the public in a user-friendly way—it's not a park, but an actual working dairy (actually, a laboratory dairy run by the University of Florida)—so while visitors may enter the and sign in for permission to wander around, there are no signs to show you where you are or where the interesting stuff is. The official story there is the cattle ARE the interesting stuff.

So I was happy to tag along with Alachua Audubon's fieldtrip to dairy—most of the people who attended knew the area well and were happy to show me where the interesting stuff was.

One of the places birders like there is also one of the most repulsive: a massive dungheap and a holding pool filled with...well, once you smell it, you'll know. But birds don't find this problematic: a large flock of Brown-headed Cowbirds and American Crows were pecking happily around on top of the tall heap of you-know-what, and in that regrettable holding pond, we spotted a lone Least Sandpiper, a Common Snipe, and a big flock of White Ibises, looking conspicuously clean considering their surroundings. Here's one of them.

Further along, we reached a more pleasant area, filled with the usual moss-draped oaks and shrubs. There, we found a Prairie Warbler, a Yellow-throated Warbler, and a Black-and-White Warbler. Along a nearby fence were numerous Eastern Bluebirds and Palm Warblers, both members of the brownish Western population, and of brighter yellow Eastern population. I also got a Chipping Sparrow, a species I had seen back home in California, but not often:

I also had the opportunity to be utterly confused by the birds everyone else was identifying as Yellow-rumped Warblers and Savannah Sparrows: I had seen both birds a million times back home, but these?! Then I remembered that the Eastern race of Yellow-rumpeds iaka (Myrtle Warbler) is different from the Western (aka Audubon's Warbler) in a few ways: I knew how they differed in the spring, but not in the fall. Now I know.

Today at Bolen Bluff, on the prairie, I had another sparrow: I'm pretty sure it's not a Savannah, or a Song Sparrow (the two common species I'm really familiar with—I suck with sparrows)—but I'm not sure what is is. Suggestions welcome!

Fall is shifting slowly, but surely into winter. Here's my chance to finally get up to speed on sparrows. Oh crap!


Rasta Redneck said...

I'm gratified to see that you're adjusting to the mysterious Southland without significant trauma.

I'm no expert, but the sparrow looks like a Vesper Sparrow to me, since the most noticeable facial features are an eye ring and a pale moustachial stripe.

Corey said...

I can live with Vesper . . never seen one myself, but Rasta's logic works for me.

Felicia said...

I've never (knowingly) seen a Vesper Sparrow either, so if you guys are right, it's a lifer for me!

Thanks to both of you!