Saturday, 22 April 2017

Lark Sparrow at Point Pelee

On Sunday morning I headed back into the park, eager to see if any new arrivals had dropped in at the tip. I walked down the main park road and was pleasantly surprised to hear the songs of Yellow-rumped Warblers and Pine Warblers on my walk down. The few dozen Yellow-rumped Warblers and ~5 Pine Warblers was the largest group of warblers I had encountered all spring.

Eventually I made my way over to Sparrow Field and I decided to do a quick check to see if anything interesting was present. After walking through Sparrow Field, I had stopped to photograph an American Lady butterfly when I noticed a few Field Sparrows that were among the beach grass and driftwood. There were about three Field Sparrows and one larger, sandy-coloured sparrow off on its own. It was feeding on the ground and facing away from me so that I could only really see its back, but my subconscious kicked in and started given me Lark Sparrow signals....it lifted its head, and I was surprised to see that it was in fact a Lark Sparrow! For the first few minutes I tried to photograph the bird, taking a few blurry shots through the grasses and then finally a few sharp images of the bird, hidden behind vegetation.

Lark Sparrow - Point Pelee National Park

Eventually it walked into an open area where I managed to take my first "clean" photos of the bird. I quickly posted to Ontbirds and snapped a few more shots.

Lark Sparrow - Point Pelee National Park

When I looked up again, I saw someone walking down the beach towards me - it was Jeremy Hatt. I thought to myself, wow he really responded quickly to that Ontbirds post! It turns out that he just happened to be up the beach and had not seen the post yet. Jeremy had noticed me intently staring at something on the beach and was surprised when a Lark Sparrow materialized!

Lark Sparrow - Point Pelee National Park

The bird was somewhat wary at first but soon became a little more comfortable with our presence. A few other birders showed up and we all had excellent looks at it foraged among the beach grasses, looking for seeds.

Lark Sparrow - Point Pelee National Park


Lark Sparrow - Point Pelee National Park

Lark Sparrow is a species associated with open areas in much of the western United States and northern Mexico. It has sporadically attempted to breed in the past in Ontario, but its current breeding range is just southwest of the province. In fact there are a few pairs in northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan and it is likely only a matter of time before it attempts to breed again in Ontario. Lark Sparrow is a fairly regular vagrant in Ontario with 97 accepted records through 2011, at which point it was removed from the South and Central review lists. Each year almost without fail, Ontario sees between three and eight records of Lark Sparrow. In the last five years I see 22 records on eBird, and since a few sightings likely haven't made it onto eBird that averages around five or six  sightings annually in the province in that time.

Lark Sparrow - Point Pelee National Park


It also happens to be a species that I seem to have a lot of luck with - it was the fourth Lark Sparrow I have found, following birds at Dorcas Bay, Bruce 24 Sept 2011, Erieau, Chatham-Kent 24-26 Apr 2013, and Port Weller, Niagara 15 Aug 2016. I'll trade someone a couple of Lark Sparrows for an Ivory Gull....anyone???

Lark Sparrow - Point Pelee National Park

Lark Sparrow has to be one of the more distinctive sparrows we get in Ontario due to that unmistakable "harlequin" facial pattern with bold chestnut, white and black markings. It is a very large sparrow with a long tail with white edges - reminiscent of an Eastern Towhee's tail.

Lark Sparrow - Point Pelee National Park

After getting our fill of photos, Jeremy and I continued on with our day, though the Lark Sparrow remained along the beach or in Sparrow Field for the rest of the morning. I heard of no reports during the late afternoon or evening, and the following morning it was nowhere to be seen.

4 comments:

  1. You certainly have the luck with this species-congrats.
    Cannot trade you with an Ivory Gull---mine is long gone!
    I may come up with something if you can send a Fish Crow or two to Chatham-Kent!

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    1. I'll do my best - we are getting sick of the Fish Crows here in Niagara so we could do with a few less!

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  2. Replies
    1. Thanks Susan! Right place, right time :)

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