Spring Migration is Underway: May Sparrow Alert

By Bird Ecology Program Director, Seth Benz

Despite intermittent rain showers, the drive from Frazer Picnic Area to Schoodic Institute campus revealed a flood of newly arrived sparrows. The tip-off came early when an Eastern Towhee flashed across the short wet trail just west of the restroom. Within seconds several male White-throated sparrows, showing their finest, most colorful, neatly delineated head and throat markings flew into some low shrubbery, not at all concerned with my presence.

Dark-eyed Juncos squirted from the road edge here and there along the drive to campus, their white outer tail feathers betraying otherwise solid gray head and body as seen from behind. Several Hermit Thrush (not sparrows) were working the paved road edge as I turned onto campus – between there and the ball field no fewer than 4 thrush scurried off the roadside and into the forest. Approaching the turn down to the ball field an explosion of wings and darting brown bodies scattered from grass to forest edge. One male White-crowned Sparrow – you would clearly see stand out in bold contrast to a half-dozen Chipping Sparrows, sporting their red and black head gear. As I inched forward, a flush of Savannah Sparrows -quickly count of 6 – leaped to flight inches above the blades of grass to disappear up and over the small hill separating the road from the North Parking Lot near Schooner Commons.

In a matter of minutes, I logged into eBird via my iPhone a total of 26 sparrows – 11 Chipping, 8 White-throated, 6 Savannah and 1 White-crowned. The scene was reminiscent of youthful excursions with my father, heading down some wooded path in pursuit of trout with him pointing this way and that to darting “lbj’s” (little brown jobs, as he called them) but not taking time to decipher which species. Little did he know at that time, that he was igniting a young would-be birder’s curiosity! Today, the thrill of quickly recognizing most lbj’s comes only from many years of practice, learning slowly to pay attention to head, face and throat markings.

Like this photo of a through-the-rain-and-mist bird with a faint superciliary line above the eye, showing a hint of yellow stretching over the eye to the base of the beak – at best a glancing view of a Savannah Sparrow. This has me wondering what other sparrows may be out and about around campus, or throughout the region, as different birds arrive nearly every day now that spring migration is ramping up.

Bird Ecology Program Director, Seth Benz leads free birding events during the month of May.  Space is limited for these two-hour tours on identification of  songbirds at Frazer Point in Acadia National Park. Register HERE for your birding mini-excursion today.