Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Tis the season for Little Brown Jobs

We are well into October and there’s no doubt that fall is in full swing in Cape May. The leaves are turning colors, the Yellow-rumped Warblers are plentiful, and the sparrows have moved in. Just in the last couple weeks we have witnessed as influx of our favorite, LBJ’s.  A few Clay-colored Sparrows and Lincoln’s Sparrows have been spotted around Cape Island, as well as a fly-by Lark Sparrow further up the Bayshore. In my own backyard, there is a plethora of White-throated Sparrows and Swamp Sparrows enjoying our new brush pile and recently filled feeders. The soft and sweet chip notes of Savannah Sparrows can be heard around The Nature Conservancy’s South Cape May Meadows as the beautifully streaky birds cross back and forth over the paths. Vesper Sparrows, White-crowned Sparrows, and Field Sparrows have also been seen about town recently. And of course we cannot forget about the understated Song Sparrow, a personal favorite of mine. Even the local flocks of House Sparrows deserve a second look right now for imposters (i.e. Dickcissels) love hiding in plain sight amongst them.

Savannah Sparrow poses for a shot at Cape May Point State Park. The overall streaky appearance and soft yellow around the face make this a beautiful little bird to enjoy. [Photo by Sam Wilson.]
Swamp Sparrows have been abundant around Cape May recently, this one was working his way through Higbee Beach Wildlife Management Area. Their rusty plumage and grey faces make these guys pretty distinctive. [Photo by Sam Wilson.]

This young Field Sparrow at Higbee Beach Wildlife Management Area is a great example of a plain look being an ID characteristic (also note the long tail). [Photo by Sam Wilson.] 

If you’re anything like me, just the word ‘sparrow’ starts an increase in blood pressure and a creeping feeling of dread. I begrudgingly began learning my sparrows last fall and I am actually excited to keep up my studies this year. Thanks to a handful of great (and very patient) teachers, I am able to pick out the key characteristics and subtle differences that make sparrow species a unique and fun challenge. These frequently underappreciated birds, with their charming behaviors and intricate plumages, are a welcome part of fall in Cape May.

Still not convinced? Well this weekend, the ever-patient Michael O’Brien will be leading a Sparrows workshop for CMBO’s Cape May School of Birding. Details can be found below.  It’s a great workshop that will help you break down sparrows into categories and then further to species by observing behavior as well as size, shape, and plumage details. In no time you’ll find yourself going from “Ugh, more LBJ’s” to “Ooo a Savannah Sparrow!” Just in case you need another reason to make the trip to Cape May this weekend, the weather forecast looks extremely promising, with Northwest winds tomorrow through Monday. Fall is here. Come birding.

Michael O'Brien's Sparrow Sampler Workshop is this weekend. Contact Chris Tonkinson at (609)861-0700 or by email at to register.

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