Saturday, January 9, 2016

An 'Ipswich' Savannah Sparrow in the East Meadows!

'Ipswich' Savannah Sparrow with typical Savannah Sparrow, East Meadows, Northampton, Jan 9, 2016
'Ipswich' Savannah Sparrow, East Meadows, Northampton, Jan 9, 2016
'Ipswich' Savannah Sparrow, East Meadows, Northampton, Jan 9, 2016
'Ipswich' Savannah Sparrow, East Meadows, Northampton, Jan 9, 2016
White crowned Sparrow (Juv), East Meadows, Northampton, Jan 9, 2016
White crowned Sparrow (adult), East Meadows, Northampton, Jan 9, 2016
Red winged Blackbird, East Meadows, Northampton, Jan 9, 2016
Although the morning started off with a little freezing rain it eventually turned out to be a fairly nice day. I didn't venture out right away but waited until the main roads got salted and I initially stuck close to home with some stops around Quabbin Park. The highlights there included 18 Black Ducks and a dozen Horned Grebes among the more typical waterfowl. As the morning wore on it appeared the weather was going to be better than predicted so I made a decision to head over to the East Meadows to try to catch up with the 'Ipswich' Savannah Sparrow found there by James a couple days ago. I arrived in the meadows around 8:30 and proceeded to where James had the sparrow but there were a few hunters in the area so after a brief, fruitless look I headed a bit west to check some hedgerows for sparrows (I did turn up a flock of 110+ American Goldfinches before leaving that area). The area near Hunt's Rd held a nice bunch of birds including a flock of seven Red winged Blackbirds (#73), a male Purple Finch (#74), two White crowned Sparrows (an adult and a juvenile of the typical eastern subspecies) and half a dozen White throated Sparrows plus lots of tree sparrows and cardinals. I then headed back over to look for the 'Ipswich' and the area was now a bit less hunter filled. I immediately had a large flock of Horned Larks and Snow Buntings working a large swath of the meadows and the flock contained at least one Lapland Longspur (#75) but I was never able to get a photo of the longspur. I then proceeded to scan the weedy field and I immediately noticed a very pale bird in among the more typical Savannah Sparrows...the 'Ipswich'! It was quite pale and larger overall with a larger bill compared to the typical savannah's. This individual is one of only perhaps one other western Massachusetts record of this distinct subspecies that typical winters along the immediate coast and breeds almost exclusively on Sable Island well off the coast of Nova Scotia. It is exceedingly rare inland away from the immediate coast.  It was considered a separate species until the last several decades and may indeed be a distinct species. Either way an amazing find by James who has now found two unusual sparrow subspecies in the last few days proving yet again that you never know what unusual bird is out there just waiting to be found. After getting some photos of the sparrows I started looking back through the lark and bunting flock and suddenly all the birds shot into the air...a Merlin was rocketing in from the east but it came up empty. The Merlin became species #76 for the county so far this year which puts me ahead of any previous year by this date.
Full eBird list from the East Meadows:

After my time in the East Meadows I made a brief run through the Honey Pot mainly hoping for a kestrel but I came up empty. I didn't try for the 'Gambel's' White crowned Sparrow but hopefully it is still around. I also checked out the river in Hadley and had 26 Common Goldeneye but not too much else. The UMASS campus pond was over 3/4 frozen and featured just a few geese plus Mallards and a handful of Black Ducks.

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