Sunday, June 2, 2013

Savannah Sparrow and Virginia Rail

Two weeks ago I headed out for a Sunday afternoon visit to Grass Lake.  The plan was to enjoy some close opportunities with the Osprey pair there and see if the Sandhill Cranes were still nesting in the same spot after hearing some crazy photographer hip-waded directly to the nest!

But when I arrived, the Osprey nest was a big pile of scattered branches and corn stalks on the road. Apparently a couple nights before, a big storm had blown it right off the supporting hydro wire wood braces.  I felt sorry for the bird pair, but they were "silly" not to have used a sturdy nesting box which had been put there this winter for them.  Realizing of course that they don't "think" like we do, you do wonder what made them think the much more precarious location they used was better. 

But, in the same location, I noticed a "little brown jobby" (an affectionate term for the many sparrows and other small birds that look alike from a distance) that appeared somewhat different.  It was not shy and allowed me to get quite close, and even continued with its interesting song.  I almost dismissed it as the very common Song Sparrow, but soon I noticed a yellow flash above the eyes.  It was a Savannah Sparrow and a life bird (#124).  It's a grassland sparrow and shares the habitat in that area with the Bobolinks, Eastern Meadowlarks, and other grassland sparrows that I have yet to see there.

Savannah Sparrow

In the same area, Horned Larks were traveling back and forth between a farmer's field and the protection of the grasses of the antenna field.  A stop on the road seemed part of their little routine too.  Not sure why as I can't imagine there was anything like salt from the winter to entice them.  There forays into the grasses would often start a squabble with a larger Bobolink that would attempt to guard its territory.

Horned Larks

I'm pretty sure this next picture is a juvenile Horned Lark.  I know Robin fledglings are out already, but I wasn't expecting to see young from other birds yet.  I guess at first I as just hoping it was another rare bird to get excited about, but I think my assumption on the juvenile Horned Lark is right.  I'll be glad to be proven wrong.

juvenile Horned Lark

This Bobolink kept coming back to one of two small saplings to sing away its claim to a certain area of the thick wild grasses.

male Bobolink

male Bobolink near nest?

This male seems to have a beak deformation of some sort.  Or, it lacks some personal hygiene.  I did a bit of research, but it seems that naturalists are completely sure what causes different beak abnormalities, aside from assumptions that there may be nutrition issues, or simply an abnormality from birth.  The defect seems to affect birds of all strips... here's a link to a collection of many different birds with the sad fate.  For many, it will mean a short and/or difficult life.

I headed out to Grass Lake for the reminder of my visit time, to see if anyone could give me an update on the Cranes and their nesting/eggs status.  Just as I arrived a few of the Cranes flew in along the north side of the lake.  No one really knew the status of the nest or if any eggs were being tended.  The last nest site I had seen was well hidden in last year's cat tails, so I'm not sure anyone will know if they are still using this location until, hopefully, some young colts are walking around.

Sandhill Crane landing

Another man with a few other photographers were working to call out some Virgina Rail they had heard.  I'm not adverse to using bird calls if it's done respectfully (of the birds and other birders/photographers) but, I'm afraid this guy was beyond anything I've seen before.  He had it on repeat and would simply flick on his little speaker and let it play for minutes on end at full blast.  We were at the top of the road embankment, and he along with some other photographers seemed of the opinion the birds would walk up the steep hill to them for a posed picture.... maybe I'm too unfamiliar with this bird, but I don't think so! 

Virginia Rail hiding

I decided to head down the embankment, partially to avoid the audio assault, but to see if some good old looking and quiet "hunting" would pay off.  It did!!  They are extremely hard to find and see, but I finally spotted one.  Now photographing them is completely another story!!  You can forget auto focus - trying to shoot into the thick grasses they like to hide in and expecting .  So the shots I got were hard fought, and topped of by the fact that they were of life bird #125!

Virginia Rail

 Till next time... Keep enjoying His handiwork!


  1. Brian, great photos and great birds. Virginia Rail is a really exciting bird to see. It took me several years until I saw one. Its too bad some people don't know when enough is enough. I have run into these types many times myself.

    I had lots of advertising spam as well, so I verify the comments. Some people still make the effort. Congrats on the great birds! Dwayne

    1. Thanks Dwayne. I was pretty excited to get that bird, and it kind of felt like icing on the cake to find it the harder way (though I guess I was still helped with their bird calling making it respond to help me narrow in on it).

      Doing the word verification cut 100% of the spam out for me and no need to do the delay... for now anyway! :)


Sorry about the annoying word verification... I've been deluged with Spam comments lately and some have been offensive.