Sunday, April 11, 2010

Boulder Habitat Delivers Again

Migration seems to have reached full pitch, in the midst of my pager weekend. Having a short leash I decided to head back to the Walden / Sawhill Ponds Complex in Boulder County yesterday morning. The trip didn't disappoint. 34 species in a couple of hours, including a handful of returning winter migrants, a bunch of favorites, great weather and two lifers - this bird and a mammal.

The Lincoln's Sparrow can be difficult to find because like some others it spends most of its time deep in thick brush. I was lucky, as I walked along a narrow, willow covered rise separating two ponds I heard some movement in the brush as I passed. I stopped a few feet beyond and looked back with the sun. Eventually I was rewarded as this bird perched several times in spots that allowed me relatively good looks through the branches.

At the time I had no idea what I was seeing, just that the buffy malar stripes, (the line that runs down and away from the bill, below the eye), gave me a pronounced impression of yellow in the field, and that it was a mark I couldn't place to a species with which I was familiar. In addition to getting the pictures I made some notes in the field to help me with my identification later. I noted that there was faint striping at the neck and shoulders, but that it didn't feature on the breast, which was plain gray.
When I got back home I checked the pics, zooming in for detail, and dove into the field guides to knock out an ID. I eliminated the Le Conte's, Henslow's and Nelson's Sparrows, because while all have yellow on the their malar stripes or regions, in all cases it reaches above the eye. I then found the Lincoln's and was glad to be able to match up all the field marks indicated with my shots and notes. Then I checked against the archives of the COBirds mailing list to make sure that the timing was right to have a sighting in this area. To my surprise I found that someone had reported one from the same area, at a different pond, only four days before. I had read the alert, but didn't register the sparrow, or dismissed it as one that I would be unlikely to relocate. I'm still not sure if that is a good indication to recheck reports before heading out, or to trust to dumb luck when in the field. Either way I was ecstatic to have a new bird for my life list, and confirmation ready waiting for my new I when I got home.

Really quite a handsome bird, when it decides to make itself visible.
2010 Count: 103
Lifetime: 212

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