Thursday, April 15, 2010

April 15: Swamp Sparrow

This morning after a meeting in Rockland I made a short side-trip to Weskeag Marsh before heading back to the office. A birder friend has been reporting glossy ibises and gadwalls. Of course I didn't see either of those locally uncommon birds, but it was a rewarding trip nonetheless. About a dozen great blue herons were scattered throughout the marsh among the gulls, as well as one great and one snowy egret. A kingfisher perched on a branch, making short forays for fish. One heron flew in close and seemed to stalk a large piece of plastic that had blown into the marsh. I wondered if it was curious. But I soon realized what was really holding its attention, as it suddenly stabbed into the shallow water right next to the plastic and brought up a little fish. (I assume it was a little fish--whatever it was rapidly vanished down the heron's long throat.) A red-tailed hawk soared over the tree line, scouting its borders. I could hear the short song of a Savannah sparrow in the weeds, and then, the musical trill of a swamp sparrow.

At least I thought it was a swamp sparrow. Every year I seem to learn a few more bird songs. Last year I picked up the swamp sparrow song and was able to identify a few birds by ear that I later confirmed with my binoculars. I'm not good in general at telling apart all the trilling songbirds. Palm and pine warblers, juncos, chipping and swamp sparrows--listening to them on recordings just makes it more confusing. So I began to second guess myself--maybe it was a palm warbler? They're migrating through in numbers right now, so wouldn't that make more sense? I had to track the bird down in an alder thicket to be sure. And I was quietly proud of myself when it did indeed turn out to be a swamp sparrow--proof that I had really added another bird song to my crowded brain.

I was also excited because the swamp sparrow's a very pretty bird, with a red crown, grey face, white throat, light breast, and feathering in earth tones from buff to rust to sienna.
For many minutes I watched him, admiring these subtle details of plumage, till he dropped out of sight. Across the road where there's a little pond, another swamp sparrow sang. A harrier soared up over the pannes as I gave one last look out my windshield. And I headed back to work with a smile on my face.

Swamp sparrow's sweet trill--
such simple satisfaction
in naming that song.

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