Bird #339 — Le Conte’s Sparrow

ammodramus (from ammos, sand, and dramein, to run) leconteii (in honor of John L. Le Conte, Philadelphia physician, friend of John James Audubon, and distinguished entomologist)

Tuesday, May 28, 1991 — 6:30 am

Manotowish Waters, Wisconsin — Powell Marsh Wildlife Area

I had been to Powell Marsh many times, but I’d never seen this bird.  This time, I made a deliberate effort.  I studied up the night before in five or six field guides.  I memorized all the field marks and listened to the song on tape over and over again.

I got to the marsh shortly after 6:00 a.m., just as the fog was lifting.  I was greeted by a Common Snipe winnowing overhead and a Sandhill Crane yodeling in the mist.  The marsh was alive with wildlife.  Alder Flycatchers, Black Terns, American Bitterns, Sedge Wrens, Common Yellowthroats, Yellow Warblers, Savannah Sparrows, Swamp Sparrows and Red-winged Blackbirds were vying for my attention.  A large Beaver was following me, swimming down the open channel that runs along the levy.  Every five minutes or so, it would protest my presence with a loud slap of its tail.

About half a mile out into the marsh, I heard an insect-like buzz off in the distance in a part of the marsh covered with thin grass about two-feet high.  Small (less than five feet) shrubs were scattered here and there.  I scanned with my binoculars but couldn’t find the bird.  But I heard the “song” every fifteen seconds or so.

I finally found the Le Conte’s Sparrow.  It was perched on top of a small stalk about forty yards from the levy.  It looked around and occasionally lifted its head to sing.  I got it in my scope and had a great view.  The bird switched positions once in a while, and I got to see every field mark perfectly.  I even had time to pull out my Peterson’s and make sure I wasn’t missing any.

I was momentarily distracted by a male Northern Harrier that cruised by, and when I looked back the Le Conte’s Sparrow had moved closer.  It was now only twenty yards away, perched on top of a forked stick that poked up through the grass.  It had one foot on each branch of the “Y”, facing me, and still singing.  It shortly disappeared into the grass.

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