Monday, October 20, 2008
Sharp-tailed Sparrows, Cape May - Day 2
Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow - presumed A. n. subvirgatus. (Images 1 -3). Everything about this bird was subtle and dull, with a distinct olive-gray cast. The mostly dull grayish supercilium lacked orange-buff tones, especially behind the eye. Compare the much brighter supercilium on the 'interior' Nelson's below.
Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow - presumed A. n. nelsoni/alterus. I'm not sure of any safe way to separate nelsoni and alterus in the field. Nice, bright bird showing clean cut demarcation between orange-buff, subtly streaked breast and clean white belly.
Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow - presumed A. n. nelsoni/alterus. Slightly duller bird showing brown back with bright creamy-white mantle stripes.
Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow - Orange-buff supercilium and submoustachial contrasting with white throat and distinct blackish malar stripe. Breast is mostly white with distinct, fine, black-brown streaking extending well down the flanks.
Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrows - Three plus today at Two Mile Landing, Cape May.
Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow - A more subtle bird but shows orange-buff supercilium and submoustachial contrasting with white throat and thin blackish malar stripe. In this case the breast has a subtle buff wash but still shows distinct, fine, black-brown streaking extending well down the flanks.
Seaside Sparrow - a rather ratty individual lacking tail feathers.
At the end of another fine and relaxing day at Cape May we finished at Two Mile Landing, a spot recommended to us for Sharp-tailed Sparrows. It was dull and overcast with rather poor light, but after twenty minutes or so we found a small feeding flock of sharp-tailed sparrows, plus a couple of Seaside Sparrows. Of the eight or so sharp-tails, I ended up being a little overcome by the variation in individual appearance. I was only really expecting to see Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow in this spot but in the event I may have stumbled across two different forms of Nelson's, as well as Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed and Seaside Sparrows. Most interesting for us was the very dull, almost 'olive-gray' hue to one of the Nelson's which also lacked any real orange-buff tones on the supercilium behind the eye. Having only seen the Atlantic form of Nelson's A.n. subvirgatus once before on the breeding grounds in New Hampshire, I wouldn't admit to being comfortable with the features of that form but this bird looked pretty convincing.
So, the burning question, is A. n. subvirgatus readily identifiable in the field away from the breeding areas on the North-east Atlantic Coast?