Saturday, December 23, 2006


It was becoming Sparrow season for me suddenly. Finally got good looks, and bad photos, of Vesper Sparrows a few weeks earlier and the LeConte's was new to the list. Now, there came a flood of emails from fellow birder Danny Bales all about Sharp-tailed Sparrows out at the Cape.

Time to twitch.

After confirming the spot Danny had been reliably finding the Sharp-tails over on the Shilo Marsh I found a morning to run over and do some walking in the muck. Shilo Marsh is on the northern edge of Merritt Island Nation Wildlife Refuge and usually can be accessed through roads winding around the Indian River.

The roads were closed for hunting season, however, so I had to head through Titusville and toward the Volusia county line. The spot was down a gritty road chock full of potholes that eventually finds its way to the marsh. The parking lot where boaters set off for hunting and fishing held few clues to the birds hiding deep within the marsh grasses.

More accustom to hiking through pine flatwoods and across beaches, I have little in the way of proper marsh footwear. Most have waders or galoshes. I had only swin shoes. Not too safe in case of snake encounters but a boy can't make a detour to the shoe store when the sparrows are waiting!

I slowly entered the marsh in the area indicated by email. I could make out weak trails leading out toward the water and into the grass. Most likely these trails were left in evidence by Danny's early visits. Not many other humans are casually walking in this environment.

As the mud flowed into my shoes, small birds began leaping ahead of me to find a new hiding spaces. Most of these were Savannah Saprrows. Once I got farther into the marsh the Savannahs were replaced by Swamp Sparrows. The target sparrows should be close but they prefer an even more specific zone down near the edge of the water.

30 minutes after slowly sloshing, watching, and listening I got my first Sharp-tails. I spent the next hour or so among them and tried to get a few photos. Not an easy prospect with such a shy subject. Throw in cloudy skies from large front that hit hours before and shadows can trick one into seeing things.

Persistance paid off as I had a few Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrows occasionally leaping into view acting as scouts.

Nelson's Sparrow

The Nelson's seemed to be the most numerous. Took quite a while to actually convince any Saltmarsh Sparrows that I wasn't there to harm them. But, before I left for the day, a few made their way toward me as the sun started to break through the clouds.

Saltmarsh Sparrow

Now I have Sparrow Fever! My thoughts quickly started tryign to figure out how I could find a Seaside Sparrow before the year was through. It seems that window is closing fast. Christmas is here.

I was happy enough to have passed the 300 mark for the Life List.

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