Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Rock Me, Ammodramas!

Living in Coastal Georgia, we have a great opportunity to see birds that we didn't get to see in South Florida. We now have the chance to see a greater variety of certain types of birds, one group in particular being sparrows. Since we've moved to Savannah, we've had some great looks at sparrows we haven't seen in Florida, including White-throated, Chipping, and Song Sparrows. And we've seen good numbers of our old friends the Savannah Sparrows.

Savannah Sparrow

Savannah Sparrow
A funny looking Marsh Wren - more gray and with more white on its head than other ones we've seen before

But there is one group of sparrows that we have been especially hungry for in the area - those in the genus Ammodramus. These secretive sparrows are experts at hiding in grassy marshes. We have had a quick look at a Grasshopper Sparrow a while back while doing a Christmas Bird Count in Ft. Lauderdale, and that was quite a nice surprise. But now living in an area surrounded by marsh after marsh, we were bound to find these grassy sparrows, right?

Peak-a-boo! I see you!

I spy with my little eye... 

The local birders have advised that the best time to get a chance to see Ammodramus sparrows is during high tide since the rising water forces up these low-grass-dwelling birds. So when there was a group scheduled to take a field trip to find these sparrows during an especially high tide this past Saturday, Nick and I did not hesitate at the chance. After all, these would be lifers for us!

Seaside Sparrow peaking out from the shadows

Seaside Sparrow

Head-on view of the Seaside Sparrow. A nice view of the white throat.

Notice the sunny yellow supraloral of the Seaside Sparrow

So off we went to Fort Pulaski, a national monument and historic fort which is surrounded by saltmarsh. Walking down a path, the field trip guide led us to a patch of Sea Ox-eye Daisies where there was a lot of commotion (the good kind, that is) going on. Sparrows were flying in left and right into this patch. Birders were calling out what they were seeing, but my head was spinning just trying to catch a decent glimpse of one of these quick little sparrows. We heard the words "Nelson's Sparrow" and "Saltmarsh Sparrow" being called out, but we couldn't make any solid ID's for ourselves since all we saw were quick flashes of orangey-brown. Finally, there was a little bit of movement near the ground in a slightly exposed area of the daisies, and we could see a Seaside Sparrow! Yes, success! Then there was another and another. We saw three at once just casually hanging around in this exposed little area. There was no mistaking this sparrow - a chunky, gray sparrow with a white throat and distinctive bright yellow supralorals.

Nelson's Sparrow coming up to the top of the Sea Ox-eye Daisies

Nelson's Sparrow with his watercolor, pumpkiny wash

Nelson's Sparrow

The rest of the members of the field trip eventually left to explore other areas, but Nick and I stayed back wanting to get better looks at the other grassy sparrows. We spent the next hour and a half saying "Oh, there goes a…"; "Oh, here's one…"; "I just saw something move over there…" These little guys were not making it easy on us.

The lovely patch of Sea Ox-eye Daisies within the marsh at Fort Pulaski

Nelson's Sparrow on the lookout for where to fly off to next. 

There he goes!

Eventually we did catch some good glimpses. But our best views weren't until the tide started to subside and the sparrows were bolting to get out of dodge from the patch of Sea Ox-eye Daisies and into the tall grasses of the open marsh in front of them. The sparrows would climb up to the top of the daisies, look around, and then dash away. I was able to get some pretty good shots of Nelson's Sparrows, but not of the Saltmarsh Sparrows, which we probably saw, but are not 100% certain. But in any case, we have at least 2 new lifers added to our list! They are tough little cookies to find, and even harder to view. But the challenge was well worth it. Ammodramus, Ammodramus… Oh, oh, oh, Ammodraums. Rock Me, Ammodramus!


  1. The marsh looks like a beautiful place to visit! Great capture of the Nelson's Sparrow! Congrats on the 2 lifers.

  2. That's phenomenal! A whole group of Sparrows I've never seen. There is a peculiar and unique joy in spotting sparrows. I think maybe Sparrowing should be its own subset of birding. It looks like this trip was a blast, congratulations on your lifers and lovely photos.
    Thanks for sharing, you Sparred no expense.

  3. omg, I HOPE you high fived someone, ANYone, when you came up with that blog post title. =) Crushed it.

    Birds I SUCK at--sparrow, finches. 'Cause distinguishing them takes, you know, attention and effort? And patience?

    I ALWAYS appreciate posts on these intellectually elusive creatures. Thanks!!!

    1. Haha! Thanks! Nick and I definitely did high five each other, for sure! We've been really wanting to see the Ammodramus sparrows since we've moved here, and I've actually been singing that tune for weeks. Maybe that's what one needs to do to find these sparrows. =) Thanks for visiting!

  4. Came to comment pretty much the same as biobabbler. Awesomest post title I've seen in a while. :D I guess I need to start humming, I could use those birds on my life list, too.

    1. Thanks for the complement, Amy! It's definitely a tune that will get you pumped up to find these sparrows.