Tuesday, October 17, 2006

A Le Conte's Sparrow at Sandy Hook

Sandy Hook has been a hotbed for rarities lately. It seems like one per week is showing up. The most recent one was a Le Conte's Sparrow found yesterday. Unfortunately, I was at work and didn't get a chance to see it. Le Conte's Sparrow is becoming an almost yearly bird in NJ. From what I know, all records are from the fall and most are from Cape May and Sandy Hook.

Le Conte's Sparrow is a tiny, mouse-like bird. It's notorious for its skulking behavior and for running on the ground under dense brush vs. flying from perch to perch. A view of this bird on its nesting territory is as difficult as getting a view of a vagrant like this. It's one of the Ammodramus sparrows - known for their short tails, chunky bodies and flat foreheads. I personally have a hard time separating some of these species. The key to identifying Le Conte's Sparrow is the combination of the buffy orange face and chest, the white crown stripe, and streaking on the sides and flanks (and sometimes on the chest).

Le Conte's Sparrows nest in northern central US and central Canada. They winter in the southeast and south-central US across the Gulf Coast. An interesting fact from Cornell: "Few Le Conte's Sparrows have ever been banded. Of the 355 banded between 1967 and 1984, none was ever recovered." Another interesting fact from Wikipedia: "John James Audubon named this bird after a friend, Doctor Le Conte. It is generally believed that he meant John Lawrence Le Conte, although some feel that he was referring to another John Le Conte, also a doctor, and John Lawrence's cousin." I guess we'll never know.

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