Sunday, January 5, 2014

ABA area bird #516: Nelson's Sparrow

Nelson's Sparrow
Nelson's Sparrow. San Elijo Lagoon, Encinitas, California. January 1, 2014. Greg Gillson.
I found and photographed quite a surprise at San Elijo Lagoon on January 1st--a Nelson's Sparrow. The tide was extremely high forcing numerous Savannah Sparrows and Marsh Wrens right up onto the path. I glimpsed one small, short-tailed orange-looking sparrow flit through the low vegetation. This was by the bench out in the marsh on the north side-path heading west from Rios Avenue entrance to San Elijo Lagoon.

Mistake 1: I didn't have a field guide with me. Though I knew I was seeing one of the smaller orange-faced sparrows from the Midwest or Southeast, I thought I was probably viewing a Le Conte's Sparrow. Le Conte's is very similar but has a white stripe down the center of the crown. This Nelson's Sparrow has a gray median crown stripe (see photo below). I haven't carried a field guide with me when birding in over 35 years--I've memorized all the birds I am likely to see. Well, maybe I better re-think that.

Mistake 2: I didn't have any phone numbers for local birders to come and see such an exciting and rare bird. The other thing I will do is add the email address of the San Diego bird list to my smart phone. That way I can send reports of future rare birds I see right from the field!

Fortunately, at least two other birders were able to come on subsequent days at high tide and see this bird forced out of the thick marsh grass by rising water.

Nelson's Sparrows are very rare annual winter visitors to coastal California. Gary Nunn tells me that they were not found in San Diego County at all last year. But it takes being at the right place at the right time to find one. It was an accident that I arrived at the marsh during super high tide.

This was my 516th countable bird species I've seen north of Mexico. It is my San Diego County bird #205.

Nelson's Sparrow