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Monday, January 10, 2011

January 10 2011, 11am-1pm, icy wind and sunny 30' Satchuest Point and surrounding area

"Ipswich" Savannah Sparrow?

American Tree Sparrow

Green-tailed Towhee

My brother, another birdwatcher and I were sitting on a picnic table bench watching (and photographing) the birds that hopped before us: Song Sparrows, Savannah Sparrows, American Tree Sparrows, American Goldfinches and Black-capped Chickadees-all nice birds, but definitely not the Green-tailed Towhee we were looking for.

Yep we were going after the rare Green-tailed Towhee again, this time with some more information about its location. The three of us were in a small grass covered lot which was surrounded by a fence. Other than the grass it contained: a swing set, some picnic tables (like the one we were sitting on) and a gravel walkway. The minutes ticked slowly by. Then out of bushes flew a green backed bird with a drab gray breast, a rufous crown and a white throat, malar stripe and eyebrow. Though it stayed on the opposite side of the metal fence I knew what it was immediately!

"There, there look the towhee" I whispered barely able to control my voice the excitement within me was so great. I was trembling uncontrollably. I raised my camera and snapped of a few shots. Though my hands shook I was able to get some decent shots. Then it suddenly leaped from the ground abandoning its foraging. It flew back into the bushes. A few minutes later it returned to its previous location. Sadly it hopped behind a tree and we lost sight of it behind its trunk.

Though we stayed a few minutes more the towhee decided that we had seen enough of it for the time being. Luckily the minutes after the towhee vanished were not spent for nothing. We had found an interesting sparrow and were busily photographing it. I believe that it was an "Ipswich Sparrow" a pale form of Savannah Sparrow. As luck would have it I got a nice photograph of it before it too vanished into the bushes. We returned to our family who where waiting for us in the car. On the drive to Sachuest Point NWR I happily thought about how the time we spent in the icy blast of the wind was not spent in vain.

We were strolling down one of the foot paths at Sachuest. To our left was a broad meadow and on our right was the Atlantic Ocean. My sister stopped and pointed to a point on the path. "What's that, what's that?!" A small brown bird was walking down the side of the path. My parents only gorilla child raised his binoculars and said "who hooo rrrrg." Luckily I had taken a course on how to speak gorilla and right now I was pretty sure that IT was saying "I think it's an American Pipit!" Excited now I focused my scope on the spot and confirmed the gorilla's suspicion. It was an American Pipit. A life bird that I had been searching for, for quite some time! I sneaked forward hastily (hastily because there was a lady coming from the opposite direction and I wanted to get a few photos of it before she scared it off). I knelt and snapped three photos of it then I started sneaking forward again. Then the pipit took wing and flew into the meadow.

The pipit and the towhee were the only life birds, but we saw many other nice birds as well. Here is a list of all the birds we found at Sachuest and the out lying area:
Canada Geese (seen from the car somewhere in Middletown),
American Black Ducks (Sachuest Point),
Mallards (Sachuest Saltmarsh),
Common Eiders (Sachuest Point),
Harlequin Ducks (Sachuest Point),
White-winged Scoter (Sachuest Point),
Surf Scoters (Sachuest Point),
Black Scoter (Sachuest Point,
Greater Scaup (Sachuest Point),
Common Goldeneye (Sachuest Point),
Buffleheads (Sachuest Point),
Red-breasted Mergansers (Sachuest Point),
Common Loons (Sachuest Point),
Horned Grebes (Sachuest Point),
Great Cormorants (Sachuest Point),
Northern Harriers (Sachuest Point),
Red-tailed Hawk (Sachuest Point),
Purple Sandpipers (Sachuest Point),
Herring Gulls (Sachuest Point),
Great Black-backed Gulls (Sachuest Point),
Ring-billed Gulls (3rd Beach),
Mourning Dove (seen from the car somewhere in Middletown),
American Crow (Sachuest Point),
Fish Crow? (Sachuest Point),
Black-capped Chickadees (2nd Beach Campground),
Carolina Wren heard (Sachuest Point),
Northern Mockingbird (Sachuest Point),
American Pipit (Sachuest Point),
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Sachuest Point),
Green-tailed Towhee (2nd Beach Campground),
American Tree Sparrows (2nd Beach Campground),
Field Sparrow? (Sachuest Point),
Savannah Sparrows (2nd Beach Campground),
"Ipswich" Savannah Sparrow (2nd Beach Campground),
Song Sparrows (2nd Beach Campground)
and American Goldfinches (2nd Beach Campground).

It was definitely one of our better birding days!

Thanks to our librarian Linda who gave us detailed directions for how to find the towhee.
This blog post is dedicated to our grandfather who, due to a lack of available cars, was unable to come with us to see the towhee (that's bird species number TWO that you've never seen!!)


  1. An excellent post of the days events.

    The guy with the camera on the picnic table that sat with you as we watched the GT-Towhee.

  2. John,
    Thanks for the dedication. I would have loved to have been there. Nice write up!


  3. Not sure if this could just be a camera artifact, but that sparrow looks way too dark to be an ipswich.

  4. Eric I agree that it does look too dark for an ispwich. I am pretty sure now that it is either a Vesper or a Song Sparrow.