Fraker Weekend in Review: 3 Days, 14 Sparrow Species, 18 Snakes, 100 plus Smith’s Longspurs, and Other Miscellany (04/23-25/11)

by Matt Fraker on April 25, 2011

Saturday morning, April 23rd, found all of us out at the Fraker Farm. We had a little Sparrowpalooza going on at the Fraker Farm on this morning. These birds were all around our south feeder at the same time.

Lincoln’s Sparrow:

White-throated Sparrow:

White-crowned Sparrow

Eastern Towhee:

Dark-eyed Junco:

Chipping Sparrow:

and Swamp Sparrow:

Also present was this Towhee — clearly Eastern, but with spotted coverts like a Spotted Towhee:

I would love opinions on this bird as a possible hybrid.

Other sparrows seen on this morning included a Song out in the prairie:

and a Field outside our west window:

Later in the morning we had a group of 21 Purple Finches show-up — it was Carpodacus mayhem. Here are 11 of these birds beneath one of our feeders:

And here is one of those crazy Spring colored males iPhoniscoped:

That afternoon, I and the three kids wandered over to the homestead to check our snake “habitats”. By the end of our survey, we had successfully located 17 snakes (and missed three Browns and a Garter for a total of 21 seen for the survey). The species breakdown was as follows — eleven Dekay’s (Midland) Brown Snakes, and six Common (Eastern/Chicago) Garter Snakes. These three kids were snake catching freaks. Each of them caught three or more of the following gallery. This should get to be real fun once Bullsnake season is upon us….

Here is our gallery for the day — if multiple snakes are shown, then they were all found under the same habitat:

Two Common (Eastern) Garter Snakes:

Four Dekay’s (Midland) Brown Snakes:

Some Garter/Brown Snake combos:

A colorful Common (Chicago) Garter Snake:

and our largest Dekay’s (Midland) Brown:

Sunday, April 24th, was a pedal to the floor day. This Eastern Towhee started the day:

I went out to explore the south Chinquapin for Le Conte’s Sparrows and Yellow Rails. In the high south pastures I encountered about five to ten singing Henslow’s Sparrows. Although these birds do breed here, many of these singing birds are migrants. On my way down to the prairie, I found this lovely Spring harbinger — an Eastern Bluebird:

being serenaded by one of the omnipresent Field Sparrows:

The south prairie had been mostly burned, so little habitat was present. Wood Duck, Blue-winged and Green-winged Teal were down on the impoundment. I managed to find some Morels during my traipsing (which we cooked up with a neighbor’s farm-raised eggs, some bacon and toast upon my return — as Mario says ; “So Niiiiice!”)

As I left the south Chinquapin, I managed these pictures of one of the several Henslow’s singing out here:

Sherri and the boys were chasing frogs in one of the ponds when I returned. Dixon and I took off into the woods, finding one of my Spring favorites in the process — this white Trout Lily:

Here is a picture of Dixon in the North Oak Timber with our Wetlands in the background:

We made our way back and ate a wonderful meal. After our delicious brunch, I noted a couple of real basic members of our Spring community — here is a House Wren doing Matthew Winks’s favorite birdcall:

And here a curious White-breasted Nuthatch:

Dixon garnered his 100th bird this day — a Swamp Sparrow. He was six years and seven months old. In October of 1973, I garnered my 100th bird — a Little Blue Heron. I was six years and five months old. I’m unsure of the cosmic relevance here. I just know I was as proud as I have been lucky. If he wants to beat Daddy to 200, he needs to do it by nine years and one month…(it’s my intention to have him smoke this).

Soon after this, I went on a true exploration. You see, we have two wetlands in the absolute middle of agricultural nowhere that are rumor. I have been shown them by the landowner who owns them, but only once, during the heart of that Autumn dry spell when all was dry chaff. This landowner had given me permission to return out there solo today. Now I’m not enough of a plant person to know if these are the real deal — virgin wetland remnants never tilled or farmed (as this landowner’s family homesteaded this area, he pretty much knows these patches have been left alone for the hundred plus years they have owned this). But I know enough to know they might be. One is a very sedgy wet meadow. The other is largely cattail and rush with peripheral sedge. When I was standing in this very wet sedge meadow surrounded by intensive ag ground, I knew this could be real. I fantasized that it was. We won’t know until the INAI folks get out here and confirm (which the landowner wants them to do).

I roamed the sedgy wetland looking for Le Conte’s and Yellow Rail. I flushed two to three Ammodramus in this time capsule but their “pop and flop” routine eluded me. Finally, I had one go to some surrounding corn stubble. The bird was so far away I just started taking pictures of it. Jacked that I was probably getting a Le Conte’s on film, upon closer perusal I found….a Grasshopper Sparrow:

Hiking over to the other wetland, I bushwhacked through and around it, going in over my wellies on several occasions. Two Marsh Wrens teased me in here.

Exhausted from the day’s hikings, Winks texted me to see if we should go look for Smith’s Longspurs in Woodford County. Knowing we were more apt to find a Unicorn running around with an impaled Jackalope on its thunderous horn, I said, “YES!”.

This run quickly became a fluddle run, although at one point, we were entertained by this Red-winged Blackbird going off on this immature Red-tailed Hawk:

Many of the fluddles we found harbored hundreds of American Toads all “burrrrrring” away, and we saw many Vesper and Savannah Sparrows. As Winks noted in an earlier post, during a stop at a fluddle full of both Yellowlegs and Pectoral Sandpipers, we were solicited for beer drinking from the house overlooking the fluddle. We both thought a passing car must have mowed us down and we were now dead and in Heaven. But a quick reality check brought us back (i.e. ain’t likely either one of us is going to Heaven).

Shortly after our gifted beers, we popped up on another fluddle that had this gorgeous gal in it — a Wilson’s Phalarope:

Winks and I fought over who got to solicit her attentions. This muddy knock down drag out came to a draw and we moved on to Kazakhstan Township where we found one of the Western Meadowlarks that dwells in this netherworld. I went to photograph it and it decided to fly to Ted Hartzler’s house in Minonk.

I hiked the Farm this night from about 8:45 to 11pm. I had an Eastern Towhee, a Field Sparrow, a White-throated Sparrow, about seven Barred Owls, and a third quarter serenade from three Coyote packs.  The very filled wetland impoundments reflected the city-lit overcast sky. Somewhere the maternal Mackinaw River nodded her approval.

Today, Monday the 25th,  was a work day. But all work and no play….well just go ask Jack Nicholson…

Over my lunch I flew out to check on this “great” Smith’s Longspur field between Lexington and Chenoa first noted by Ethan Gyllenhall. In the fluddle just south of 2800N and 2900E and west of the road I found a big group of “Where’s Waldo” American Golden-Plovers, including this camouflaged bird:

I found the Longspur field fairly easily. It’s the one with a huge sign that says, “The Greatest Field Ever For Smith’s Longspurs”. In fact, it was planted by Smith himself. All foxtail mostly but partially burnt. You gotta be kidding me. There were at least 100 birds in this field today. When I arrived at the field, I had an Upland Sandpiper sing four times towards the eastern portion of this field. Shortly thereafter, Dale Birkenholz and Les Allen arrived, and we struggled to nab any great looks at these flustering, mythic sparrows (my fourteenth for the weekend), despite having tons of them flying and rattling about.

Here are two males iPhoniscoped at serious distance:

Now, it’s all a blur. I write about it not to bore all of you (I’m so sorry if that’s the result) but so I remember it. This is where I do that. If anyone actually makes it to this point — the 26th mile in this post — I hope something about this was worth it.

I love that it’s all around us, folks. It’s simply all around us.

Matt Fraker
Woodford/McLean Cos

04/23 to 04/25/11

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