Le Conte’s Sparrow in SE PA

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Jan 29, 2009 | by Adrian Binns

A wonderful local find 5 days ago was a Le Conte’s Sparrow in Delaware County, PA by Al Guarente. Named by Audubon for the amateur naturalist Dr. John Le Conte, there have only been a handful of records in the Delaware Valley. This diminutive sparrow of wet grassy meadows that is notoriously secretive breeds in the upper mid west and into Canada and winters in the southern states.

Le Conte’s belongs to the genus Ammodramus which also includes Seaside, Nelson’s Sharp-tailed, Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed, Grasshopper, Baird’s and Henslow’s Sparrow. Though its genus name inappropriately means sand runner, this morning Al, Tom and I got to see it walking along the snow between clumps of bluestem grasses and perching low in open shrubs in an open meadow off of the Darlington Tract Trail.

Though its most distinctive feature is the brightly pattern orange face it is the white median crown stripe that separates it from the similar saltmarsh sparrows. Its bill is also smaller as well as having a lighter grayish lore and bold fine dark streaking down the flanks. The nape is grayish with considerable chestnut streaking. On this particular individual the strong white tertial edges were hidden but the short spiky tail was certainly evident.

photo © adrian binns 

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