Taking a closer look at the Nelson’s sharp-tailed sparrow

On Sept. 5, Dorothy Poole and I set out for Cape Sable Island to try and locate the American oystercatchers before they left for the year.

When we arrived at Daniel's Head there was no sign of them. Upon returning later in the day we did get to see two of them. As a bonus, while looking for the oystercatchers we spied a Nelson's sparrow in the open. The bird disappeared, but later hopped up into view and stayed there.

For those not familiar with this species, once called the Nelson's sharp-tailed sparrow, it is not an easy bird to photograph. So I took advantage of getting some nice shots while I could.

The Nelson's sparrow nests from British Columbia east across central and southern Canada to North Dakota, in the James Bay area of Canada, and along the Atlantic coast from Quebec and Nova Scotia south to North Carolina. They winter along the coast from New York to Florida and west along the Gulf coast to Texas. They are one of the later returning migrants.

The Nelson's sparrow is 12.5 to 15 cm. long. The sexes are outwardly alike. It is a small sparrow of the marsh with a rich buff triangle on the side of the face, gray ear patches and light streaks on a gray-brown back. There is an unstreaked blackish cap, and the breast and flanks are pale buff.

The diet of the Nelson's sparrow consists of ants, beetles, weevils, grasshoppers, caterpillars, moths, leafhoppers, flies, amphipods, spiders, small snails, and seeds of grasses, weeds, and wild rice.

I did a shorebird survey in Cherry Hill Beach (Conrad's Beach) on Sept. 4. There were still numbers of shorebirds around with lots of white-rumped sandpipers. I was especially pleased to find a buff-breasted sandpiper and my first whimbrels for the year.

There are a number of buff-breasted sandpipers now showing up across the province. On Sept. 2, Walter Flower sighted a brown pelican off of Cross Island. A great egret continues at the Back Oler Farm Marsh in Garden Lots as of Sept. 8.

On Aug. 16 on Brier Island, Eric Mills watched five Mississippi kites. There are also at least four of these birds still being seen regularly in Yarmouth. Sept. 1 produced a golden-winged warbler on Brier Island, which was banded by Lance Laviolette. On that day, two American avocets showed up at Rainbow Haven and Ken McKenna found a Baird's sandpiper at Waterside Beach Provincial Park.

On Sept. 2, Mark Dennis spotted a warbling vireo at Whipple Point on Brier Island. After that he had one pass through his yard on Cape Sable Island. Also on that same day, Sarah Foote watched a scarlet tanager go through her yard in the valley.

Diane LeBlanc located a blue-gray gnatcatcher at Duncan's Cove Road on Sept. 3. September 4 produced a lark sparrow at Hartlen's Point for Ray W. Eric Mills had four Caspian terns at Whipple Point on Brier Island. Elizabeth Doull found a Hudsonian godwit at Hartlen's Point on Sept. 5.

While visiting Scots Bay on Sept. 6, Rick Whitman found a laughing gull. A lark sparrow showed up at Cape Forchu in the yard of Angie and Tony Millard on Sept. 7. Numbers of prairie warblers are being seen across the province.

You may reach me at (902) 693-2174 or email jrhbirder@hotmail.com.

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