Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Feb 19 (Day 50) - The big sparrow gamble pays off - LOTS of strategy talk!

Yesterday I told you that I had something really cool cooking for later in the week. It now looks as though this is going to happen. I am not only going to look for (and almost certainly find) Henslow's sparrows tomorrow morning, but I am also going to see them getting banded! Now for the real kicker: Henslow's sparrow would be a Life Bird for me! The banding session will take place tomorrow, Thursday, from 9am - noon, so let me explain how I gambled on this event.

Those of you who follow this blog daily will know that I have recently spent a fair amount of time unsuccessfully searching for Nelson's and Saltmarsh sparrow. I did find Nelson's sparrow yesterday; This left only Saltmarsh outstanding as of today. I saw a very recent (2/17) eBird report of Saltmarsh sparrow from Fort Pulaski on Cockspur Island east of Savannah. Given the consistency of sightings from this spot, it looked very promising. This location was 13.3 miles east of where I stayed last night. This would be a ~27-mile run down to the spot and back. More importantly though, the time spent riding to this spot and searching for the bird might jeopardize the additional 63-mile ride I would need to do today to position myself for the Henslow's tomorrow. In a car, this would be so easy it would be silly. On a bike, however, it's an incredible challenge. I also knew the wind was going to be from the southwest at 10-12 MPH which would make that 63-mile stretch feel more like 100.

Saltmarsh data from eBird

The smart/safe play would have been to forget about the Saltmarsh sparrow and put myself in position for Henslow's tomorrow. The problem is that there is going to be some bad weather rolling in on Friday. So, even if I saw Henslow's tomorrow, I probably wouldn't be able to search for Saltmarsh again until Saturday. Basically, I'd end up investing 2 more days (Fri/Sat) into this bird and I still might miss it. So, I decided to gamble that I could quickly find a Saltmarsh sparrow on Cockspur Island, blow back through Savannah, and fight the wind all afternoon to reach my lodging near the Henslow's spot before I collapsed of cardiac arrest along the road.

In short, I was able to find a single Saltmarsh sparrow (#190) right as I arrived to Cockspur Island. In fact, I found it just as I crossed the bridge onto the island. Since I had biked all the way there, I decided to at least ride around the Fort to give the place it's due. It is absolutely beautiful, and the setting at the mouth of the Savannah River couldn't be more picturesque (light from the east prevented a decent photo, sorry). The Georgia coast can certainly give the South Carolina Coast a good run. To the amateur eye, the Saltmarsh sparrow will appear very similar to the Nelson's. However, the Saltmarsh has a brighter orange face, slightly longer bill, a less buffy chest, and more black in his eyebrow. These pictures are less than outstanding but serviceable. 

Interestingly, if you return to the eBird data above, you can see that James Fleullan also reported a single Saltmarsh sparrow from this site today. I wonder if he saw the same bird. He also reported zero Nelson's sparrows. I'm glad to see I didn't miss some big group of sparrows as that would not have spoken highly of my bird finding skills. I'm also glad that I did find that single Nelson's yesterday since they either weren't around or cooperative this morning. Another example of how much luck plays into this whole process!

The bridge to Cockspur Island

Saltmarsh sparrow

The long ride after seeing this bird was painful to say the least. I rode ~91 miles today, 78 of it into the wind. It is about 18 miles to the Henslow's spot tomorrow morning. This will take 1.5 hours at most, so if I leave here at 7am, I should arrive in time for the banding. Now I just need to hope the birds cooperate!

1 comment:

  1. Hey Dorian, did you really miss Snow Goose up north?
    Or just a listing mistake?
    Bon courage