Fully vaccinated….THANK YOU PFIZER and TEMPLE UNIVERSITY, I boarded an airplane yesterday for the first time in 13 months. Destination: Des Moines, Iowa. For the past few weeks I had been tracking Smith’s Longspur (code 2) sightings in the Midwest. I have always known it would take a special trip to our country’s heartland in the winter to have a decent chance of seeing this secretive “LBJ” (Little Brown Job).

But it was after participating in a friend’s podcast, see TC Scornavacchi’s “”, that I realized NOW was the time to chase this sparrow-like bird whose camouflaged coloring blends in perfectly with Iowa’s open prairie grassy areas. It prefers “three-awn grasses”, Aristide purpurea, which are disappearing rapidly due to development. Because it breeds in the Arctic tundra, my greatest chance to see one was as it prepares to migrate.

Originally I had thought Oklahoma was my best bet. Then the Little Rock, Arkansas airport. But after many consultations with EBird and correspondences with local ornithologists, Iowan Aaron Brees convinced me that a trip to the Chichiqua Bottoms-Swan Lake in Elkhart, Iowa was very possibly going to yield me ABA Area lifer #789.

After arriving at the exact location, I walked the area and within minutes I heard the longspur’s diagnostic ticking rattle. These elusive 6” ground-dwelling birds give that call right before alighting and quickly disappearing into the sky – pretty much before one can put a binocular on them. I paced back and forth over the several acre area, occasionally disturbing and hearing a Smith’s. But as many of you know, I don’t count “heard-only” birds. I want to see it and photograph it.

Finally, after 2.5 hours of slogging through mud and manure, I detected a movement on the ground within range of my camera. YES! Not only did I finally have a long enough look through my bins to confirm this was a Smith’s, as opposed to its much more common relative the Lapland Longspur, I was able to capture a couple of images.

About George C. Wood

A birder since age ten, but not necessarily an avid "lister", I am closing in on 700 (*800!) species seen in North America.....hoping to capture each sighting with my camera.
This entry was posted in Quest for 700 (*800!). Bookmark the permalink.


  1. joek49 says:

    Terrific pics, George. Congrats on #789!

  2. Joe Weisbord says:


  3. burkebiz says:

    Congrats on capturing #789, G-Dub!!

    Kevin J. Burke #484-868-8000 Sent from my iPhone ~ please excuse any typos, misspellings or omissions.


  4. Douglas Southgate says:

    Well done, George. I enjoy your reports; keep chasing those elusive birds!

  5. Henry Maguire says:

    On to the Asian Crane in Nebraska!!

  6. jmbuck3 says:

    Not just one but TWO angles on that LBJ! Nice going, Woody. Onward to #790!!

  7. Mace says:

    Great to see you get that bird. It is a tough one. When it was being seen at Stone Harbor Point, NJ in March, 2014, I made two runs at it, but failed both times.

  8. Julia Foster says:

    Not exactly a conspicuous bird!

  9. Glass, Dennis says:

    Congrats,  you are determined!!

    Hopefully we will find a way to connect ,  I think you know we sold Bryn Maw and are homeless in Philly 

    Hi to Nina 



    • Hi Dennis, great to hear from you and thanks for corresponding! I did not know you sold but not surprised. Hope to visit you in Aspen as my Tyler is now a nurse in Denver and we’ll head out there sometime. Hugs to Deborah and stay well! Best, George

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