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 “tcafterdarkpodcast.com”, 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.