Grasshopper Sparrow

Recently, I was roaming around the woods and fields at Valentine Farm Conservation Center (VFCC). Peak migration season was over, and I was assuming things would be quiet. As spring progresses into full summer, birds settle down and nesting and chick rearing become the focus.

Surprisingly, it ended up being a more interesting morning than I expected. Walking the cornfield perimeter, I heard what sounded like an insect hidden in the high grass. If I hadn’t been taking an online class on sparrows, I’m not sure I would have even noticed. Something about this buzzy sound got my attention. It sounded two more times. That was enough for me to know it wasn’t an insect but a Grasshopper Sparrow. I looked and looked but never found the bird even though I heard it call three more times.

The Grasshopper Sparrow (photo by Reago & McClarren), is a shy, non-descript bird that prefers grasslands. It’s not generally reported in Maine. It may have occurred here more commonly in past decades when farming and fields were more widespread, but today it is listed as threatened or endangered in Maine.

This summer, a nesting pair have been documented in the Brownfield area. Before then, there were no modern records of the bird in Oxford County. Several of us have gone back to the cornfield to try and get a picture or recording of the VFCC bird, all with no success. Could I have been mistaken? Sure, although I’m fairly confident, it might simply have been an insect making that sound.

Actually, these are the things that make birding exciting. Its like a giant scavenger hunt. You collect clues. You compare notes with others. You ask for help. In this case, we even consulted with state professionals. They are hopeful, but asked that we find stronger confirming evidence before it’s official.

So, we don’t yet have confirmed Grasshopper Sparrows at VFCC. But here’s the fun thing. In one year, we’ve identified over 100 different types of birds at VFCC. Many are common, but many are more unusual, traveling from other parts of the world to our area. And maybe, just maybe, one is an endangered bird that has decided this field is a safe place to raise its young. Won’t you join us in continuing to document the birds in our area?

James Reddoch, of Albany Township and Boston, leads birding events for the Mahoosuc Land Trust which celebrates 30 years conserving the natural areas of the Mahoosuc Region. Visit Mahoosuc Land Trust at 162 North Road, Bethel, ME or at www.mahoosuc.org. To learn about upcoming events or to contact James, send your emails to [email protected].


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