There is something perverse about awakening before dawn to drive for almost an hour, sit on a road next to a specific field, and get excited about hearing a faint “tdilsk” sound. But I did, I was, and I still am.
That is because the “tdilsk” was the call of a Henslow’s Sparrow, a bird described in the Smithsonian Birds of North America as “unobtrusive, secretive, and easily overlooked.” It is one of the two Ammodramus sparrows I have seen but I am getting ahead of myself.
The particular field I was parked next to is in the town of Sharon Springs, in Schoharie County, the county to the west of Albany County. I know this field well, having visited it three times last year hoping to see a Henslow’s Sparrow and each time having to leave having only heard it. And trust me, “tdilsk” is not much of a song to hear! The bird was on my life list anyway because I felt that I had truly experienced the bird and would recognize it in a heartbeat if I ever heard it again. But I still wanted a look!
Which brings us back to me sitting on the side of the road listening to “tdilsk” over and over again. Sure, there was other stuff around. Bobolinks sang their computer game songs and Willow and Alder Flycatchers traded “Fitz-bews” and “Ree-bees.” Eastern Meadowlarks sang and a single Grasshopper Sparrow (the other Ammodramus sparrow I have seen) sang its buzzy, insect-like song. I even watched an absolutely gorgeous light-colored coyote hunting mice way back in the overgrown portion of the field. But I wanted to see the darn sparrow!
I would occasionally sweep my binoculars over the part of the field that I thought the “tdilsk” was coming from with no luck, until, finally, 45 minutes after I had arrived, as I was sweeping my binoculars right to left, a small brownish bird popped up, flew left for a couple wing-beats, and dropped back into the field. Total viewing time: three seconds, tops. Definitely not the best look but at least it was a look.
Was it worth 45 minutes of my time? What kind of question is that? I’m a birder!
My other major target species of the morning (before work, mind you) was an Upland Sandpiper, a species that is getting tougher and tougher to find (at least according to folks who have been doing this a lot longer than I have). Just short of the spot that is known for them (just west of the town of Ames, in Montgomery County) I pulled over to take lots of lousy pictures of Savannah Sparrows and Bobolinks, none of which were good enough to share.
When I looked up to continue along the road I spotted my quarry in the road in front of the car! That’s right, an Upland Sandpiper had decided to choose that moment to cross the road. How fortuitous! I got the pic at the top of the post once it flew off the road.
A bit more driving around netted me an American Kestrel, a wonderful male Northern Harrier, and a Grasshopper Sparrow. Not a bad morning’s birding!