Rather than reliving the rather boring experience of not finding an Orange-crowned Warbler at Alley Pond Park I figured I would (finally) wrap up blogging about my birding this past Saturday. Long story short: Alley Pond Park had some good birds like an Ovenbird and a juvenile Mourning Warbler but no Orange-crowned Warbler appeared in my bins. After that a brief visit to Jamaica Bay wasn’t very birdy. I was really just killing time there before high tide hit and the sharp-tailed sparrows were forced close to land at Big Egg Marsh.

You may remember that back when I blogged about starting my birding day at Jones Beach I mentioned asking about good locations for Nelson’s Sharp-tailed Sparrow. Pete Shen, another birder doing a New York Big Year, told me that Big Egg Marsh, a nice salt marsh just south of Jamaica Bay, was the place to find them. He even went so far as to say that they were virtually guaranteed there this time of year during their migration. And he let me know that high tide was at 5:30 pm, so if I wanted to see them without a boat that would be the time to visit (the birds come up out of the more-flooded marsh when the tide rises).

So, at 4:45 I made my move to Big Egg Marsh, put my waders on, and headed out to the marsh. Red-winged Blackbirds and European Starlings flew in and out of the marsh as Great Blue Herons and Black-crowned Night-Herons flew in and out of some roosting trees. I waited at the edge of the marsh, high and dry on an illegally-dumped broken trailer, hoping a Nelson’s Sharp-tailed Sparrow, which would be not only a year bird but a lifer to boot, would come to me. I had done my studying and knew all the field marks I was looking for to distinguish it from the Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrows that breed in the marsh (I won’t bore you by detailing the field marks but if you want to know may I suggest getting a good field guide?).

Of course no sparrows came to me. I did get rather distant looks at one perched in the reeds that could have been either of the sharp-tailed Ammodramus sparrows but soon realized that I would have to wade into the marsh.

weird creatures crawling up my boot

weird creatures that crawled up my boot

Just as I was getting to the point where water was about to overtop my boots I spotted some movement low in the reeds ahead of me. Some spishing brought the bird up and, yes, there was, wait, I needed a better look to say for sure if it was my life Nelson’s Sharp-tailed Sparrow…so, of course, I took that one extra step and the water overtopped my boots and I got wet feet and my lifer!

And before anyone out there starts to make comments about how ridiculous I am for walking out into a middle of a salt marsh at high tide and getting my feet soaked just to see a bird that is slightly different than a bird I have already seen, well, at least I didn’t take a helicopter to see a pipit.

Anyway, once I saw the Nelson’s Sharp-tailed Sparrow I called Pete to thank him and to give him a head’s up that, in fact, he was right and the bird was at Big Egg Marsh. So he went out the next day and saw it too, and also got this absolutely amazing picture of a Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow.

Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow by Pete

Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow by Pete Shen

Just as a comparison, here is the best shot I could get of a Nelson’s Sharp-tailed Sparrow. For a better look check out this post from Mike’s Birding and Digiscoping Blog.

If you squint and look at it sideways you can almost tell that it is a bird...

Trust me, it is a bird…and a good one at that.

288 down, 12 to go! I’ll have my work cut out for me when I get back from birding Germany!

Written by Corey
Corey is a New Yorker who lived most of his life in upstate New York but has lived in Queens since 2008. He's only been birding since 2005 but has garnered a respectable life list by birding whenever he wasn't working as a union representative or spending time with his family. He lives in Forest Hills with Daisy and Desmond Shearwater. His bird photographs have appeared on the Today Show, in Birding, Living Bird Magazine, Bird Watcher's Digest, and many other fine publications. He is also the author of the American Birding Association Field Guide to the Birds of New York.