What a beautiful time of year in South Dakota! Yes, with leaves falling off trees, days very rapidly getting shorter, and temperatures falling, another South Dakota winter is imminent. Yes,the vast majority of insect-eating migrant birds have already passed through the state, not to be seen again until April or May. Yes, species diversity will continue to fall from the summer and fall migration peak, to the typical winter “diversity” where anything other than a Dark-eyed Junco at your feeders is a treat.
However, one very welcome birding feature at this time of year are migrant sparrows. There are species moving through right now that are rarely seen at any other time of year. What’s really nice is how multiple species often mingle together. I went birding one morning this weekend, and while it wasn’t a great trip overall, the trip was saved by one non-descript, overgrown, weedy field south of Tea, South Dakota. It’s a spot that’s been used as some kind of staging ground for road construction in the past. Small piles of sand and gravel are scattered about, as are some smaller piles of rock and concrete chunks. The feature that attracts the sparrows, however, is the weedy overgrowth that covers the entire area. Just sitting in one location, I was able to find 7 different sparrow species. Song Sparrows seemed to be the most common species, with Lincoln’s Sparrows not far behind. There were also quite a few Harris’s Sparrows, White-crowned Sparrows, and Savannah Sparrows in and around this spot, as well as a handful of Clay-colored Sparrows.
The highlight though were several beautifully plumaged Le Conte’s Sparrows. Le Conte’s Sparrows are always such a treat to find. In southeastern South Dakota, about the only time I see them is during fall migration. They are a highly sought species for many birders, although I think they’re actually not all that uncommon in migration in eastern South Dakota. They do have a tendency to hang out in dense vegetation, however, making a good sighting something to be treasured. I was fortunate to not only get some great, unobstructed views of Le Conte’s Sparrows this weekend, but also get some of the best photos I’ve ever gotten of the species.
A nice fall day of “sparrowing”!