Awakening to the spirit and beauty of the northern Great Plains
Monday, June 11, 2012
A walk in pasture
Last Friday afternoon I found myself driving through farmland south of Highway 39 near Lang, Saskatchewan. In the middle of miles of cropped land and tame hay I stumbled on a native prairie remnant perhaps 640 acres or so (a section).
There were no cattle in the pasture so I stepped over the fence and walked through the spear grass, sagebrush, and bluegrasses. The singing meadowlark at the head of this post was the first bird I saw.
Right away I began hearing the flight song of the Chestnut-collared longspur, a recent addition to the Threatened species list for the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). They have a pleasant song and a dry rattle that they give in flight. (This page from the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology includes a sample of their song.) I spent a half hour or so wandering through the pasture and stopping to watch the longspurs circle in their rollicking flight, pausing now and then to let out their song. I never did manage to get a decent shot of one in flight, but here is the best I could do.
Finally one settled onto a sagebrush and I got a couple of shots at it. Too far away and badly lit, but it gives a sense of what the longspurs look like in the binoculars.
This blurry shot does show the extensive white on the tail and some of the chestnut nape.
The pasture had a nice variety of birds, including Savannah sparrow and at least one Baird's sparrow, which was just uplisted by COSEWIC from Not at Risk to Special Concern owing to population declines and threats to grassland habitat.
At the edge of the native grass where some taller tame grasses were growing, there was a small colony of bobolink. Here is one in flight song--you can see its bill open (this page includes a sample of bobolink song.)
An upland sandpiper (it was singing too)landed on two different posts. First, far away and then closer.
Perhaps more numerous than any other species was the Eastern Kingbird. People don't generally think of it as a grassland bird, but I certainly find more of them along the fencelines on pasture land than I do elsewhere. I found several pairs on the periphery of this pasture.