Saturday, January 28, 2012

The hunt for the Grasshopper Sparrow

Success, pretty much. This morning, Jan Axel Cubilla, Venicio Wilson, Rafael Luck, Osvaldo Quintero, and Camilo and Darién Montañez converged upon the fabled spot near Penonomé to look for the Grasshopper Sparrow, unrecorded in Panama for fifty years. The spot, shown on the map we tweeted earlier, is on a dirt road on the left side of the Interamericana a bit over 6 km past the Penonomé McDonald's. About 100 meters in, there is a patch of short, green grass on the right shoulder of the road, and that's both where Jan Axel found the bird last Saturday and where we saw it today. Repeatedly. Very briefly. The first sighting was shortly after we parked at the spot: Osvaldo walked ahead of the cars and the sparrow flushed from the grassy shoulder into the field beyond, landing on a patch of short grass surrounded by taller grass. We followed, but hard as we looked we couldn't find it. It flew back to the shoulder, where it remained unfound until it flushed a few inches from my feet as I was walking to the car. So, in typical Grasshopper Sparrow fashion, it has a tendency to tuck into the shorter grass and freeze until flushed. This happened a number of times, and all the looks we got were as it darted from cover. Still, the field marks seen (or lack thereof) eliminate all the other expected grassland species: a tiny, grayish/buffy/streaky bird, paler below and with yellow on the bend of the wings.
We had a very windy morning. My recommendation would be to arrive at dawn before the wind picks up and check the grassy shoulder carefully. Oh, and it seems the tall grass on the fields around the area are being harvested, so I would hurry.

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