Date: 6/28/19 9:33 am
From: DAVID A LEATHERMAN <daleatherman...>
Subject: [cobirds] Soapstone Prairie Natural Area (Larimer) on 27June2019
Yesterday I was privileged to accompany Bird Conservancy of the Rockies personnel to Soapstone Prairie Natural Area north of Fort Collins and owned by the City of FC to try for photos of Baird's Sparrow parent food deliveries to nestlings/fledglings. The parent birds are wary, and like most prairie nesters, don't do such things out in the open. The few deliveries we witnessed were rather distant, with the parent bringing in an item, landing some distance from the receiver of the food, creeping thru the grass for several meters, delivering, and then flying off. We were able to discern two different types of grasshoppers (identity unknown but perhaps decipherable from specimen collections made nearby), and a rather large caterpillar (perhaps a painted lady butterfly).

Seeing a fledgling Baird's Sparrow in the non-public area of the extremely valuable parcel that is Soapstone (i.e., born and raised in Colorado) was truly amazing. I commend Andy, Erin, Matt, Kristin and many others for the work they are doing to flesh out the situation with this remarkable range extension. Since Nick Komar's discovered this bird is in our midst several years ago, I have been somewhat critical of how long it took for the agency/NGO bird professionals to confirm nesting within this story. Seeing firsthand over the past few years how difficult learning about this particular species is in the field, I stand down and apologize to anyone and any entity I judged too harshly. Just because they were here in numbers in those early years does not necessarily mean they were nesting. As lush as things look this year, Soapstone is still "marginal" habitat for this species, so say those who study the bird in its normal haunts. Fashioning the life history of Baird's Sparrow on a scale of 1 to 10 appears to be an 8 or 9.

Recently fledged Baird's Sparrow wondering what all the fuss is about in the gentle hand of BCR's Matt Webb. We watched normal deliveries to this bird after its release. Note, it already shows the distinctive ochre coloration, ear patch and necklace of thin black stripes characteristic of its species. Its crown is more striped, less yellow, than adults.

Another truly amazing episode yesterday involved Matt and I literally stumbling into the drama of a good-sized Prairie Rattlesnake preparing to consume a Western Meadowlark fledgling. After a lengthy, rattled warning to all of us humans, the snake made quick work of the bird right in front of us. Head first, feet last. Wow.

[cid:cf431c8d-b685-488f-9e43-3b261f14dce4] [cid:3b4f8e5f-aa7f-4a98-ae5a-f112bab3c29f]


Regarding birders seeing Baird's Sparrows, they are gettable at Soapstone, but only after a lengthy hike of miles that can't be started until the gate opens at 6:30AM. The birds sing best at dawn and in the few hours that follow, but were singing yesterday sporadically at least up until we left in late morning. Familiarization with the two song types is essential to detection. If you attended rock concerts in the 60s frequently, forget it. Confusion with the much more common Grasshopper Sparrow is possible. Maps to Baird's Sparrow sightings within the public portion of this property are available on eBird checklists and probably elsewhere.

Dave Leatherman
Fort Collins

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