Pawnee National Grassland - Grasshopper Sparrow (Ammodramus savannarum)

     The 193,060 acres of the Pawnee National Grassland are contained within a 30-by-60 mile area in northeastern Colorado.  I have made several visits to this internationally known birding area this year in an attempt to photograph some of the resident grassland species as well as those known to breed here (Mountain Plover, Brewer's, Baird's, Cassin's, and Grasshopper Sparrows, McCown's and Chestnut-collared Longspur, Lark Bunting, Swainson's and Ferruginous Hawks and Golden Eagle are on my wish list). This is the first of what I hope to be a long series of reports documenting my progress photographing these birds. 

    The interesting story of how the 17 National Grasslands came into existence can be found on the website of the U.S. Forest Service.  

Click on the image to see a larger view.

The Grasshopper Sparrow is a small sparrow (4.5 inches in length) with a short tail (image 1). The name of the bird is based on its diet and its song (two short notes followed by a high, thin, insect-like trill). Grasshopper Sparrows have a large, conical bill and a large, flat head (images 2 and 5). There is an orange-yellow spot in front of the thin white eye-ring (images 2, 3, 5, 7-9). Other notable features of the head are the buffy supercilium, the narrow, white crown stripe, and the dark brown lateral crown stripes (images 3 and 4). Adults have a light brown breast and a white belly (images 2, 4, 5, 8 and 9). The underparts are unstreaked (images 2, 5, and 9) or at most faintly streaked (image 6). Upperparts are streaked with brown, grey, black and white (images 1, 3, 4, 6-9). Territorial Grasshopper Sparrows will readily sing from open and exposed perches (images 8 and 9).

In Florida, Grasshopper Sparrows reside in some not-very-accessible locations (small, stunted saw palmetto and dwarf oaks with interspersed bare ground and sparse grass). I had no success trying to find them in Florida and was delighted to be able to see and photograph these birds in the western grasslands.

Photo #2 was taken with a Nikon D500 camera, 500mm f/4 lens with a 1.4x teleconverter attached. All other photos were acquired with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II camera, a 300mm f/4 IS Pro lens with a 1.4x teleconverter attached.

David Sparks

I retired in 2005 after 40 years of research and teaching at the University of Alabama in Birmingham (24 years), the University of Pennsylvania (8 years) and the Baylor College of Medicine (8 years). Photography is my retirement hobby.

Nature photography, especially bird photography, combines a number of things that I really enjoy: bird-watching, being outdoors, photography, travel, messing about with computers, and learning new skills and concepts.  I now spend much of my time engaged in these activities.

David Sibley in the preface to The Sibley Guide to Birds wrote "Birds are beautiful, in spectacular as well as subtle ways; their colors, shapes, actions, and sounds are among the most aesthetically pleasing in nature."  My goal is to acquire images that capture the beauty and uniqueness of selected species as well as images that highlight the engaging behaviors the birds exhibit.