Field Sparrow (Spizella pusilla) at Bryan Farm

Happy Earth Day!

One cold windy weekend, I skipped my morning coffee and visited Mercer Meadow at the Reed/Bryan Farm trailhead. I was bundled up but after a few minutes of looking at the European Starlings in the trees at the trailhead, I walked toward the footbridge at the far end.

The Merlin ID app identified several birds nearby which I sighted as well but I was without any photographs are several minutes. The cold started to bite. I had left my gloves in the car. While standing on the footbridge, I noticed movement near my feet.

A Field Sparrow (Spizella pusilla) was pecking at something in the grass. The Field Sparrow has a brownish upper part with streaks and a buff-coloured breast with a white belly. Its wings and tail are marked with rust-coloured feathers.

Field Sparrow (Spizella pusilla)
Field Sparrow (Spizella pusilla) · 6 April 2024 · FujiFilm X-T3 · XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR

I don’t know if it was twigs or insects. Field Sparrows primarily feed on seeds, insects, and small fruits, foraging on the ground or low vegetation. I backed up and took a few frames before walking back to the car as fast as I could. I was cold. My fingers were getting numb.

Field Sparrow (Spizella pusilla)
Field Sparrow (Spizella pusilla) · 6 April 2024 · FujiFilm X-T3 · XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR

The Field Sparrow (Spizella pusilla) is a small passerine bird found in North America. It belongs to the family Passerellidae and is known for its distinct plumage and vocalisations. They build cup-shaped nests in dense shrubs or grassy areas, often concealed for protection.

During the breeding season, males sing to establish territories and attract mates, with a song characterised by trills and high-pitched notes. Field Sparrows are migratory birds, spending winters in the southern United States and migrating north to breed in spring and summer. They are commonly found in open grasslands, agricultural fields, and brushy areas across their range.

European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)

I thought they were common blackbirds but I was wrong. What’s a European bird doing in the USA?

When I arrived at Mercer Meadows at the Bryan Farm trailhead I saw a large number of birds resting in the large tree next to the old farmhouse. At first, I thought they were crows and ignored them. After setting up my camera and lens, I pulled out the Merlin ID app to identify the birds in the area via sound.

The Merlin ID app will flash the name of the bird it heard, each time it hears it. These were not crows. Each time the birds in the tree on the branches above me made a noise, the name European Starling flashed. The species is native to Europe, Asia, and North Africa but has been introduced to other parts of the world, including North America, where it has become a common and sometimes invasive species. I have seen them at the bird feeder in my backyard.

The European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) is a medium-sized passerine bird known for its glossy black plumage with white speckles and yellow beak during breeding season. It has a strong, pointed bill and short legs adapted for ground foraging.

Starlings are highly social birds, often forming large flocks, and are known for their vocalizations and mimicry abilities. They have a varied diet, feeding on insects, fruits, seeds, and human-provided food. Starlings are cavity nesters, utilizing holes in trees, buildings, and other structures for nesting sites. They are opportunistic breeders, often nesting multiple times per year and producing multiple broods.

Mercer Meadows Maidenhead Trail

A sunny spring Saturday afternoon walk in Mercer Meadows.

Bhavna and I had so much fun walking the “Pole Farm" loop trail at Mercer Meadows, that we went back the next day. This time we started at the Maidenhead Trailhead. The air was much cooler than the previous and with the gusty breezes, it felt cold. We moved quickly trying to warm up in the sun.

In the early 20th century The "Pole Farm" was once a key site for AT& T's international telephone call network. In recent times, "Pole Farm" at Mercer Meadows has been converted into a natural reserve with scenic trails and wildlife habitats.

We walked up to and ascended to an observation deck, a different one than the one we found the previous day. It was cold and windy. We didn’t stay long. On the way down a strong gust of wind blew my baseball cap into the field below.

17 March 2024 · FujiFilm X-T3 · XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR

We took the northern fork in the trail, walking and chatting but soon turned south taking what, on the trail map on my iPhone, appeared to be a shortcut. Maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t. But it was a mistake. The rain had swamped the grassy field and before we realised it we had no way forward. Bhavna was convinced we could find our way through. We should have turned around. After fifteen minutes of slipping and sliding in the soggy grass and at one point stepping angle deep into watery grass we made it back to a solid trail. But it was too late, my socks were soaked and my sneakers we covered with mud.

Male Northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) · 17 March 2024 · FujiFilm X-T3 · XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR

At the next fork, we turned east on the trail looping back to the Maidenhead Trailhead. A few metres further down heard a recognisable bird call from the thickets of bushes. As we neared the final fork and the trail back to the trail, we passed more marker signs that documented the historical background of the relics of early international telephone communications networks built by AT&T.

17 March 2024 · Apple iPhone 11 Pro · iPhone 11 Pro back camera 6mm f/2

The return trail path was otherwise uneventful. We were just minutes from the local brewery and a cold beer would have helped me feel less annoyed that the "shortcut" had mucked up my sneakers.

17 March 2024 · FujiFilm X-T3 · XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR