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.

Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis)

I had put the Merlin ID app away, and chatting with Bhavna as we walked around the small loop had become my main focus. On the trail back to Pole Farm, the trees receded and we were once again surrounded by the expanse of meadow. Despite cradling the digital camera equivalent of a newborn human, somewhere along [our walk around the small loop], I had forgotten the main reason I chose Mercer Meadows for the day's walk. We stopped at "Pole Farm" to read the small sign with a description of what stood in the space.

In the early 20th century The "Pole Farm" was once a key site for AT&T's international telephone call network. "Pole Farm" at Mercer Meadows has transformed over the years into a natural reserve with scenic trails and wildlife habitats. In the spring and summer, one can see lush meadows, woodlands, and wetlands, home to a diverse flora and fauna." Pole Farm", has become known as a prime birding location, attracting birding and bird photography enthusiasts.

There’s a squarish bit of grass that creates a rest area at the intersections of the crisscrossing trails. It may have been the former location of a building. Metal girders painted red surround this spot acting as visual borders between the meadow brush. A large metal arch provides the feeling of a doorway to the benches and restroom areas which provide opportunities to rest and enjoy the meadow views.

Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis) sitting in a flower tree.
Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis) · 16 March 2024 · FujiFilm X-T3 · XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR

Bhavna, maybe feeling that I was disappointed in not seeing any birds, pointed excitedly to one of the nearby flowering trees placed at the corners of the rest area. She pointed excitedly and said, "It’s so pretty". I could hear a bird singing melodiously from the nearby tree.

I saw a small and colourful bird, 15 to 20 cm in size, singing as though he were in attendance at a Bob Marley, with Master Marley belting out lyrics from "Three Little Birds"; "Don't worry about a thing. 'Cause every little thing is gonna be alright!".

Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis) sitting in a flower tree.
Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis) · 16 March 2024 · FujiFilm X-T3 · XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR

This Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis) and I had an understanding. He did not move his short slender body as I gingerly approached to fill the frame at 600m, the XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR sticking out from my face like a large nose. His black eyes and slightly curved bill looked toward the distance. Dressed in a vibrant deep blue hoody with a large rusty-red scarf and white pants, my subject and I worked together on this portrait photoshoot.

NOTE: I am visiting Mercer Meadows more often since I discovered Dan Day's The Jersey Birder website. With just a few visits Mercer Meadows has provided more opportunities for bird photography than the Charles H. Rogers Wildlife Refuge, my previous hot-spot. Check out his Springing into Spring post.