Leiwston Sewage Plant outflow marsh, north Lewiston, Nez Perce County
HABITAT WHERE THE BIRD WAS OBSERVED
Emergent cattail wetland with one Russian olive and a stand of sand-bar type willows in the center. Dense blackberries along west edge.
SIGHTING DURATION, CONDITIONS, and EQUIPMENT USED
The bird called occasionally (maybe 5-6 bouts of calling) over the course of an hour)> I recognized that a Swamp Sparrow was calling as soon as I arrived and spent most of an hour trying to get looks and documentation. I eventually had a few second view of it..
DID YOU TAKE NOTES?
Yes, later the same day
DID YOU CONSULT A FIELD GUIDE OR OTHER REFERENCE WORK?
Yes, during the observation
WHICH GUIDE(S) OR REFERENCE(S): DID YOU CONSULT?
I pulled up Swamp Sparrow in my Sibley app to play the call notes in an attempt to lure it in, only after I recognized the call (though it also helped to confirm).
DESCRIPTION OF THE BIRD(s)
Copied verbatim from my eBird checklist, prepared the same day as the sighting:
Calling on and off from near Russian olive and willows near center of marsh. Distinctive high Tsip notes very similar to a black phoebe, but slightly softer and weaker. Eventually I glimpsed a melospiza with reddish wings and mantle, dark mantle streaks, and plain gray breast with slight blurry streaking. That's about all I saw, but the call note is distinctive, and I've correctly identified 2 swamp sparrows by voice, before seeing them, this fall.
BEHAVIOR OF THE BIRD(s)
Very secretive, calling from the emergent marsh in the vicinity of the small patch of shrubs (willows and Russian Olive). It would call 1-20 times over the course of a couple of minutes and then go quiet for 5-15 minutes. At least once, it seemed to call in response to my broadcast of Swamp Sparrow "Tsip" calls. I finally got a brief look when it popped up and perched on the lower branch of the olive. It then doe back into the cattails.
HOW AND WHEN DID YOU POSITIVELY IDENTIFY THE BIRD, AND WHAT CLINCHED THE IDENTIFICATION FOR YOU?
I was very confident when I heard the call. I've seen 2 previous Swamp Sparrows in the Inland NW this fall, and in each case I recognized the call immediately (and confirmed with visuals and photos). I played the calls, and that gave me even greater confidence that I was hearing a Swamp Sparrow. It was still good to see it for a few seconds, see the blurry breast pattern central stripe, and face pattern.
HOW DID YOU ELIMINATE SIMILAR SPECIES? WHAT WERE THEY?
The call was distinctive. Subtler, less emphatic, and less metallic than Ca Quail, more of a "Tsip" than the hard "chink" of White-crowned Sparrow, totally unlike any of the Song Sparrow Calls (chmp and lisp). When I saw the bird, the mostly plain breast, central spot, and gray face with dark "triangular" post-ocular line were unlike any other species. Song Sparrow would have shown a strongly streaked breast, white-crowned does not have blurry streaks or a central spot, lacks the gray face, has totally different face pattern, white-throated sparrow has a browner face and plainer breast with no central spot.
WHAT IS YOUR EXPERIENCE WITH THIS (AND SIMILAR) SPECIES?
I've seen many Swamp Sparrow, mostly when living in their regular wintering range of New Mexico and Arizona. This is my second in Idaho and my 3rd in the inland NW this fall. When I encountered them regularly, i quickly learned their distinctive tsip call note. It is very similar to a Black Phoebe, another common winter bird in those areas, which is how I learned to cue in on Swamp Sparrows (i.e., hear a Black Phoebe but don't immediately see it? Look harder because it's probably a Swamp Sparrow). I'm very familiar with the other North American Melospiza, Zonotrichia, and other plausible sparrows.
DESCRIBE YOUR GENERAL BIRDING EXPERIENCE
~17 years of birding as often as possible. Term-limited former member of the Nevada Bird Records Committee and eBird reviewer for Nevada and Idaho. Ph.D. candidate in avian ecology and wildlife science.
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION (If any)
I've been visiting this location in the fall and winter for many years hoping for a Swamp Sparrow , so it was great to get one. I didn't have much chance for a photo, but I kept trying to get a recording either with my phone or the video feature on my camera. Each time I started either device, the sparrow would fall silent.....
This species appears to be having a great year in our region, with 1-2 in September in Boundary County (previously submitted), the Denny's reporting 4 at one location near Walla Walla (another location they say they have looked for years) just a few days later, one wintering for it's second year in Asotin, WA on the Snake River, and 2 more to be found later in November at Mann Lake (additional submission).