Friday, October 16, 2015

Lincoln's Sparrow in Hocking Hills...

Rick, Matty and I, my brother, sis-in-law and my niece, and my parents all went to Hocking Hills in southeast Ohio last weekend. It was another of our fall trips. We started the tradition back when the kids were tiny little things, and we've kept it up through the years. Now the kids are juniors in college, and the tradition continues. This year we settled on Hocking Hills (an easy 2.5 hr drive) and rented an 8-bedroom "cabin" about 30 minutes away from the action of Old Man's Cave, Rock House, horseback riding, etc. I'm glad we did, because the cabin came with 30 or 40 acres to explore. It had a pond edged in cattails, scrubby fields, wet thickets, brush piles, a small stream in a small gorge, and even a few boggy areas, all of which add up to perfect territory for migrating Lincoln's Sparrows...

A beautiful fall Lincoln's Sparrow perches in a Sycamore sapling along the cattail edges of the pond.

We didn't know what the cabin would look like or what type of land would be around it, so I was really excited when we drove up the long, crunchy gravel drive and saw what was there. Basically, nothing. We were isolated from other people and cabins, which was wonderful! It was so nice to look out and see only trees and fields (my brother booked the cabin and did a great job!). In the back of my mind, I knew Lincoln's Sparrows were at the height of their fall migration through our state, and I was hoping to photograph one. Lincoln's Sparrows are shy birds, so they don't hang out where there is a lot of human activity, which made our lonely little cabin in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains a perfect location. The dashing little bird had always eluded my camera lens, so if ever I was going to be able to photograph one, this would be it.

Mr. Lincoln, you are a grand bird. The fine streaking and buff coloring sets this bird apart from other sparrows...especially song sparrows, which were all around me in the field.

I can't remember who might have been my mom, but someone wanted to know if the bird was named after President Lincoln. I didn't know, so I looked it up. It wasn't. It was named after Thomas Lincoln (1812 - 1883).  At the time, Thomas Lincoln was 21. He and 4 other young men, including Audubon's son, accompanied Audubon on the 1833 Labrador Expedition. Lincoln shot the bird for Audubon to paint for his The Birds of America book. Audubon named the bird after him, at first calling it "Tom's Finch."

Look at that jaunty little cap on his head trimmed with two chestnut stripes (lateral crown stripes), each streaked with black. That's one of the first things I look at when identifying a Lincoln's Sparrow. The black streaking on the head, and the fine dark brown and black streaks on the buff-colored chest and flanks.

A Lincoln's Sparrow in the morning light. 

Audubon's 1833 Labrador Expedition
On June 6, 1833, Audubon, his youngest son, John Woodhouse Audubon, Thomas Lincoln, William Ingalls, George Shattuck, and Joseph Coolidge (sometimes spelled Collide) set out from Eastport, Maine on the schooner "Ripley" commanded by Captain Emery. The trip was a collecting expedition with an emphasis on northern waterbirds for The Birds of America. They returned to Eastport on August 31, 1833. Click here for a map and timeline that shows the routes they took to and from Labrador. This map appears in the article, "Parts Unknown: Audubon's 1833 Labrador Expedition on the Ripley," and is on the Audubon website in "Audubon's Aviary, The Final Flight." The article contains a lot of other interesting historical information, e.g., in a letter Audubon wrote to his son Victor Gifford, we learn:
"I have chartered a schooner called the ‘Ripley,’ commanded by Captain Emery. . . . only a year old, of 106 tons, for which we pay three hundred and fifty dollars per month for the entire use of the vessel with the men. . . .”
While preparing for this expedition, Audubon suffered a stroke in March of 1833. He recovered quickly and continued with the preparations for the trip. For a personal account of the 1833 Labrador Expedition, click here for the pdf of an article from The Auk, Vol. 27, No. 1 (Jan., 1910), pp. 42-52, titled, "Audubon's Labrador Trip of 1833," by Ruthven Deane. In 1903 Deane interviewed Dr. William Ingalls, who was in his 90s and the last surviving member of the party. The article contains a letter written by Ingalls to Deane describing their trip.

Audubon's description of the Lincoln's Sparrow in Labrador
If you go to the Audubon website, you have access to all of the birds and the text from Audubon's great work of art, The Birds of America. Click here for the link. Lincoln's Sparrow is Plate 193, and the text that accompanies it is from the 1833 Labrador Expedition. I always love reading the original text. Here are a few of my favorite experts (click here for the entire text):
"We had been in Labrador nearly three weeks before this Finch was discovered. One morning while the sun was doing his best to enliven the gloomy aspect of the country, I chanced to enter one of those singular small valleys here and there to be seen. The beautiful verdure of the vegetation, the numerous flowers that grew sprinkled over the ground, the half-smothered pipings of some frogs, and the multitudes of mosquitoes and flies of various sorts, seemed to belong to a region very different from any that I had previously explored. But if the view of this favoured spot was pleasing to my eye, how much more to my ear were the sweet notes of this bird as they came thrilling on the sense, surpassing in vigour those of any American Finch with which I am acquainted, and forming a song which seemed a compound of those of the Canary and Wood-lark of Europe. I immediately shouted to my companions, who were not far distant. They came, and we all followed the songster as it flitted from one bush to another to evade our pursuit. No sooner would it alight than it renewed its song; but we found more wildness in this species than in any other inhabiting the same country, and it was with difficulty that we at last procured it. Chance placed my young companion, THOMAS LINCOLN, in a situation where he saw it alight within shot, and with his usual unerring aim, he cut short its career. On seizing it, I found it to be a species which I had not previously seen; and, supposing it to be new, I named it Tom's Finch, in honour of our friend LINCOLN, who was a great favourite among us. Three cheers were given him, when, proud of the prize, I returned to the vessel to draw it, while my son and his companions continued to search for other specimens." 
"The habits of this sweet songster resemble those of the Song Sparrow. Like it, mounted on the topmost twig of the tallest shrub or tree it can find, it chants for hours; or, diving into the thickets, it hops from branch to branch, until it reaches the ground, in search of those insects and berries from which it derives its support. It moves swiftly off when it discovers an enemy; and, if forced to take wing, flies low and rapidly to some considerable distance, jerking its tail as it proceeds, and throwing itself at the foot of the thickest bush it meets. I found it mostly near streams, and always in the small valleys, guarded from the cold winds so prevalent in the country, and which now and then nip the vegetation, and destroy many of the more delicate birds."

Our fall trips
This was a wonderful fall trip. The weather was perfect, the leaves were starting to change, and the birds were fantastic. From horseback riding, to hiking, to looking up at the Milky Way while listening to coyotes, I loved every minute with my family and want to go back...soon! There is a lot to see in Hocking Hills, and a day and a half is not enough time. Click here for highlights from a few of our earlier trips.


Steve Borichevsky said...

Beautiful sparrow, Kelly.

Steve Borichevsky said...

Beautiful sparrow, Kelly.

Tammie Lee said...

your cabin stay sounds wonderful
just the sort of place i would love being

such a charming little bird
with extra crisp photos of it
thank you for sharing your treasured find with us

Laure Ferlita said...

Sounds like a wonderful fall trip and you were able to find this shy fellow—so cute and charming! There is something about sparrows and wrens that capture my imagination...

Kelly said...

@Steve - Thanks, Steve. He really was beautiful. What a surprise to see him instead of a Song Sparrow! (There were many Song Sparrows in the area as well.)

@Tammi - Thank you, Tammie! I loved the cabin and being in the woods. You would love it no doubt. You already have one!

@Laure - I know, Laure! It is their subtle shading. The colors look plain to the eye, but when you go to paint them, you see every subtle shade of brown and red. The Lincoln's Sparrow with the find dark streaking is especially beautiful. When you study him, the differences between him and a Song Sparrow jump out! :-)

Kathie Brown said...

Nice find and great photos, Kelly! That cabin sounds like a wonderful place!