A beautiful morning in Inwood Hill Park: bright blue sky with temperature around 50 at sunup. As usual, I started on the deck overlooking Muscota Marsh. I quickly spotted the usual mid-October birds found here recently: Song Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow and as in the last few days, Ruby-crowned Kinglet. The I saw another dark sparrow popup on the Spartina grasses. The bird was facing away from meand my first thought was another immature Swamp Sparrow. But something didn't look right: there seemed to be too much streaking underneath. For a second I considered Lincoln's Sparrow, but that didn't seem right either. Finally, the bird turned to face me and I realized I was looking at a Nelson's Sparrow, a bird I have long sought and expected to find at Muscota. I quickly started sending text messages out to other birders. I particularly wanted to reach Danny Karlson who I knew had headed over to the soccer field only a few minutes before I had arrived on the deck. Danny responded immediately that he was heading back. After dropping back out of sight for a couple of minutes, the Nelson's then came back up on top of the grass so that when I heard Danny behind me asking if the bird was still here, all I had to do was point! I was able to get some nice photos to document the sighting.
Edward William Nelson (1855- 1934): His father was killed in the Civil War. His mother's dressmaking business was destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. When he was seventeen he went with some school friends on a trip to the Rocky Mountains led by the great 19th Century paleontologist and fossil collector Edward Drinker Cope. From 1877 to 1881 he explored and collected in Alaska. The field work in Alaska was so arduous that he suffered somewhat poor health from it for the rest of his life. Contracting tuberculosis after returning from Alaska didn't help either. In 1890-1891 he was on the US Biological Survey's Death Valley Expedition. Nelson went on to become President of the American Ornithologists Union (1908-1910) and Chief of the U.S. Biological Survey (1916-1927). In the latter capacity he negotiated the Migratory Bird Treaty between the U.S. and Canada. There are about 120 species and subspecies of mammals named for Nelson as well as two reptiles, five fish and two butterflies. On the coast of Alaska there is a Nelson's Island named for him. But before that distinuguished career, in 1874, when he was only 18 he collected the first specimen of a previously unknown sparrow at Calumet Lake in south Chicago. The ornithologist Joel A. Allen named the sparrow for Nelson when he described it in 1875.
Now, back to today's birds. Also down in Muscota Marsh this morning was an immature White-crowned Sparrow.