The second sparrow species I noticed singing this spring was the Savannah Sparrow. Since moving to Northwest Calgary at the end of February 2016, I’ve been visiting the urban park and wetland near the Alberta Children’s Hospital at least twice a week. A large part of the park consists of knee-high brush and grasses, where I photographed a couple of coyotes in early April. April’s bird sounds consisted mostly of the calls of gulls flying overhead and the songs of male red-winged blackbirds drifting north from the pond’s cattails. On May 2nd, the soundscape changed dramatically. Throughout the scrubland, a few metres away from each other, invisible birds were belting out the same three-second tune, sometimes in response to another and sometimes overlapping.
The photos of the sparrow atop a common cocklebur are from May 6th – I arrived at the park earlier in the morning than on May 2nd, and the sunlight was softer and photo-friendlier. When I drew a Savannah Sparrow in December 2015, from a photo in The Atlas of Breeding Birds of Alberta, I’d never seen one before. From the atlas, I learned that these sparrows like moist environments with dense ground vegetation, especially longish grasses, and avoid areas with extensive forest cover or short grass. I also read that males are bold and conspicuous in the spring and summer, frequently observed singing from low, exposed perches. And that is indeed what I observed this spring!
Their songs are less frequent now. I mostly hear ‘chip’ calls. And the Clay-coloured Sparrows, who arrived about two weeks after the Savannah Sparrows, also sing occasionally and make ‘chip’ calls. The photos above, from June 18th, are of my closest Savannah Sparrow encounter. That fellow was chipping, not singing, and he posed for me in many different places – a fallen log, a spruce tree branch and a dirt path. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s All About Birds says that a Savannah Sparrow uses chipping sounds when alarmed, warding off intruders, or approaching its nest. The bird didn’t seem alarmed to me; his chips were mellow and infrequent. But maybe Savannah Sparrow warnings are less frantic than those of Spotted Sandpipers and quieter than those of Black-billed Magpies.
Another Savannah Sparrow was singing on a dry plant stalk in the scrubland. The beiges and browns of April have been mostly replaced by vibrant green dotted with purple and yellow. Most of the purple dots are alfalfa flowers like the ones in the photos below.
The Saturday before last (July 9th), I photographed a Savannah Sparrow near the pond, among the willow bush-trees. Though the afternoon was overcast, the light green leaves and yellow stems of the willows added a lot of vibrance to the image.
My first singing sparrows of spring were the Bowmont Park Song Sparrows.