DG and Lynn Gesualdo and I set off wicked early on Saturday (27th) morning, headed west to Mercer County, Ohio, bordering the state line with Indiana. Target: Smith’s Longspur. The past few years, intrigued and adventurous birders have followed Smith’s Longspur spring migration through their usual corridor – Illinois and west-central Indiana – convinced that surely some of these incredibly striking birds move annually through the westernmost counties of Ohio. The past several years have proven, yes, indeed. In 2009, 30+ individuals were found on Manley Road in Mercer County, and in 2010, 13 were found as far east as Washburn Road in Killdeer Plains WMA (!) (Richard Crossley & Jen Brumfield).
We pinpointed Manley Road (closest town is Rockford) as the epicenter, while knowing that we’d likely have to do plenty of searching for the right type of Smith’s fields: cornstubble (around a foot high) with grass and weeds in-between the rows, and foxtail grass (key). There is plenty of turnover as far as field types, since farming practices change annually.
We arrived at Townline Road, off of 707, and immediately found a VAST and PERFECT field with all the right ingredients. 1100 Lapland Longspurs were wheeling around and dropping to the ground, wheeling some more, and calling, singing and putting on a show. After a bit, four SMITH’S flew directly over the road, calling, with two males showing white covert patches (they appear as circular white patches on the shoulder). They dropped to the east in another cornfield, too far to track down. We noted the location and pushed northwest towards Manley Road. The Manley fields were bare earth – no habitat. We looked to the north and saw a cornfield in the distance. Arriving on Hill Road, we hit the jackpot.
A vast cornfield with the PERFECT ingredients was immediately bordered to the south by a another large field – “shortgrass” winter wheat. Heaven. We asked the home/landowner for permission to walk the field. Immediately, 450 Laplands were bursting everywhere and wheeling around overhead, some as close as 10 feet away on the ground. Pressing on towards the middle of the cornfield, a male Smith’s burst in front of me and I screamed to DG to get on the bird. Then 6 more, then 14 more, then 24 more…then a total of 88, which is just mind-boggling. I nearly passed out standing up from sheer joy and shock. We spent 2 hours in the field, photo documenting as many as possible. Most of the Smith’s were seen in flight. Finding them on the ground takes great luck and much persistence and patience, and a very keen eye. Their flatter (then Lappie) calls alerted us to their presence and many males were in full song. They exhibited an incredible range of plumage, since nearly all were molting. Many astoundingly gorgeous males were seen/photographed.
This is a new recent record number for Smith’s in Ohio. Today (28th) Jerry Tallkington and Dave Slager scored around 40 Smith’s in the same field. Horned Larks, pipits, 500+ Laplands, and Vesper and Savannah Sparrows are present. Birders must be patient and highly alert and fast to get on birds in flight. It’s not a cakewalk.
Location: Hill Road (TR33B) and Rockford West Road (CR236). Hill Road makes a 90 degree bend shortly after the intersection. The road is VERY narrow, so park as best as you can at the bend or near it. The cornfield/winter wheat field lies to the east. Some Smith’s were coming in and out of the winter wheat field. *You CAN see some birds from the road, but entering the field will increase your chances greatly*
CLICK ON MAP & PHOTOS FOR LARGE VIEW