On New Year's Day, I decided to take a break from processing my photos from my recent Antarctica trip and head out to Long Point, Ontario along Lake Erie to see if I could find the Smith's Longspur (SMLO) that has been hanging around for the past couple of weeks. The weather outlook called for mostly sunny skies and comfortable temperatures for this time of year so off I went with Andrew Don and by the time we arrived at the stakeout around 8:30 am, there were already several birders present, all anxious to add Smith's Longspur to their 2017 year lists. Fortunately for everyone present it only took a few minutes before the female Smith's Longspur was spotted. It foraged along the ground in some vegetation, but over time popped out several times as it moved closer to the side of the road, providing very good views to all. I photographed the bird initially in good early morning light and then I waited for an opportunity to capture some images of it that were a little cleaner. I even returned later that morning after Andrew and I checked out the local area for other birds obtaining even better looks with slightly better lighting direction. This was a lifer for me and quite exciting because there are few opportunities to see this species in Ontario unless you travel to the shores of Hudson Bay in extreme northern Ontario, where it breeds. It migrates mostly west of the Great Lakes as well.
In winter plumage, Smith's Longspur resembles Lapland Longspur (LALO); however, there are a few things to look for that can help separate the two species (Early, 2001). In his book, Chris Earley notes the following: cheek colour (blurry border for SMLO vs defined dark border for LALO), leg colour (usually light for SMLO vs usually dark for LALO), belly colour (buffy for SMLO vs white for LALO), wing (may have some thin rufous edging for SMLO vs extensive rufous edging, giving a patch-like effect for LALO) and outer tail feathers (usually shows more white for SMLO). For comparison purposes I've included a winter plumage Lapland Longspur image I made back in 2014 at Saint-Clet, Quebec. A close examination of the two photos shows these differences quite well, in my opinion.
In winter SMLO feeds mainly on seeds and it prefers the tallest grass to forage, making it difficult to spot at times. I captured a few photos with food in this SMLO's beak, much like the one shown below.
New Gallery Photos Added Gallery
Smith's Longspur Emberizids
Happy New Year,
Earley, Chris, 2001. Sparrows and Finches of Ontario, The Friends of Point Pelee, Leamington, Ontario