What’s the big deal? It’s just another Henslow’s Sparrow in Somerset County. They are practically annual summer visitors albeit on inaccessible private property and in tiny numbers. They have nested in the county so the Negri-Nepote bird could find a mate.
However, this is 2019. Since approximately the 1950s, the Henslow’s Sparrow population has dropped precipitously in the northeast to the point where they are virtually absent.
Here is a screenshot of the June 23, 2019 eBird distribution map for Henslow’s Sparrow. This gives an accurate picture of the current status of this species (click on the picture for a larger image):
Fortunately for birders, the current Henslow’s Sparrow is using publicly-accessible Negri-Nepote Native Grassland Preserve in Franklin Township for a possible nesting situation.
This individual was found and correctly identified yesterday, June 22 by Jeff Ellerbusch and seen yesterday and today by a multitude of eager observers looking for a post-spring-migration-early-summer adrenaline rush. Interestingly, this Henslow’s was probably present on June 6 based on photos that have come to light in the past twenty-four hours.
Here is an indication of how times have changed. This is the Henslow’s Sparrow account in A List of Birds of Morris County written by E. Carleton Thurber and published by the True Democratic Banner newspaper in 1887 (NOTE: recent taxonomic updates change Henslow’s genus from Ammodramus to Centronyx):
(Ammodramus henslowii) Henslow’s Sparrow. Rather common summer resident, but very local. The only places that I know of its being found are, a large meadow near Horse Hill, and in Wheeler Swamp near Littleton.
Horse Hill is present-day heavily developed Cedar Knolls. Littleton is swallowed up by Parsippany-Troy Hills.
Here is an excerpt from Bill Boyle’s The Birds of New Jersey, Status and Distribution:
Stone (1937) called Henslow’s Sparrow a “common summer resident” of the Cape May Peninsula at that time, and even at mid-century they were still uncommon and local breeding birds throughout New Jersey (Fables 1955, Bull 1964).
The Henslow’s Sparrow of today invokes the ghosts of Henslow’s Sparrows’ past. Even more of a motivation to protect what’s left of this critical habitat before it’s gone.
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