Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Lapland Longspur

Lapland Longspur
On this day in 1895, A. H. Phillips found two Lapland Longspurs in a flock of Snow Buntings at Princeton in Mercer County. Phillips collected one of the longspurs and provided the first confirmed evidence of the species' occurrence in NJ (Babson 1901, Stone 1908).

Unlike many birds with definite first state records, Lapland Longspur is a regularly occurring (albeit uncommon) part of NJ's avifauna, and was probably visiting the state long before the first specimen was taken. The longspurs are found both along the shore and inland, and the best advice for those who would like to add Lapland Longspur to their NJ list is to visit places known to draw flocks of Horned Larks and/or Snow Buntings, both frequent fellow travelers for the longspurs. This translates into barrier island beaches along the coast, inland farm fields at places like Alpha (Warren County), not to mention the gravel parking lot at Spruce Run Reservoir in Hunterdon County. Spruce Run was where I saw my first North American Lapland Longspur a couple of days ago; its (record shot only) photo appears above. More pics at my Flickr stream if you want; just scroll past the Roebling bridge photos.

For those familiar with the Princeton area today (and its general dearth of Snow Buntings, never mind longspurs), there might be some question as to where Phillips was so fortunate to find these birds. The answer may be in Babson's entry on Snow Buntings (or as they were called then, Snowflakes). This states that the winter of 1894-1895 was a good year for Snow Buntings because "several large flocks appeared at intervals during the winter." Babson also notes that none had been seen in the area since this noteworthy winter.

A further note about Phillips; he was a professor at Princeton University who taught Mineralogy but clearly had a strong ornithological avocation. Thanks to this page, I can also report that Phillips is commemorated in a "Faculty Song" at Princeton: "Ha Ha Phillips, he he he / Teaches mineralogy'." Apparently he liked to laugh.

Babson, William Arthur. 1901. The Birds of Princeton, New Jersey, and Vicinity. Bulletin of the Bird Club of Princeton University 1:7-82.


Anonymous said...

Hi Jennifer,
The Princeton CBC until the 1960s always had very good numbers of "field birds," i.e. Horned Lark, Lapland Longspur, and Snow Bunting. These were found in Plainsboro, in the areas which were then potato fields, and are now occupied by apartment complexes and housing developments. This information comes to me from Tom Southerland and also from Gordon Comrie, who traditionally covered that area then (he has moved away). Given that there were sod farms and dairy farms all along what's now Route One, there were probably field birds within walking distance of the University in A.H. Phillips' day. C.H. Rogers covered that area on his first CBC in 1907, I'm told. --Laurie

Jennifer Hanson said...

Hi Laurie,

Thanks for stopping by. I was hoping someone with more extensive Princeton-area experience than I would chip in on this. I've heard Horned Lark calling overhead when in my parking lot in Plainsboro in weather conditions not too dissimilar from the ones we have now; there are farms close to where I am. With more farms closer to Princeton in Phillips' day, "field birds" close to the University sound a lot more plausible than they might seem today.