Thursday, May 23, 2013

BOOM....Grassland Birds

By Cory DeStein

The Imperial Grasslands in Allegheny County is a large reclaimed strip mind with impressive grasslands, wetlands, and shrub habitat. The area has a long history when it comes to property development,  trespassing and some remarkable bird records for the county. In the past Blue Grosbeak and Short-eared Owls bred in the area. In the winter White-winged Crossbills, Common Redpolls, Northern Shrike, and Rough-legged Hawks can be viewed here. The area known to local birders as Main Pond has held impressive records such as; Snowy Plover, American Avocet, Whimbrel, Western Sandpiper, Buff-breasted Sandpiper and all three phalaropes. For my walk this week I was able to enjoy breeding birds such as Bobolink, Eastern Meadowlarks, Prairie Warbler, Blue-winged Warbler, Henslow's Sparrow, Vesper Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow and Grasshopper Sparrows.
Just 1 of 30 Grasshopper Sparrows
Hitting the area at sunrise I immediately stumbled upon a Black Rat Snake being scolded by Prairie, Yellow, and Blue-winged Warblers. With my accidental interruption the reptile retreated to denser cover and the birds went back to their business. Coming to extensive grasslands I could hear Eastern Meadowlarks, Grasshopper Sparrows, and Vesper Sparrows singing. A Red-winged Blackbird chased a male Bobolink across a small pond where 4 Lesser Yellowlegs were feeding. Scanning the fields I spotted another male Bobolink singing, the bird was exceptionally tame and allowed me to approach within a respectable distance for some photography.
Male Bobolink
While photographing the Bobolink, I began to hear a new song being sung nearby, Henlow's Sparrow! This was a new bird in Allegheny County for me. I ended with at least 6 birds total for the day, including a very cooperative male singing from a nearby shrub.
Allegheny County Henslow's Sparrow!
Baltimore and Orchard Orioles, Yellow Warbler, Hooded Warbler, Wood Thrush, Great-crested Flycatcher as well as a Yellow-breasted Chat were singing from a nearby woodlot as I worked my way back to the car. Sadly this ever shrinking grasslands continues to be threatened with development  The ponds are drained, new roads are paved, and new construction flags seem to appear daily. I am only enjoying a small portion of what the grasslands was when birders began heavily using it in the 90's. Interesting in one of the new industrial parks a small pond was developed which held a pair of Ross's Geese in 2011, Red Phalarope in February of 2012!!? And breeding Sora this past summer. Time will tell what development holds in store for this unique area.
Eastern Meadowlark 

Male Bobolink

Eastern Meadowlark 


  1. Nice work! That seems like a pretty darn good day of birding.

  2. Respectable distance is right, that's a DANG good photo of BOBO