Topics

County Bird List Update & Sage Sparrow Difficulties

Jamie Chavez
 

All,

I have updated the county bird list at www.sbcobirding.com with the new
changes from the AOU (Birds link). These changes include the split of Sage
Sparrow into Bell's and Sagebrush Sparrows, and the new taxonomic order of
sandpipers and thrashers. By my count the total remains at 490 species.
Based on the CBRC database search White Ibis is still in circulation so
this bird is not included yet but will likely add another to the total
soon. Taking the conservative approach, Sagebrush Sparrow is not included
in my list but may be confirmed at some point based on a bird I've
highlighted below or others wintering in areas where Bell's Sparrow is
found in the eastern part of the county such as in Ballinger, Quatal and
Santa Barbara Canyons in the Cuyama Valley. Resident birds away from the
coast (A. b. canescens), although appearing different from Bell's but very
similar to Sagebrush, are now lumped with Bell's, therefore all resident
birds found in SBA are Bell's Sparrows. I always find splits and lumps
fascinating so I've looked deeper into this to try and understand the
differences. If you would like to read the proposal for splitting "Sage"
Sparrow with a discussion on distribution see this pdf file:
http://www.aou.org/committees/nacc/proposals/2013-A.pdf

I posted photos of a "Sage" Sparrow in Santa Maria in October 2006 found at
Jim May Park on my Flickr site (see:
http://www.flickr.com/search/?w=20709090@N00&q=Artemisiospiza ). This is
obviously not a Bell's Sparrow based on plumage (just Google Bell's Sparrow
for comparison), but maybe can be assigned to Sagebrush Sparrow. What is
troubling is if a bird like this can be seen well and photographed from
multiple angles showing all it's key features but still not be assigned to
Sagebrush Sparrow, can any be identified as such? If this bird or any in a
local collection represents a Sagebrush Sparrow then our county total can
be bumped to 491. I posted this question with a couple of photos to the ID
Frontiers listserve in June and Kimball Garrett replied with his
thoughts...
(see:
http://listserv.ksu.edu/web?A2=ind1306d&L=birdwg01&T=0&X=30D3305C8C763CF26A&Y=almiyi%40GMAIL.COM&P=165
)

There is very little current info on the net regarding separation of
Sagebrush Sparrow (A. nevedansis) from interior Bell's Sparrow (A.
canescens). It was always assumed or at least published that interior
California birds were related to Sagebrush Sparrow and much information
about these forms in print (Rising & Beadle), (Byers, Curson & Olsson),
lumped these birds with "Interior" Sage Sparrows of the Great Basin. Given
the new split/lump of these, separating Bell's from Sagebrush is not too
difficult except when trying to separate interior birds which may prove
very difficult. Canescens is typically described as "intermediate" but
compared to Sagebrush Sparrow it is, "slightly darker above with less
streaking, and has more prominent black malar stripe; in these characters
it tends towards the coastal group" (Byers, Curson & Olsson). Or, "smaller
and generally more richly colored than nevadensis. These cannot be safely
differentiated in the field..." (Rising, Beadle). Ouch. You can find
several photos of interior Bell's Sparrows from the Carrizo Plain in SLO
and elsewhere, and I located this site: (
http://www.greatbasinbirds.com/wordpress/sage-sparrows-of-long-valley-eastern-sierras/?show=slide
)
which shows Bell's Sparrows in Long Valley near the contact zone of
canescens and nevadensis near Owens Valley in E CA. No doubt some of this
will be worked out over time and birders should pay close attention to Sage
Sparrows in winter in the eastern part of the county or as a vagrant when
they turn up elsewhere in order to determine which birds might actually be
Sagebrush Sparrows. Good luck with that.

--
Jamie Chavez
Santa Maria, CA

Jamie Chavez
 

I've had a couple of replies saying the link to Kimball's message posted on
ID Frontiers didn't work. Rather than me trying get this linked correctly
his reply is pasted below. Sorry for the confusion.

--
Jamie Chavez
Santa Maria, CA

-------------------
Jamie,

Your Santa Maria bird certainly looks like a good candidate for *Artemisiospiza
nevadensis* (Sagebrush Sparrow) – the sharp and extensive dorsal streaking,
the relatively thin malar (with white mixed in with the black in the
anterior portion), and possibly the longer primary extension (hard to tell
from the photos, and maybe not reliable in the field) all support that ID.
Also, I’m guessing that pale “Sage Sparrows” on the coast of California in
late fall and winter are far more likely to be highly migratory Sagebrush
Sparrows than *canescens* Bell’s Sparrows. Mojave desert *canescens* move
widely through the mountains of Los Angeles region after breeding (roughly,
May through summer), but I don’t know of any evidence that they move over
the mountains onto the coastal lowlands.

In Los Angeles County the only coastal specimens of “pale Sage Sparrows”
are November birds from the San Fernando Valley (coastal lowlands) and San
Clemente Island; both of these measure out to *nevadensis*(and plumage is
also consistent with Sagebrush Sparrow). This despite the fact that *
canescens* is a common breeder on the desert slope of the county and
wanderers into the mountains (post-breeding) regularly. I would guess that
San Joaquin Valley *canescens* behave similarly, with limited post-breeding
dispersal but no long-distance movements to the coast.

Yes, the eBird data will be a mess until the next eBird taxonomic updates
and a lot of scrutiny of the existing data entered under the now
paraphyletic category of “Interior Sage Sparrow (*canescens/nevadensis*).”

I suspect that with the publication of the AOU checklist supplement in the
July *Auk* there will be lengthy discussions on this list serve of the
characters that separate *canescens *and *nevadensis* in the field. It’s a
work in progress, and certainly won’t be easy, given that measurements may
be the most reliable way to separate them (*nevadensis* being larger).

Kimball

Kimball L. Garrett
Ornithology Collections Manager
Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County
900 Exposition Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90007 USA
213-763-3368
kgarrett@...
http://www.nhm.org/site/research-collections/ornithology

*From:* NBHC ID-FRONTIERS Frontiers of Field Identification [
mailto:BIRDWG01@... <BIRDWG01@...>] *On Behalf Of
*Jamie Chavez
*Sent:* Wednesday, June 26, 2013 7:03 AM
*To:* BIRDWG01@...
*Subject:* [BIRDWG01] Sage & Bell's Sparrow ID

With the pending split of Sage Sparrow I wondered if anyone had an opinion
as to the identity of a bird I photographed in October 2006 in coastal
Santa Barbara County, CA. Since this bird shows significant streaking on
the mantle and a weaker black moustachial stripe it is clearly not a
coastal Bell's Sparrow. However, It seems to me there will be potential for
confusion between the CA "interior" canescens, now to be lumped with belli
rather than nevadensis, and a true interior Great Basin Sage Sparrow which
shares similar physical traits. In particular, the amount of streaking on
the mantle. How reliable or variable is this for separating these two?

Archives: http://listserv.ksu.edu/archives/birdwg01.html

Mike Stiles
 

Thanks Jamie for the write-up about the Sage Sparrow split. I came across this today regarding vocalizations of the group:

http://earbirding.com/blog/archives/3040

The two species may be separable by song, but the subspecies nevadensis and canescens are not only intermediate in plumage, but in song also.


Mike Stiles
Los Osos

Jamie Chavez
 

In the link Mike provided there is a series of photos by Robert Royse who
probably just updated his photo site based on the new split. His photos of
all three "Sage" Sparrows - Sagebrush, Bell's and intermediate Bell's
canescens are among the best I've seen on the net in the past week or so
because he has them all grouped together in one spot for comparison. This
will show you the obvious and subtle differences between them. Here is the
link to Mr. Royse's photos, just click the individual links to see the
different types:

http://www.roysephotos.com/SageSparrow.html

--
Jamie Chavez
Santa Maria, CA

On Mon, Aug 12, 2013 at 9:52 AM, Michael D. Stiles <mstiles@...>wrote:

**


Thanks Jamie for the write-up about the Sage Sparrow split. I came across
this today regarding vocalizations of the group:

http://earbirding.com/blog/archives/3040

The two species may be separable by song, but the subspecies nevadensis
and canescens are not only intermediate in plumage, but in song also.

Mike Stiles
Los Osos

Nick Lethaby
 

Jamie:

Since the canascens were taken in January how do we know these are not nevadensis? Also it would be good to know how many individuals are involved in the photo sequences.

Nick

-----Original Message-----
From: sbcobirding@... [mailto:sbcobirding@...] On Behalf Of Jamie Chavez
Sent: Tuesday, August 13, 2013 6:35 AM
To: Sbcobirding
Subject: Re: [sbcobirding] County Bird List Update & Sage Sparrow Difficulties

In the link Mike provided there is a series of photos by Robert Royse who probably just updated his photo site based on the new split. His photos of all three "Sage" Sparrows - Sagebrush, Bell's and intermediate Bell's canescens are among the best I've seen on the net in the past week or so because he has them all grouped together in one spot for comparison. This will show you the obvious and subtle differences between them. Here is the link to Mr. Royse's photos, just click the individual links to see the different types:

http://www.roysephotos.com/SageSparrow.html

--
Jamie Chavez
Santa Maria, CA


On Mon, Aug 12, 2013 at 9:52 AM, Michael D. Stiles <mstiles@...>wrote:

**


Thanks Jamie for the write-up about the Sage Sparrow split. I came across
this today regarding vocalizations of the group:

http://earbirding.com/blog/archives/3040

The two species may be separable by song, but the subspecies nevadensis
and canescens are not only intermediate in plumage, but in song also.

Mike Stiles
Los Osos


[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]



------------------------------------

For everything birding in Santa Barbara County: http://www.sbcobirding.com Yahoo! Groups Links

Dan Cooper
 

Nick -

I was thinking the same thing - and just labeling them "California" isn't particularly helpful (though I agree, they're terrific photos to show plumage variation). As we start taking (and reviewing) more photos of these birds, it wouldn't hurt to remind people to be as specific as possible about the location and date, not to mention behavior such as territoriality. All three subspecies may be occurring very close by at different times of year, with at least two overlapping at least some of the time. [Taking nearby Kern River Valley (Kern Co.) as an example, we might be dealing with breeding "coastal" Bell's up in foothill chamise chaparral north of Kernville (where not mapped as such by Cicero 2010, nor by Grinnell and Miller 1944), then "interior" Bell's breeding in Great Basin scrub (e.g., Artemisia tridentata) east of Lake Isabella, joined by wintering nevadensis/"Sagebrush Sparrow". Obviously we don't know how far northwest nevadansis gets (i.e., toward Ventura/SB County) on a regular basis, but a similar situation could be occurring in the north counties, with birds segregating out by habitat, depending on time of year.]

While I'm at it, at least the coastal Bell's, and maybe the others, seem to be very patchy in where they nest, with large areas of seemingly suitable habitat unoccupied. So as people explore the backcountry up north, noting abundance of the birds detected, and where "Sage Sparrows" *aren't* (maybe in ebird checklist notes for the day), would also be informative.

Dan Cooper
Ventura Co.

--- In sbcobirding@..., "Lethaby, Nick" <nlethaby@...> wrote:

Jamie:

Since the canascens were taken in January how do we know these are not nevadensis? Also it would be good to know how many individuals are involved in the photo sequences.

Nick



------------------------------------

For everything birding in Santa Barbara County: http://www.sbcobirding.com Yahoo! Groups Links

Wes Fritz
 

Hi all,

I would think that photographing them on the breeding grounds would have validity to the sub-specie and would think that caution should be used in winter dispersing birds. I too am curious about the number of sample birds that were photographed. I also wonder about geographical cline in this complex of birds. The " Sagebrush" photo set seems to show a bird with slight streaking on the mantle and another with more unorganized streaking and yet one with little to almost no streaking on the back.
This was just a quick glance at the photos and I am looking forward to looking at them closer when I get a little time.

Good birding.

Wes Fritz
805-895-0685
wes-fritz@...
Solvang CA.
On Aug 13, 2013, at 7:46 AM, "Lethaby, Nick" <nlethaby@...> wrote:

Jamie:

Since the canascens were taken in January how do we know these are not nevadensis? Also it would be good to know how many individuals are involved in the photo sequences.

Nick

-----Original Message-----
From: sbcobirding@... [mailto:sbcobirding@...] On Behalf Of Jamie Chavez
Sent: Tuesday, August 13, 2013 6:35 AM
To: Sbcobirding
Subject: Re: [sbcobirding] County Bird List Update & Sage Sparrow Difficulties

In the link Mike provided there is a series of photos by Robert Royse who probably just updated his photo site based on the new split. His photos of all three "Sage" Sparrows - Sagebrush, Bell's and intermediate Bell's canescens are among the best I've seen on the net in the past week or so because he has them all grouped together in one spot for comparison. This will show you the obvious and subtle differences between them. Here is the link to Mr. Royse's photos, just click the individual links to see the different types:

http://www.roysephotos.com/SageSparrow.html

--
Jamie Chavez
Santa Maria, CA

On Mon, Aug 12, 2013 at 9:52 AM, Michael D. Stiles <mstiles@...>wrote:

**


Thanks Jamie for the write-up about the Sage Sparrow split. I came across
this today regarding vocalizations of the group:

http://earbirding.com/blog/archives/3040

The two species may be separable by song, but the subspecies nevadensis
and canescens are not only intermediate in plumage, but in song also.

Mike Stiles
Los Osos

[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]

------------------------------------

For everything birding in Santa Barbara County: http://www.sbcobirding.com Yahoo! Groups Links


[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]

Nick Lethaby
 

I was surprised by the Sagebrush photos and the lack of streaking. Not very encouraging from an identification point of view.

From: Wes Fritz [mailto:wes-fritz@...]
Sent: Tuesday, August 13, 2013 9:55 AM
To: Lethaby, Nick
Cc: Jamie Chavez; Sbcobirding
Subject: Re: [sbcobirding] County Bird List Update & Sage Sparrow Difficulties

Hi all,

I would think that photographing them on the breeding grounds would have validity to the sub-specie and would think that caution should be used in winter dispersing birds. I too am curious about the number of sample birds that were photographed. I also wonder about geographical cline in this complex of birds. The " Sagebrush" photo set seems to show a bird with slight streaking on the mantle and another with more unorganized streaking and yet one with little to almost no streaking on the back.
This was just a quick glance at the photos and I am looking forward to looking at them closer when I get a little time.

Good birding.

Wes Fritz
805-895-0685
wes-fritz@...<mailto:wes-fritz@...>
Solvang CA.
On Aug 13, 2013, at 7:46 AM, "Lethaby, Nick" <nlethaby@...<mailto:nlethaby@...>> wrote:


Jamie:

Since the canascens were taken in January how do we know these are not nevadensis? Also it would be good to know how many individuals are involved in the photo sequences.

Nick

-----Original Message-----
From: sbcobirding@...<mailto:sbcobirding%40yahoogroups.com> [mailto:sbcobirding@...<mailto:sbcobirding%40yahoogroups.com>] On Behalf Of Jamie Chavez
Sent: Tuesday, August 13, 2013 6:35 AM
To: Sbcobirding
Subject: Re: [sbcobirding] County Bird List Update & Sage Sparrow Difficulties

In the link Mike provided there is a series of photos by Robert Royse who probably just updated his photo site based on the new split. His photos of all three "Sage" Sparrows - Sagebrush, Bell's and intermediate Bell's canescens are among the best I've seen on the net in the past week or so because he has them all grouped together in one spot for comparison. This will show you the obvious and subtle differences between them. Here is the link to Mr. Royse's photos, just click the individual links to see the different types:

http://www.roysephotos.com/SageSparrow.html

--
Jamie Chavez
Santa Maria, CA

On Mon, Aug 12, 2013 at 9:52 AM, Michael D. Stiles <mstiles@...<mailto:mstiles%40calpoly.edu>>wrote:

**


Thanks Jamie for the write-up about the Sage Sparrow split. I came across
this today regarding vocalizations of the group:

http://earbirding.com/blog/archives/3040

The two species may be separable by song, but the subspecies nevadensis
and canescens are not only intermediate in plumage, but in song also.

Mike Stiles
Los Osos



------------------------------------

For everything birding in Santa Barbara County: http://www.sbcobirding.com Yahoo! Groups Links

Jamie Chavez
 

I thought why not ask Mr. Royse about the birds in his photos, so I sent a
message asking for details if he had any to offer. While I may not remember
many of the birds I've seen over the years, when I see one I've
photographed somewhere it often triggers my memory about that specific bird
or where I was when I photographed it. His reply may not clear up issues
related to ID but it is pasted below nonetheless.

--
Jamie Chavez
Santa Maria, CA

------------------------------------


Hi,

I'll try to answer your questions.

I'm pretty sure that they're all identified correctly to the subspecies.
The canescens were taken in different lighting situations and are of 2
different individuals (the last photo being a different bird I think).
Those canescens were all taken in southern Kern County near Maricopa I
think it is (at the famous LeConte's Thrasher spot) and were all singing at
the time. The amount of black on the birds show them to be definitely
canescens and not nevadensis.

All the nominate belli were taken in the Otay Mountain Wilderness in San
Diego County.

The Sagebrush Sparrows were taken in New Mexico on their wintering grounds
at the Bosque del Apache NWR.

I took off exact locations from my website years ago because too many other
photographers started going to the areas I posted, some going as far as
publishing guides where to photograph birds. It especially became a problem
here in Ohio when I would find uncommon passerines on their breeding
grounds.

Bob Royse