Saturday, January 31, 2015

Winter Sparrows in Review

One of our birding accomplishments this year has been learning to identify and to find the sparrows that frequent Texas in the winter. Below is a summary of the species we were able find this past year. Some of the field marks I describe are paraphrased from Sibley Guide to Birds, 2nd ed.

Small Sparrows 5" - 6"

Chipping Sparrow (CHSP) - We have seen this bird in most of the locations we have visited though it rarely makes a showing in our yard.  The face is dominated by a bold eye-stripe running though a broken white eye-ring to the lores. It has a streaked rufous crown and a weak dark mustache.With a pink bill and buffy tone, this is a non breeding adult seen at Doeskin Ranch.

Clay-Colored Sparrow (CCSP) - This bird was seen along the Limpia Trail in Davis Mountains SP. This is a species we are not confident of, especially as it is marked as migratory in DMSP. However, the park ranger reported a CCSP in the same area. It is described as having broad pale eye-ring and pale lores, strong broad dark mustache, buffy breast band, gray nape, brown edging on covert feathers. I am keen on getting alternate suggestions for this bird.

Field Sparrow (FISP) - Our first sighting of this bird was at Doeskin Ranch, and we have seen it at Tejas Camp and South Llano SP since. This bird has a pronounced full white eye-ring on a plain face with indistinct pale rufous crown and eye-stripe, and a buffy unmarked breast,

Black-Throated Sparrow (BTSP) - This bird, seen at South Llano SP, has been a regular sight every time we have visited that park. The only other place we have seen it is Seminole Canyon SP. Its habit is primarily arid desert scrub. It has a smooth gray crown and back transitioning to brown wing coverts and tail. A gray-black auricular patch and bold black black throat bib are separated by strong, wide white mustache stripe and supercilium. The eye has a white half-arc.

Savannah Sparrow (SASP) - The bird below was our first sighting. It was seen at the soil conservation dam west of Meadow Lake in Round Rock. It is similar to the Vesper Sparrow, with crisp streaks on breast and back and a distinct yellow patch on supralore.

Grasshopper Sparrow (GRSP) - This bird below, the only one we have seen, was at Doeskin Ranch. This bird has a complete, bold, white eye-ring. It has an open face pattern with small eye-line and a distinct orange supralore patch. The back has a complex pattern of rufous spots set off with white trim. Breast is buffy with indistinct striping on sides.

Lincoln's Sparrow (LISP) - We first recognized this bird at Davis Mountains SP and have now found it in many locations, typically alone and near water. It has a broad gray supercilium and nape with buffy malar patch and eye-ring, and a crisp, finely streaked breast and flanks. Upper breast and flanks have a buffy wash over cream base.

Swamp Sparrow (SWSP) - Recent bird for us, first seen at the "striped sparrow stakeout" and once again at Hornsby Bend.  Solid rufous wing coverts, tan flanks, bold tan and black strips on back, white belly, gray lightly streaked breast, gray supercilium and nape, rufous crown and eye-stripe. At quick glance, it gives the impression of gray on the front half and rufous/tan on the back half. Both observation have been in a marshy area or near a river bank.

Medium Sparrows 6"-7"

Rufous Crowned Sparrow (RCSP) - We first saw this bird in the Balcones Canyon Lands NWR during the late spring. We saw it again over Christmas along the Limpia trail in Davis Mountains SP. This bird has a pronounced white eyering, rufous crown with median stripe, pale malar with narrow dark lateral throat stripe, rufous eyestripe, and plain gray breast.

Cassin's Sparrow (RCSP) - This bird we only saw once at Seminole Canyon SP, perched as shown on some brush in the scrub desert. I am still not positive of the identification but the habitat is correct and the song I recorded for this bird matches closely the TX song in the Sibley iPhone app. Described as having a pale eye-ring, finely streaked crown, distinct narrow lateral throat-stripe, indistinct supercilium, fine streaks on flanks, sides, and breast, speckled on back.

Vesper Sparrow (VESP) - We have seen this bird once, at Tejas Camp in Georgetown. This bird has a solid white eye-ring. It has a streaked chest and back, broad cream malar with dark mustache and lateral throat stripe.

Lark Sparrow (LASP) - This bird below was seen Doeskin Ranch on a very hot afternoon so it has extended itself out and looks emaciated. The face has a very distinct pattern with a brownish burgundy crown and auricular patch, strong thin black lateral throat stripe, mustache stripe, and eye-line are set off with white throat, malar, and supercilium as well as patch under the eye. The effect is a Harlequin pattern.

Song Sparrow (SOSP) - We first identified this bird at Seminole Caynon SP. This one is a more recent sighting at Balmorhea SP. There is a large degree of color variation in this species. Most have boldly streaked breast and flanks with a convergence in central breast.Typically a thick triangular lateral throat stripe.

White-Throated Sparrow (WTSP) - First identified at Limpia Trail, shown below; we have now seen it once in our backyard and elsewhere. This adult is hard to mistake. It has a small white throat patch and malar framed by the gray breast and auriculars, broad light colored supercilium and black or brown crown. The most notable feature is the striking broad, yellow supralore. Looks like it has bushy yellow eyebrows.

Large Sparrows 7"-8"

Fox Sparrow (FOSP) - We first saw this bird at South Llano SP. This one is from a recent visit to Tejas Camp. This species has several color variations; this one is the Red (Taiga) variety. It has a yellow bill with dark upper surface. The head and nape are gray with light supralore. Crown, auriculars, and broad lateral throat stripe are rufous. Eye has white, split eye-ring. The back has rufous stripes on gray background whereas the breast has distinct rufous stripes and spots on a white background. At first glance, I have several times thought this was a hermit thrush.

Harris's Sparrow (HASP) -  First seen at Tejas Camp, shown here, and then again at the "striped sparrow stakeout". This non-breeding adult has orange bill, black mottled crown, forehead, and throat bib. Remainder of face is a more plain tan. Breast is white with some spotting on the sides. Back  and coverts tan and black striped with white wing bars. The coloration on the head reminds me of an executioner's mask.

White-Crowned Sparrow (WCSP) - First seen at South Llano SP. This bird from Tejas Camp. Adult shown has orange pink bill, black crown with broad white median stripe, broad white supercillium and finer black eye-line. Juvenile is similarly patterned but with rufous/brown crown and eye-line and tan median stripe and supercilium. The juvenile, shown in the second picture, can be difficult to distinguish from a chipping sparrow in isolation. Breast is plain gray, transitioning to tan flanks. Head striping of adult looks like a chain-gang hat.

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