Year 2000 Public Comments

I love your site
Tim Handle <>
Miami, Florida - Thursday, April 08, 2004 at 13:24:18 (PDT)
I found this site when searching for the info about nightjars. It was very enjoyable visit.
Mark <>
Houston, TX USA - Thursday, March 18, 2004 at 11:00:51 (PST)
A very similar bird was banded on Vancouver Island in the late nineties and keyed out to a Townsend's - Black-throated Gray Cross.
Gavin Bieber <>
Tucson, AZ USA - Saturday, December 06, 2003 at 18:44:57 (PST)
well well I was looking through here to see if I could find these birds that come to my backyard in the mornings and low and behold here they are the Island scrub jay Wow how pretty they are up close and personal they can also run the length of my fence in no time flat LOL but you are right you have to see them to enjoy their size and color what a beauty
Carol <>
El Cajon, CA USA - Saturday, August 17, 2002 at 08:46:24 (PDT)
Its probably a Townsend's Warbler Hybrid
Jeffrey Esker <GreenDay957>
Parkersburg, WV USA - Tuesday, May 21, 2002 at 17:59:20 (PDT)
I live in upstate New York and the mystery blackbird is a female red-winged blackbird. They come to the feeders in my NWF habitat.
Shana Reiley
NY USA - Tuesday, May 14, 2002 at 14:31:51 (PDT)
It looks like the grackles here in Austin
erin sims
Austin, TX USA - Wednesday, November 07, 2001 at 09:25:43 (PST)
Nice site...
wallpapers <>
USA - Wednesday, August 15, 2001 at 18:29:53 (PDT)
Hello all

The right hand bird, picture taken by Don Desjardin, is truely a work! For many years i have been hiding underneath a shed at the end of my garden trying to catch them unawares! I should so like some advice on bird-tography. Have tried laying traps, but then they always look rather agonised, which sort of ruins the atmosphere of the shot?

Claire Marie Deane II <>
Seoul, Korea - Tuesday, May 29, 2001 at 12:30:19 (PDT)
I think it is a Great Tailed Grackle or better known as the Common Grackle. Cuz we have one and I should know.
USA - Sunday, May 13, 2001 at 13:27:18 (PDT)
Could the "Steller's Jay" be a possible hybrid of Steller's and the usual Eastern Blue Jay? Or a Steller's/Mountain strain? Nature does evolve, however slowly.
Lee Anderson <>
Renton, WA USA - Thursday, November 30, 2000 at 08:39:38 (PST)
Could you please send me a picture of a willow flycatcher?
Would really like to know what it looks like. So much controvery over this bird. Thank you, Carole

Carole <>
NM USA - Friday, October 27, 2000 at 10:19:34 (PDT)
Could you identify a pair of ducks that have recently taken up residence on our farm pond in MN? They are larger than a Mallard. Dark brown on bottom fading into dark blue-black on the wings. Red circles around each eye, that are speckled with white. Some white speckling on the blue-black head. Red upper bills near eyes fading into tawny yellow further down. I have been told they may be a cross bewteeen a wild and domestic Mallard, but they sure don't look anything like a Mallard. Thanks, Andrew.
Andrew <>
MN USA - Wednesday, October 04, 2000 at 11:46:14 (PDT)
I recently saw a bird that I can't find a picture of anywhere. It had a wing span of over 3 ft. it was grey with a black face and a reddish neck that looked like it was a pouch. The wings were thin and it was flying very slow and about 4 ft. off the ground. Any ideas as to what it was?
Michelle <>
Kane, pa USA - Sunday, July 16, 2000 at 11:56:25 (PDT)
I stumbled accross the mallard photo posted in the February 2000 mystery birds and have some points to add. This bird is most probably a female mallard showing androgenic tendencies (exhibiting male characters). This plumage shift has been documented in several waterfowl species, and in most cases they aere very old birds or birds with malformed ovaries. We have two specimens at the Museum Wildlfie Fisheries Biology, UC Davis that are identical to the photogrpaphed bird. In addition, a hunter brought a bird in to me last fall that also was identical in plumage and soft body part coloration. Although an old female mallard can exhibit male tendencies it is usually expressed in plumage changes (a result of surpressed female hoemones). I note that the bill in this photo and in the specimens I have examined all maintained a female mallard pattern. We also have an androgenic female Northern Pintail in the collection. If you would like, I have a series of three photos of the androgenic mallard brought in to me last fall. I can forward these if desired.

Andrew Engilis, Jr.
Curator - Museum Wildlife Fisheries Biology
University of California, Davis.

Andrew Engilis, Jr <>
Davis, CA USA - Monday, May 08, 2000 at 17:26:13 (PDT)
I have just recently start looking closely at the birds that are wintering around my place of work. I work in a small town called Sabine Pass, TX. The town is located in the southeast Texas (cannot go any further, or you will end up in the Gulf of Mexico). But I have spotted some Roseate spoonbills (up to 16). My question is that I have spotted these birds that look like a duck. They are all black except for the large white stripe of feathers on its wings. I had researched and thought I had found the name of these birds, but I don't think so now. I kept coming up with the Tufted Duck. But isn't this too far Southeast for them. Please if anyone can give me an answer please do so. I am new at this. Thank you!
Carla Green <>
Lumberton, TX USA - Thursday, April 13, 2000 at 21:09:07 (PDT)
Looking for the name of a white duck [or goose] with a white tuft of feathers on top of the head. Can't find a picture on any website. Any clue as to what it is? I've seen them in Florida & Michigan. Thanks.
Melanie Kaake <>
Ft. Myers, FL USA - Sunday, March 26, 2000 at 08:03:15 (PST)
Juvenile Swainson's Hawk?
Jeremy Burg
Lansing, Mi USA - Thursday, March 02, 2000 at 09:11:15 (PST)
I'm a grad student working with waterfowl. In my past 8 years banding waterfowl, including many mallards, I have run upon weird birds such as this duck. In fact, I ran upon one that looks exactly like the one pictured here in western Alaska. Any idea if this bird was banded?? Anyways, it contained many male mallard (in summer molt) traits, but the bill just wasn't right, not the saddle and spots. But upon a cloacal exam, we decided it was a female. Our guess was that it somehow tried to attain male plumage even though it is female. Maybe the ovary was damaged and some hormonal event occurred?? Who knows? Anyways, I've also seen this in northern pintails and wood ducks. Thanks for the photo!!!!!
Chris Nicolai <>
Fairbanks, AK USA - Thursday, February 24, 2000 at 16:34:17 (PST)
I had been thinking about this duck for some time after posting my original comments, and had remembered discussing ducks which show plumage characters of both sexes with the people from the Patuxent Wildlife Research Lab at the annual waterfowl parts collection surveys I attended for so many years. This kind of thing does happen, and I was trying to get some documentation from the internet, when I went back to Joe's webpage and just read the comments from Mike and Gary. I concur that this duck most likely has an abberant genetic makeup and is exhibiting characters of both sexes.
Bruce Deuel

Bruce Deuel <>
Redding, CA USA - Thursday, February 24, 2000 at 10:48:02 (PST)
XXY pairing occurs when nondisjunction occurs during meiosis. One set of chromosomes does not separate so that two X chromosomes end up in the same egg, or an X and Y chromosome end up in the same sperm. When this abnormal gamete fuses with a normal one the result is XXY. When this happens in humans (Kleinfelter's Syndrome) an abnormal male results. They are tall with underdeveloped testes with a corresponding low level of testosterone and therefore somewhat female-like body contours and possible breast development. I don't know what the exact result is in ducks in general, or Mallards specifically, but it seems like a logical explanation for this duck. This abnormality occurs occurs frequently enough in humans that in 1974 there were about 530,000 in the United States with this abnormality. I don't have any statistics on ducks, but suspect that unlike humans, abnormal wildlife, including ducks probably has a decreased chance of survival. Nature usually weeds out abnormalities, but we tend to preserve them to a certain extent. Ethically this is a good idea, but biologically, I'm not so sure!
Gary Potter <>
Sanger, CA USA - Friday, February 18, 2000 at 21:37:27 (PST)
Well, having taken the duck photo, I am at a bit of an advantage. There has been a lot of talk about Brewer's Duck lately, but this bird is quite different from that (see Rottenborn's photos of a Brewer's Duck on Joe's web site). This duck was larger, being identical in size to the many nearby Mallards. In fact it appeared to be paired with a normal male Mallard. Clearly there is Mallard in this bird;
the question is what else? If you subtract the male Mallard features what is left? A brown streaked face with a darker eyeline, a bill with a pattern like a female Mallard, brown back feathers edged with tan, and a pale undertail. In addition (not really visible in the photo) the red chest is not solid, but underlain with a pattern reminiscent of a female Mallard. In fact, all the traits of the "other" parent appear to be those of a female Mallard. This is also
consistent with the bird's size being the same as that of the other Mallards. Al Jaramillo, who was there with me when I took this picture, hypothesized that the bird might be a female Mallard (since it was paired with a male) that had unusually high levels of some male hormones (perhaps a very old female?). Seems like a reasonable idea.

Mike Rogers

P.S. Just looked at the other comments and I see that the previous comment suggests pure Mallard as well. But what is XXY genetic pairing? Is it frequent? Does it occur with other ducks? More details would be much appreciated.

Mike Rogers <>
Sunnyvale, CA USA - Friday, February 18, 2000 at 17:22:20 (PST)
Nighthawk: Common. The wings are too pointed for a Lesser. The tail does not appeared forked, but that is probably because the bird is holding it tight.

Duck: Full blooded Mallard with XXY genetic pairing. The head looks exactly like a Mallard/Black Duck hybrid, but the bill has the pattern seen with female Mallards and the color of a male. All the patterns would be typical of a male/female Mallard.

Steve Weston <>
Eagan, MN USA - Friday, February 18, 2000 at 12:13:27 (PST)
I was fortunate enough to log on right when the nighthawk called, so I'll go with Common Nighthawk. That's my gut feeling, at least. This one is a good example of when a photo doesn't tell a thousand words! Sometimes, real life is better.

Steve Hampton <>
Davis, CA USA - Wednesday, February 16, 2000 at 12:46:13 (PST)
Aaron Steed <>
Wilmington, NC USA - Tuesday, February 15, 2000 at 20:00:41 (PST)
Contrary to what seems to be popular belief, I would cast my vote for Common Nighthawk. The wings appear way too pointed for Lesser, and the primary slashes too wide and too close to the shoulder. The generally poor quality of the photo makes it difficult to do much with color and pattern on the underparts, though admittedly it looks more buffy and less black-on-white (though evening light can do this). The tail does indeed look squared but it is held too tightly to accurately judge this I think.

The generalization often made that Lessers fly close to the ground and Commons fly higher is nothing more than that, and particularly in migration Lessers will fly quite high, and Commons frequently glide low over the ground. So using this as a point against Lesser for the quiz bird is a good thought but probably not valid.

Evan Obercian

Evan Obercian <>
Tewksbury, NJ USA - Saturday, February 12, 2000 at 06:34:12 (PST)
oh! i forgot to mention that the outer primary thing is disturbing, but I like my other points enough that I'll stick with them for the sake of discussion. ;-)
jimi lee haswell <>
ann arbor, mi USA - Thursday, February 10, 2000 at 18:45:38 (PST)
hi all, no expert here, but I vote for Lesser Nighthawk and my supporting characteristics would be 1) the tail does not look very forked at all, and I think it would show at that angle; 2) the white wing bars don't look like they extend clear across the wing; and 3) the underparts of the wing look like they are two-toned: buffy near the shoulder and body and darker on the rest of the wing (in the National Geo, 3rd Ed. that shows a Lesser). Ironically enough, those are all points that I don't believe anyone else has even mentioned. Hmmm.

Well, that's my two cents!

jimi lee haswell <>
ann arbor, mi USA - Thursday, February 10, 2000 at 18:38:35 (PST)
I tried David Fix's paper trick, and agree that the wing stripe is indeed about halfway between the "wrist" and with tip. Without this measurement, an optical illusion makes it look like the stripe is nearer the tip of the wing. His point is also well taken on the outer most primary. Am I allowed to change my mind? I now feel that this is a Common Nighthawk!
Gary Potter <>
Sanger, CA USA - Wednesday, February 09, 2000 at 12:47:30 (PST)
I can find no reason to believe the nighthawk is not a Common, nor any reason to feel it is a Lesser. The image indicates a sharp-winged nightjar; this effect is caused partly by the outermost primaries being of nearly equal length---whereas a Lesser Nighthawk photographed at this angle should show a shorter outer primary. Contrary to the impressions of previous posters, I feel the anterior edge of the white wingbar DOES actually originate quite near halfway from the bend of the wing to the tip---hold a piece of paper along the edge of the image and pencil three tick-marks, and you'll see for yourself. The wingbar is broad throughout in the manner of a Common. Common Nighthawks often fly near the ground or low over water and could thus be readily captured in such a photograph. The 6/86 BIRDING offers additional info on troublesome nighthawk ID. I think the proponents of Lesser Nighthawk will have to offer more supporting characteristics.

I am struck by the similarity of the apparent hybrid duck to a bird felt to be a Mallard X Gadwall ("Brewer's" Duck) present at Smith River, Del Norte Co., CA several years ago, and agree with others that this seems a likely explanation. Owing to the suffused head pattern, largely Mallard-like expression to nearly all of the plumage, and especially to the well-developed recurved Mallard uppertail coverts, I wonder if this individual is perhaps an F2 backcross. At the same time I would recall that hybridization may create misleading effects and that, unless this creature was produced in a game pen with known parentage, the 'truth' in this case is probably unavailable.

David Fix
Arcata, CA USA - Wednesday, February 09, 2000 at 08:38:16 (PST)
I think that the Nighthawk is a Lesser. The white wing stripe seems to be nearer the wing tip than the wrist. I don't think that the habits of Lesser Nighthawk would prevent a picture like this. They often begin flying at dusk, with enough light for a poorly exposed photo like this one. Also as high as Common's often fly, it might be even less likely to get a decent photo in flight. Just a thought!
The duck is rather intriguing. The face pattern is typical of "Brewer's duck" in Bellrose, but it also resembles the Mallard x American Black Duck shown in the NGS Guide. This past weekend, I took a close look at some Mallards at the San Diego Wild Animal Park. This face pattern was visible (but not this obvious) on some of the "green-heads", with the whitish area looking a slightly paler green than the rest of the head. This may be a typical pattern of Mallard crossed with several other species. It could be a genetic throwback to some ancestral type, or just some other genetic "fowl" up (PUN INTENDED)! I am also intrigued by the undertail coverts which appear to be immaculate white. Is this real or is it an artifact of the angle of the photograph? If real, I think that it eliminates a hybrid with Gadwall, which normally shows even more black in this area than Mallard. Could this be a back cross to a Mallard x Domestic Duck (white Mallard), possibly two or three generations removed. All kinds of weird color forms occur where Mallards and domestics intermingle. Also when hybridization occurs there are often unexpected results, and it may not always be possible to prove which duck this Mallard hybridized with!

Gary Potter <>
Sanger, CA USA - Tuesday, February 08, 2000 at 23:40:02 (PST)
I've been checking out this website regularly since I found it doing research for trips to California in the fall/winter of 98/99. Until now I've simply been an observer because I don't believe my skills are comparable with most who submit comments. Ultimately, it's the duck that has provided the motivation for my comments - but first the nighthawk.

Having grown up on the Canadian prairie (think of a 3 hour drive north from Montana) and having worked in the Toronto area (the north shore of Lake Ontario opposite the northwest corner of New York state) for more than a decade now, I've simply not had any reason to concern myself with differentiating Lesser and Common Nighthawks. Any nighthawk this far north is a Common Nighthawk. Furthermore, I doubt the photographer had any difficulty establishing species given the differences in voice and flight. We're left with more subtle characteristics like the location of the white band across the primaries. The photograph leaves me with the impression that the white band is closer to the tip of the wing than would be expected for a Common Nighthawk. Also, my NG guide seems to suggest that the white band almost crosses the wing on the Common (and this jives with my observations) while the white band on the Lesser is short of crossing the wing (and this jives with the photograph). The illustrations of the wings in the NG guide seem to show white extending to the fifth primary on the Common, while only crossing only four primaries on the Lesser. I don't know whether this is accurate or just me seeing more in the illustrations than I should. Regardless, my vote goes to the Lesser Nighthawk. I have only one doubt - would a bird that is primarily nocturnal and a low flyer present an opportunity for a photograph of this nature? The Common Nighthawk flies higher and more regularly in daylight hours (just a thought).

I've seen more Mallard hybrids in the past couple of years than I had in a decade and a half of watching puddle ducks on the Canadian prairie. Maybe I'm more observant now than in the past. I made a brief stop at Lake Cuyamaca (in the mountains northeast of San Diego) in January of 1999 and found an obvious Mallard hybrid that made me think 'Gadwall?'. The sides were very gray and somewhat barred. Perhaps what I saw was a Brewer's Duck, the Mallard x Gadwall hybrid and one of the candidates for the duck in the photo. Unfortunately, I don't recall the bill on the bird from last year and I took no photos of my own. It is, of course, the bill that concerns me. The bill on the duck in the photo seems quite unique and I know of only one species with anything like it. So, I'm going to go way out on a limb here, perhaps all on my own, and suggest some rare romantic encounter between a Mallard and a Spot-billed Duck in the far north of the west coast produced an offspring that migrated south to California to be observed by many lucky birders. Yes, Mallard x Spot-billed Duck, or perhaps some back cross to bring out more of the Mallard in the plumage. Ignorance makes me brave.

Jim Heffernan

Jim Heffernan <>
Toronto, ON Canada - Saturday, February 05, 2000 at 13:30:14 (PST)
Well, I'll take the simplistic approach to get the ball rolling on the nighthawk. Since the white spot is more than halfway from the "wrist" to the wing tip, I guess Lesser Nighthawk. I feel a little better about the duck. I'd say it was a "Brewer's" Duck, a rather common hybrid of gadwall and mallard, well-illustrated in Kortwright, and, subsequently, Bellrose. However, this bird shows more mallard characters and less gadwall characters than the typical Brewer's Duck.
Bruce Deuel
Red Bluff, CA

Bruce Deuel
USA - Friday, February 04, 2000 at 08:59:59 (PST)
As the person who originally proposed the central CALIF coastal race of Song Sparrow, I think Al Jaramillo's suggestion of the central CALIF coastal form of Savannah Sparrow is also a good suggestion. I basically flipped a coin on these two when making my submission. I went with gut feel rather than by any careful study or individual features.
Nick Lethaby <>
Milpitas, CA USA - Wednesday, January 26, 2000 at 17:20:21 (PST)
Interesting to see Tufted Duck in Minnesota. Saw it in Denmark in 1974. Tuft quite easily available here. Side was dull white and full of black spots. Bill gray with black tip. I didn't see the white on the bill.
Forest Strnad <>
Faribault, MMN USA - Wednesday, January 26, 2000 at 07:54:26 (PST)
Hi all:


There have been some difficult beasties on this site before, but I think the Emberizid in the Jan 2000 quiz takes the cake (and the platter, and the serving knife, etc.).

I have been fascinated by the various guesses provided by some very strong birders. I first looked at this picture a while back and was stumped, so left it alone for a while. I just came back to it today and adopted the mindset that I would not let this thing beat me, like the wren did last month! However, I believe that the bird wins this fight by knockout. I commiserate with Dave Fix -- I'm stumped!

However, I'll go through my mental process in hopes that it will help others find the answer. As preliminary info, I've got extensive experience with all species so far proposed as the answer, with the exception of Little Bunting. This includes lots (>50) of Baird's Sparrows in winter in Mexico and in-hand experience with most of the species, though very little for some. I will list the pros for each species, but do most of my discussion in the "CONS" section. All species mentioned below had to first pass the obvious tests of having pink legs and rufous in the secondaries and greater secondary coverts. Secondarily, they had to have come to my mind as options and/or have been mentioned by others as possibilities. This is quite a bit longer than most posts to this forum, so I apologize for that up front. Here goes.

Vesper Sparrow (VESP), considering only the two western races (confinis and affinis) due to the paleness of the head and upperparts - I think nominate gramineus is ruled out on those counts:
PROS: Chunkiness, tail length, overall pattern, lower part of ear surround, malar, tertial pattern, bill color and pattern
CONS: VESP should hardly have any post-ocular stripe, much less a whacking wide one as shown by the quiz bird; prominence of wingbars is okay (but at the extreme for width and brightness?) for a bird in Basic I, but are too white and obvious for a bird in Definitive Basic; tertial color is incorrect in my experience - tertials should be edged in rufous, not white, but I am always amazed at how rufous, buff, and white seem to be somewhat interchangeable in birds, often due to wear and fading; eye ring does not look prominent enough, but the angle of view might be wreaking havoc with that field mark; the streaking on the flanks is definitely too strong for a juvenile and is on the edge of being too strong for a bird in Basic - I do not think that this streaking is a point against VESP; primary projection looks a wee bit too short, but if the bird were in Basic I (with the typically-shorter primaries of youngsters), then this could work

Lark Sparrow (LASP), considering only Juvenal plumage, as Basic is easily eliminated:
PROS: wing pattern, tail pattern and length, ear surround shape and width, bill color and pattern, auriculars coloration
CONS: wingbars are way too broad and white for LASP; LASP has a pre-ocular stripe that is lacking in the quiz bird; tertial coloration (with the above caveat); flank streaking is much too strong; plumage does not have the look and texture of Juvenal; primary projection

Savannah Sparrow (SAVS, to separate from Sage - SAGS - which this bird is obviously not):
PROS: strong flank streaking; maybe the shape and width of ear surround, though this character is variable across the many subspecies (quite a few of which I have not knowingly seen); tail pattern
CONS: wingbars are much too strong for any form or plumage that I have seen of SAVS (except for possibly Ipswich, which probably won't occur in CA); tail looks a bit too long; head pattern in total is wrong, though individual races of SAVS show various single characters of the quiz bird (so, having not seen all races, I cannot completely trust this impression); tertial pattern and coloration are not quite right, as SAVS shows only very thin edgings; primary projection

Baird's Sparrow (BAIS)
PROS: ear surround shape, overall head pattern, tertial pattern, tail pattern, eye ring, primary projection, situation - though all the species here considered are readily findable in this situation of bare dirt and plants, in my experience with BAIS in Mexico, they are almost always first flushed from the edges of small patches of bare ground in which they seem to forage at the bases of the plants forming the edge of the bare patch CONS: back pattern does not show either the broad, white braces (which is what is usually noticed on a bird in flight) or the scaling formed by pale fringes to most back feathers (which is what is usually seen on a bird perched) that are typical of BAIS - however, the back feathers seem to be "mussed up", thus precluding absolute confidence in the pattern shown; the tail looks too long; tertial coloration is wrong (but see above caveat); flank streaking looks too strong, but the near wing looks a bit elevated, thus exposing more of the flanks than birds often show, thus exposing more flank streaking that is often hidden by the drooped wings of foraging Emberizids

Song Sparrow (SOSP)
PROS: strong flank streaking, shape and width of ear surround, primary projection, wing length
CONS: though I may not have included as many PROS as others, I just don't see this bird being a SOSP (though I've been wrong about statements like this before!) - the head coloration is wrong (the auriculars are virtually always gray or gray-tinged), the tail looks too short, the wingbars and tertial fringes are much too wide, bill coloration, the base color of the flanks is too white, lores are pale on the quiz bird - SOSP has a pre-ocular stripe

Little Bunting (LIBU)
PROS: ear surround shape, auriculars coloration (?), eye ring (?)
CONS: flank streaking (according to my guides) should be thinner, tertial pattern, primary projection (quiz bird shows almost no primary length beyond the tertials), bill coloration

I believe that primary projection is a very useful clue in many difficult species identifications and one that I, like most other North American birders, don't use to full advantage. And, for photos, it's a character that is often readily discerned. Unless the quiz bird is still growing its outer primaries, this character alone rules out many of the possibilities. So, all in all, I believe that the two best candidates are VESP and BAIS, two species that one would never actually confuse in the field! So, I apparently am leaning toward VESP, but since I could easily be missing something and since my knowledge of subspecific and individual variation is obviously incomplete, I am not at all convinced that this is the right choice.

Tony Leukering <>
Brighton, CO USA - Tuesday, January 25, 2000 at 17:12:08 (PST)

After David Fix wrote to say how far out in left field I was, I've reconsidered and withdraw the idea of Baird's Sparrow. Back pattern is critical and Al Jaramillo is exactly right on face pattern. Baird's is ruled out. Now, in looking through my slide collection, I find a very bright Savannah from the interior in Oct that has the same tertial and greater covert pattern; that has the flank streaks and tail edging; and that has the dramatic facial pattern. So now I agree Savannah is the best choice, but I would opt for the interior race "nevadensis" and not "beldingi" or any coastal race. Thanks David & Al.
Don Roberson <>
Pacific Grove, CA USA - Sunday, January 23, 2000 at 09:39:35 (PST)

The sparrow is very intreaguing. I don't think its a Vesper. The flank streaking is too wide, primary extension too (?) long, face pattern incorrect, malar too wide etc. I also do not think its a Baird's, particularly because Baird's lack a post-ocular stripe which reaches the eye. I think its either a Song or Savannah Sparrow. The folded secondaries do not look rusty enought for Song, however. Also, the upper tertial is too white edged, and the wing bars too strong for Song. The tail looks too short for Song. I think this could be a bit of an oddball Savannah. The tertial pattern is good, Savannahs have a strongly white edged (when fresh!!) upper tertial (S9). Also the pink legs fit, as does the overall face pattern, albeit this mark looks better for Song Sparrow. There is very little of the white 'suspenders' usually shown by Savannah Sparrows in this photo, and that concerns me. The wing bars are too strong for an average SAvannah, but this is a very fresh bird. To aleviate some concerns I have about general plumage contrast, I am going to hypothesize that this could be a coastal California Savannah Sparrow, a Belding's or "near Belding's". This is why it is so dark on the back, appears to lack a pale central crown stripe, and shows no yellow on the supralores. But then again, maybe its a Vesper :-)

tough one.

Alvaro Jaramillo <>
Half Moon Bay, CA USA - Saturday, January 22, 2000 at 17:49:41 (PST)
With all the caveats about single photos being misleading, I think the sparrow is likely a Baird's Sparrow. I am most impressed by the tertial pattern: all black-centered, upper tertial broadly edged white, middle tertial with a large indentation in middle and then red washed from there to base, and lower tertial broadly edged red. Also consistent are the flank streaks; the greater covert pattern (outers black-centered but inners buff-centered); the rusty-edged secondaries; much black on back and on tail; the face pattern (double malar pattern plus black "anchor" at upper back edge of auriculars; bill size & color; and the thin white edges to outer rectrices. Shape also looks fine to me, and the bird is not dumpy in the Song Sp category, nor big-headed & long-tailed like Vesper (not to mention way to dark & contrasty), and I don't think Savannah ever gets this dark-backed. What I don't particularly like is the lack of a scaly look to the back, but perhaps the feathers are disarranged. I admit to reviewing my own slides of a juv. Baird's Sparrow at Pt. Loma, San Diego, taken in Oct 1981, for comparison. The tertial & wing patterns are consistent with that bird, but the back looks different. However, it might be that bird taken on a different day after a wet night or something. For what its worth.
Don Roberson <>
Pacific Grove, CA USA - Tuesday, January 18, 2000 at 08:32:00 (PST)
The tanager has got to be a western- anybody ever seen either of the other pale-billed species perching on a telephone pole support wire (or whatever it is)? Westerns aren't so finicky. And just a note; I don't think those are median coverts that folks keep pointing out as median coverts, I think they're underwing coverts, and if they're really yellow, it's further evidence, along with the honker of a bill, against scarlet tanager.

I don't wanna put my foot in it by saying "that can't possibly be a vesper sparrow,' but can that possibly be a vesper sparrow? Has anyone ever seen one that dark, with secondaries that red, with breast streaks that distinct and wide, and malar streak and auricular border that black? I'm thinking song sparrow, I guess... but it's definitely odd looking as it shows up on my monitor.

Randy Moore <>
Auburn, AL USA - Monday, January 17, 2000 at 18:35:47 (PST)
I think I'll join the VESP crowd for several reasons (and after much thought). First, the bird does indeed look like a Song at first glance, but the bold wingbars, short tail (with no hint of reddish, but instead fairly bold whitish edgings, wrong for Song), pinkish bill (maybe consistent for juv, but any other plumage should have a much grayer/horn-colored bill), and the straight dark centers to the tertials, not angled in as on Song.

Savannah Sparrow is another that came to mind, but the face pattern does not seem right to me (especially the lack of any bold lateral crown stripes), and again the wingbars seem too bold. Many races also have darker lores than this bird (ie more of a transocular stripe as opposed to simply a postoc). The primary extension is perhaps short even for SASP?

I would be inclined to call this a juv Vesper Sparrow, which I think could explain the apparent broad supercillium, the very washed out and plain nape/sides of neck, the whiter wingbars, etc. The hint of chestnut coming in on the auriculars may indicate molt into first-basic, as the juvs I have seen have shown no color in this area.

The tanager looks like a Western - big bill, dark wings/tail, and oh yeah, I think I can see one yellow median covert on either wing.

Nice quiz bird!

Evan W Obercian <>
Tewksbury, NJ USA - Monday, January 17, 2000 at 06:16:26 (PST)
This is definitely not a Vesper Sparrow. The eyebrow is way too strong and wide, and all the streaking is way too broad and bold. Vesper Sparrow would be plainer, with a pale spot in front of the eye rather than the big eyebrow. Vesper would also have a white eye-ring, and much finer streaking, especially on the flanks.

My first impression was Song/Savannah Sparrow. I'd say the tail is too short for Song Sparrow. I'm calling this a Savannah Sparrow. You can never be sure which subspecies though...

Derek Hill <>
Richardson, TX USA - Sunday, January 16, 2000 at 08:11:57 (PST)
I looked at this bird the first time several days ago and was quite surprised that a couple of posts were leaning in favor of Vesper Sparrow. I have seen lots of Vesper Sparrows in both the West and Midwest and can't recall seeing one with such dark broad streaks along the lower flanks or an obvious post-ocular stripe like this bird appears to have. One of the characteristics that always strikes me on Vespers is the rather plain auriculars and post ocular area that accentuates the eyering. What flank streaking that Vespers have is usually paler and very fine.

I have to agree with those that feel the bird is a Savannah.
Much of the overall pattern of the face and upperparts is very consistent with Savannah. To me the tail looks shortish and narrow (not as long as on a Vesper). Another subtlety is the legs. They look pale like and seem too long relative to the body size which to me is also suggestive of Savannah.

The large looking bill is another feature pointing towards Savannah and away from an odd Siberian bunting.

Dave Irons <>
Eugene, OR USA - Friday, January 14, 2000 at 21:12:50 (PST)
After taking a second look at the "sparrow" I'm certain that my first wild guess as Little Bunting is wrong. The bill is much too large for a bunting. I don't think the bird is a Vesper Sparrow. The large eye and prominant eye ring are just not there. Also, the Vesper's I see in the San Joaquin Valley are much paler, like the picture in the NGS field guide. It may be a Savannah, they do show a lot of variation, but it doesn't look quite right. I must admit I'm stumped too!
Gary Potter <>
Sanger, CA USA - Wednesday, January 12, 2000 at 22:18:49 (PST)
I have puzzled over this dumb sparrow for some time and am unsure what it is. If the bird were to be seen in life, it would easily identified. If it's a Vesper, then the image is surely misleading because to my eye it doesn't look like one. The colors are intense and very contrasty in the back, and the dark eyeline seems way too strong behind the eye, so that the big old Vesper Sparrow eye is not isolated. While the pattern of the auriculars suggests Vesper, I recall Vesper as having two dark smudges mostly on the back portion of this region, not connecting so boldly across the bottom...could some of the darkness there be due to wind-fluff shadow? It might have chestnut lesser coverts, but the scaps are partly drooped across those feathers and are obscuring them [...can we use the shape and pattern of the scaps as an ID mark separating the two??] The whole (visible) bird looks too weedy-patterned. I think the tail is a touch short as well. I'm shrugging. I think I'll throw my life savings after Savannah Sparrow. Judging from the habitat, I'll guess the photographer was really after shorebirds and decided to immortalize this just for Joe. If it's a Song Sparrow, it's wholly unlike any that I see around Humboldt. Nice quiz bird. This Chump Is Stumped.
David Fix
Arcata, CA USA - Tuesday, January 11, 2000 at 17:33:59 (PST)
Greetings All

When I first looked at this month's quiz, I thought "yeah, that's a Vesper Sparrow." But a friend just prodded me into taking another look, and I think that Vesper Sparrow is not the right ID.

When I first looked at the quiz bird, I did have an uneasy feeling that the face pattern did not look quite right. This is because a) the supercilium behind the eye is much too prominent; b) the eyering seems a bit dull; and c) the dark rear auricular border does not curl back into the pale auricular interior. This is a hard image to describe, but look at the photos in the Master Guide which show this mark nicely. In my experience, the great majority of Vesper Sparrows show this mark -- a trait not shared by any other North American sparrow. Other factors pointing away from Vesper is that the back is a bit too contrastingly marked dark and light, and the rear flank streaking is a bit too blackish.

What other options- Song Sparrow, as suggested by Nick Lethaby, is not a bad thought. The bill seems too pale, the auricular pattern seems somewhat off, and the supercilium looks too bright behind the eye (as well as the bold wingbars, as Nick pointed out). I think that the bird in question is a Savannah Sparrow. The wingbars do seem awfully bold for a Savannah and the tail seems a bit long (and perhaps edged white), but the rest of the bird looks fairly typical. The wingbars do bother me somewhat, but I would go with Savannah Sparrow on this bird.

Best Wishes and Good Cheer
Steve Mlodinow

Steven Mlodinow <>
Everett, WA USA - Tuesday, January 11, 2000 at 16:18:17 (PST)
On Jan. 8 at Camp Pendleton, I was fortunate to see a Vesper Sparrow perched in a willow (yes, perched). It was in good light and showed the rusty coverts. Although this field mark is not visible in the sparrow photo, the wing bars, white outer tail feathers and facial markings lead me to believe the mystery sparrow is a Vesper.
Robbie Fischer <>
Laguna Beach, CA USA - Tuesday, January 11, 2000 at 13:05:24 (PST)
I think the tanager is probably a Western. The dark tail eliminates Summer. The bill looks as if it could be the pale pinkish-yellow typical of Western, which I understand is not typical of Hepatic or Scarlet. However, I know next to nothing about fem/imm Scalet Tanagers.

I'm not sure why the sparrow may not be one the Song Sparrows that occurs around San Francisco Bay, although it may be the photo looks darker than the real bird. However, I would agree that the apparently whitish wing-bars would support an as a Vesper Sparrow rather than any subspecies of Song Sparrow.

Nick Lethaby <>
Milpitas, CA USA - Friday, January 07, 2000 at 12:41:05 (PST)
Concerning the sparrow: long tertials with very little primary projection, and the darkish maxilla with fleshy pink mandible support the other plumage characteristics of Vesper Sparrow. The whitish edges of the median and greater coverts are usually much more conspicuous than the rufous lesser coverts, just as in this photo. It's about location again: where I'm from, I'd never think to consider a bunting, but Vespers are common. They are also dark like this one, not pale like that sad little Vesper in the latest Nat. Geo. guide. I think the bill shape appears too big and curvy for a bunting. Also, the internal dark markings in the tertials look solid, or straight edged, not indented as in Little Bunting.
Matthew Kenne <>
Algona, IA USA - Tuesday, January 04, 2000 at 20:15:45 (PST)
First I would like to comment on last month's wren. I think that Matthew Kenne hit the nail on the head when he said that we tend to identify things on the basis of habitat and what is expected there. So I was led astray by the brush which the bird was perched in. I did consider both Marsh Wren and Sedge Wren, but decided that the habitat was wrong. In view of the fact that nearly everyone else opted for either Marsh or Sedge. I think that my choice of Bewick's (which I wasn't really satisfied with) was in error. I think that the bird was most likely a Sedge Wren.

Now for my first comments for the last year of the 20th century (even though most newcasters think that it's already over):
As for the January birds I think that the bird on the left is a Western Tanager. The heavy whitish bill looks like a typical Tanager, but obviously not Hepatic. The yellow under parts could be any of the typical North American Tanagers, as could the greenish olive upper parts. The dark wings and tail would seem to eliminate Summer Tanager, and there appears to be a whitish or pale yellow upper wing bar which is rather wide. Thus eliminating all but Western Tanager. It could be a first fall male or an adult female.
I think that the right hand bird is a Little Bunting. The crown is not visible, but the dark lines on the crown, the whitish supercilium, with a hint of buffy, the buffy auricular patch which is outllined with dark blackish brown, and light area which appear to be present at the rear of the auricular, all point to Little Bunting. The wings also appear to be similar to those of a Little Bunting, especially the rusty secondaries. The whitish streaked underparts also seem to fit Little Bunting. The only thing that bothers me is that the tertials seem to be heavily bordered in white, more so than should be shown by Little Bunting, but all of the other characteristics seem to add up to Little Bunting.

Gary W. Potter <>
Sanger, CA USA - Tuesday, January 04, 2000 at 14:53:11 (PST)