Cassin's Sparrow (Aimophila cassinii)
Near Rancho Murieta, Sacramento County, California
28 May 2005
Joseph Morlan

Photos © 28 May 2005 by Joseph Morlan. All rights reserved. Click on images for full size versions.

Today, I decided to check out the singing Cassin's Sparrow which had been found along Latrobe Road, 1.1 miles west of Michigan Bar Road. It was originally found 21 May 2005 by Ed Pandolfino and has been seen almost daily since then. I arrived about 10 AM to find two empty cars with birding stickers parked along the road at the designated spot. I drove about 100 yards further and noticed three birders with scopes down the road, so I parked and joined them. As soon as I arrived, the Cassin's Sparrow flew in and started singing from a barbed wire on the south side of the road. I got a quick view and then it skylarked in full song right over our heads and landed on a wire right in front of us. I got it in my scope and took many photographs while the bird continued to sing quite vigorously. I recognized one of the other birders as Don Schmoldt who introduced me to his wife, Sally Walters. We had spectacular views of the bird for the next 5-10 minutes. It dropped into the grass and disappeared briefly, but returned to the wires on the north side of the road to sing. Finally it flew a good distance to the east towards the original location.


I did not take notes at the time, but concentrated on photography instead. Photos were digiscoped, hand-held, with an Olympus D-550z / Nikon FieldScope 3 / 30XWA.

However from memory and reference to photos I can say this was a large sparrow with a long rounded tail, generally unstreaked underparts, and rather plain sandy plumage. Through the scope I could see distinct dark brown streaking on the flanks and a few dark spots on the sides of the breast. There were no obvious wing-bars, but the back and scapulars clearly showed crescent-shaped dark subterminal bars on each feather and these were most evident on the uppertail coverts.

The bill was fairly long and pinkish with a dark culmen. A strongly angled cutting edge was evident as the bird sang. The rather plain face showed an indistinct eyering and a plain gray area above and behind the eye. The lores showed a faint yellowish coloration. The crown was uniformly streaked throughout without any noticeable median lines. A dark whisker mark was visible just below the malar on either side of the throat. The legs and feet were pink.

The most distinctive feature of this bird was its loud song consisting of a few short low notes followed by a long musical trill followed by a pause and then a series of shorter notes usually going from lower to higher pitch, but sometimes varying into other patterns.


This is the third Cassin's Sparrow I have seen in California. The first was a singing male near South Tufa of Mono Lake, Mono County in late June 1984 and the second was at Stinson Beach, Marin County in September 2004. Detailed discussion of that bird with more information on past records is here. Additional photos and accounts of this bird have been posted to the web as follows:

Update - Added 18 June 2004

The bird was apparently not seen after 30 May. The song was recorded by John Sterling on 22 May. Ed Pandolfino has provided the sonogram (left) based on Sterling's recording. Click on the sonogram to hear an audio clip of the bird's song. Recording © 2005 by John Sterling. All rights reserved.