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Saturday, July 12, 2014

Laguna Meadows Trail: Birds Crested, Headed and Chinned in Black

[Big Bend National Park, TX. June 2014]

Black is a popular adjective in the descriptive nomenclature of bird species. Thus we have a Chickadee and a Vireo that are "Black-capped"; a Whistling Duck and a Plover that are "Black-bellied"; a Cuckoo and a Magpie that are "Black-billed"... and, the list goes on with the most popular combination being "Black-throated" (of which we have 4 distinct species, suffixed in: Blue Warbler, Green Warbler, Grey Warbler, and Sparrow).

This post will cover 3 species with some aspect of their features described as "Black-" in their common names: Black-headed Grosbeak, Black-chinned Sparrow and Black-crested Titmouse (all recently observed at Big Bend National Park).

Our first bird is the stunning Black-headed Grosbeak -- belonging to the Cardinalidae, this is a typical grosbeak in rich cinnamon with a black head, back and wings. The latter show white patches while yellow hues feature on the belly and the underwing (see photo below).

 Black-headed Grosbeak seen on the Laguna Meadows Trail

The song of the male Black-headed Grosbeak is akin to that of the American Robin but sweeter and more softly modulated. 

 Black-headed Grosbeak seen on the Laguna Meadows Trail
Black-headed Grosbeaks range from Mexico to Southwest Canada and from the Pacific Coast to the Great Plains in woodland habitat. At Big Bend National Park, they were found in the Chisos Mountains with the Laguna Meadows Trail being especially productive.

The Black-headed Grosbeak's Eastern twin is the Rose-breasted Grosbeak. Both are closely related but geographically separated. Where their ranges do overlap (in the Great Plains), they will sometimes hybridize. The females of the species are indistinguishable.

Black-chinned Sparrow seen on the Laguna Meadows Trail

Moving from "headed" to "chinned" -- the Black-chinned Sparrow is a fabulous grey sparrow found mainly in 4 of our Western states ranging from West Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California.

Black-chinned Sparrow seen on the Laguna Meadows Trail
The bill is pink and the trademark chin (and forehead) are black. The tail is long and deeply notched while the back shows elegant brown streaking. At this time of year, the male is singing and its distinctive "spinning coin" song rings in the air.

Black-crested Titmouse seen on the Laguna Meadows Trail
The Black-crested Titmouse is another Texan specialty -- found in the US only in this state. A drab, grey bird, the prominent black crest helps distinguish it from the otherwise similar Tufted Titmouse with which it genetically diverged a quarter million years ago.

Big Bend National Park is richly endowed with a variety of habitats and the extensive trail system offers wonderful opportunities for exploration. One of the jewels in the trail system is the Laguna Meadows Trail as attested by the species profiled here.

Bonus bird: On the way down from the top of Boot Canyon on the Pinnacles Trail, a couple of corvids, hued in delicate baby blue, were observed in fading light: Mexican Jays:

Mexican Jay observed on the Pinnacles Trail

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