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Monday, March 28, 2016

Familiar Songbirds of the West featuring Mountain Bluebird and Lark Sparrow

[California. March 2016]

A recent trip to California yielded a refreshing assortment of mostly familiar songbirds -- sparrows and thrushes that this blogger has had the good fortune to enjoy previously. On the subject of the "familiar", however, it is universally acknowledged that "familiarity breeds contempt" (an idiom that first finds written mention in Chaucer's works from the 1300's).  

Nevertheless, whatever its origin, we must assume that whoever coined this expression certainly could not have been a birder. For, all birders know that every observation of a species, even one thoroughly familiar, offers an opportunity to reacquaint, to refresh and to discover anew -- be it a revelation about avian identification, or behavior or habitat. Surely then, "contempt" would be a quality wholly unknown to a mind thus engaged in discovery and observation.

We review, then, this assortment of Western songbirds -- comprising the following thrushes and sparrows:
  • Mountain Bluebird
  • Western Bluebird
  • Hermit Thrush
  • Lark Sparrow
  • Savannah Sparrow
  • Song Sparrow
  • White-crowned Sparrow
  • Dark-eyed Junco [Oregon]
  • California Towhee 
We lead with the thrushes and the incomparable Mountain Bluebird:

Mountain Bluebird seen at Ramona Grasslands, San Diego Co.
Mountain Bluebird in winter plumage shows only a hint of the cerulean blue that it sports in Summer. It is otherwise pale and grey -- lacking the rusty coloration of the Western Bluebird. A mixed flock of both Mountain Bluebirds and Western Bluebirds at Ramona Grasslands allowed for close comparison of these lovely thrushes.
Western Bluebird is a deeper blue and the breast is rusty while the belly is white:

Western Bluebird seen at Cuesta Park
Western Bluebird seen at Ramona Grasslands
Western Bluebirds are found in a wide distribution in the American West -- having previously found mention in this blog when reporting from Arizona in the company of Grace's Warbler, Yellow-eyed Junco, and Hutton's Vireo.

Western Bluebird seen at Byxbee Park

As testament to our earlier thesis on discovering anew amidst the familiar, this particular observation was noteworthy for the first time that this blogger has captured the brilliant back view (above) of this amazingly colorful thrush.

Our final thrush is Hermit Thrush -- the back view facilitating observation of the "rusty tail" that is diagnostic:

Hermit Thrush seen at Ramona Grasslands, San Diego Co.
Moving on to sparrows, a distinctly marked songbird with chestnut cheeks and black whiskers alights on a branch:

Lark Sparrow seen at Ramona Grasslands, Wildflower Loop

This most unusual of sparrows is the Lark Sparrow -- its many unique characteristics having earned the Lark Sparrow its own genus.
The next sparrow is one of our most widespread: Savannah Sparrow:

Savannah Sparrow seen at Ramona Grasslands
Contrary to popular belief, this sparrow is not named "Savannah" for its affinity for grasslands and fields; instead the moniker stems from the place in Georgia that yielded the type specimen of the species.
Like the Savannah Sparrow, Song Sparrow is also distributed widely across the US:

Song Sparrow seen at Baylands

Next, White-crowned Sparrow is a common wintering species seen in the West:

The new world family of sparrows includes not just sparrows but also Juncos and Towhees and the former are some of our most delicate and fine-looking songbirds:

Dark-eyed Junco (Oregon race), Seen at Cuesta Park.
Dark-eyed Junco has several sub-species -- the one observed on this trip was the Oregon race which has a black hood, and brown back and flanks. Compare to the slate-colored race seen in the Eastern US, eg., in Michigan.
Finally, towhees are large sparrows found across the US; save for one, all other Towhee species are in the Western US -- such as this California Towhee:

California Towhee seen at Ramona Grasslands

From incomparable thrushes like the Mountain Bluebird to unusual sparrows such as Lark Sparrow, songbirds like these encountered in the West, offer new vistas for discovery and appreciation to the intrepid birder.

1 comment:

Bob Pelkey said...

The feeding behavior of the Mountain Bluebird made an indelible impression when observed at of all places between Miami and Naples, Hemant. Thank you for the reminder of that beautiful creature's predictable nature.