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Saturday, August 13, 2016

Remarkable Little Brown Jobs of Southeastern Arizona

[SEAZ. August 2016]

LBJ's (Little Brown Jobs) connote exactly what their acronym implies -- nondescript, plain looking passerines that invite, at most, apathy from the observer, and, in the rare event of the contrary, they manage only to stir just enough interest so as to cause confusion in identification. The perils of observing LBJ's are indeed legendary!

Yet, not all LBJ's are created equal -- some of these oft overlooked species -- especially those found in Southeastern Arizona -- can hide some interesting facts behind their plain exterior.

A flash excursion to Madera Canyon resulted in the observation of the following species:

The LBJ's:
  • Cassin's Sparrow
  • Botteri's Sparrow
  • Rufous-crowned Sparrow
  • Black-throated Sparrow
  • Spotted Towhee 
Other Species:
  • Curve-billed Thrasher
  • Phainopepla
  • Pyrrhuloxia
  • Cactus Wren
  • Gambel's Quail
 We start with our sparrows (in increasing order of visual features):

Looking at the above, which marking could any birder possibly find diagnostic?

Indeed, the absence of any conspicuous visible markings is itself a hint that this LBJ is Cassin's Sparrow. Found from Nebraska to Mexico, this sparrow shows a buff supercilium, dark markings on the back, and a pale throat. 

The best clue, however, is through song and not sight. Behavioral markers are also important -- Cassin's Sparrow is renowned for its dramatic skylarking behavior -- the males fly up and then float straight down on wings affixed while engaged in gravity-defying song. A sight that shall be treasured by all those who are fortunate enough to witness it!

Our next sparrow shall perhaps prove to be equally unknown to most readers of this blog:

Greyer than Cassin's, this is Botteri's Sparrow which, like Cassin's, was observed in the grasslands leading up to Madera Canyon.

Formerly extirpated from Arizona, this LBJ has made a comeback to the US where it can be seen in a very restricted range in SEAZ and in the RGV region of Texas.

More familiar, perhaps, is Rufous-crowned Sparrow:

Coincidentally, there is an oblique relationship between this sparrow and Cassin's Sparrow -- the latter's namesake (John Cassin) is the former's discoverer! 

The preceding LBJ's are relatively plain, but our next sparrow -- the Black-throated Sparrow -- is the LBJ that's barely qualifies as such -- it is quite unmistakable:

Unlike the Black-throated Sparrow, but like the Rufous-crowned, the Spotted Towhee is a sparrow that is seen in SEAZ in hilly habitat:

That concludes the LBJ's -- other species seen in SEAZ were:

Curve-billed Thrasher:



Cactus Wren -- this is a yard bird in SEAZ!

Finally, Gambel's Quail:

LBJ's can visit a storm of identification uncertainty upon unsuspecting birders -- yet, the intrepid birder will not see these as storm clouds of confusion but of opportunity

And, iconic LBJ's such as Botteri's Sparrow and Cassin's Sparrow, once mastered, are verily stripes of achievement in the school of birding in the field.

1 comment:

Bob Pelkey said...

Your blog will certainly be utilized as an identification resource for the future LBJ's encountered, Hemant. It's a pleasant surprise that you made a "flash excursion" to SEAZ last week. While you must have had great exhilaration in finding Botteri's Sparrow, I found your documentation of the Cactus Wren in its second image presented especially rewarding. Fun reading here as always.