Date: Thu, 13 Feb 1997 01:19:49 -0500
From: Louis Bevier 
Subject: [BIRDWG01] Fox Sparrow call notes

Late last fall, Mark Szantyr found a Fox Sparrow in Connecticut that was
not of the iliaca group. The bird was well described but not photographed.
His notes depict a bird that fits the characters of the subspecies
altivagans or nominate unalaschensis. Most interesting was his description
of the call note as "choink" something that attracted him to the bird in
the first place. This call note, heard several times, was said to be very
different from the Brown Thrasher-like smack of iliaca, with which he is
familiar.

Kimball Garrett and Jon Dunn have noted the different calls of the Fox
Sparrow groups, with California birds of the megarhyncha group giving a
California Towhee-like "chink" and coastal northwestern birds giving a
hard, junco-like "tik" or smack, very similar to iliaca group birds.
Altivagans is usually placed in the schistacea group of gray-backed birds
(relative wing and tail length also being used by Swarth to segregate the
groups) and unalachensis in a group of subspecies under that name from the
Pacific Northwest. Altavagans is transitional in many ways toward the
coastal groups. A bird ascribed to altavagans was collected on Fire Island,
New York, 12 May 1971 by Paul Buckley (specimen at USNM). I have seen this
bird and agree with the identification. So it seems there is precedent for
altavagans in the East.

A major unanswered question for me is the call of altavagans and other
schistacea group birds. It might be assumed that they chink, but it would
be good to know more certainly. I admit having been frustrated by a Fox
Sparrow at my camp in the Revelstoke area of British Columbia, in the range
of altavagans, only a couple of years ago. The bird was about as
uncooperative as any Fox Sparrow I've encounterd, coming in silently,
looking around, and then returning to sing from an inconspicuous perch.
Thus, I never heard the call note, even though I was keen to hear it.
Contrast this with my recent experience (among others), with Fox Sparrows
in the Siskiyou Mtns. of n-central California (megarhyncha range), where
the birds came in madly 'chinking' or singing (if I used playback). Maybe
not surprisingly, Linsdale describes altavagans as very secretive; he
doesn't describe the call note.

Can anyone wandering the chaparral in the mountains of California this
winter find an altivagans and tell me the call note? The call note for the
Connecticut bird is odd in that it is neither a clear chink or smack,
though it seems most unlike the typical calls of either the Pacific
Northwest or iliaca birds. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

Louis Bevier
Philadelphia

------------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Thu, 13 Feb 1997 08:55:23 -0800
From: Kimball Garrett 
Subject: [BIRDWG01] Fox Sparrows

I'll be brief, since my confusion to confidence ratio is very
high on this one..

As far as I know, Fox Sparrows (sensu lato) have only two major
types of location notes:  the smacking "tik" like a loud Lincoln's
Sparrow (we all have different ways of describing it, but we all
know what we mean), and the metallic "chink" which is very much like
the call of California Towhee.  As Louis and Alvaro have suggested,
birds of the _unalaschcensis_ and _iliaca_ groups give the "tik",
and large-billed western montane birds (stephensi/megarhyncha/
brevicauda, and presumably _monoensis_) give the "chink" call.

I was especially interested in calls of _schistacea_ (including "_swarthi_")
when at the ABA convention in Utah last summer, and my experience was like
that of Louis with _altivagans_:  birds barreling in to pishing, etc.,
but never once uttering a call note!  In s. CA, _stephensi_ hardly ever
stops "chinking" in response to pishing on the breeding grounds!
Would somebody in the Great Basin region/western Rockies please
enlighten us?

As for _altivagans_, all I can add is that Swarth identified the specimens
in our collection available to him when he researched his monograph (at the
time these were in the private collections of Daggett, etc. -- but have since
been cataloged here). Birds he called _altivagans_ bore little resemblance to
the description of _altivagans_ in his monograph (the written description
implies a bird much like iliaca/zaboria).  I believe Beadle's _altivagans_
in Rising's guide is probably pretty accurate (as an aside, a good starting
point for Fox Sparrow ID would be to throw out the plate in the Byers et al.
Sparrows and Buntings guide).

At least according to Swarth's work, southern California appears to be a
real melting pot of wintering Fox Sparrows.  Several of us have developed an
interest in the matter here -- Tom Wurster and Brian Daniels have spent a
lot of time on this recently.  We should be collecting a number of birds throu
the rest of this winter, concentrating on individuals of known call type.
I hope we can add some information on this shortly.

The whole Fox Sparrow issue is going to be difficult to come to grips with,
since there seems to be a lot of intra-population variation, much post-mortem
color change in museum specimens, and intermediate populations connecting the
4 groups.

------------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Thu, 13 Feb 1997 02:09:18 -0800
From: Alvaro Jaramillo 
Subject: Re: [BIRDWG01] Fox Sparrow call notes

>Late last fall, Mark Szantyr found a Fox Sparrow in Connecticut that was
>not of the iliaca group. The bird was well described but not photographed.
>His notes depict a bird that fits the characters of the subspecies
>altivagans or nominate unalaschensis. Most interesting was his description
>of the call note as "choink" something that attracted him to the bird in
>the first place. This call note, heard several times, was said to be very
>different from the Brown Thrasher-like smack of iliaca, with which he is
>familiar.

I can't comment on the calls, but I feel that if the description is detailed
enough this bird should be identifiable based on the plumage features alone
at least to the major subspecies group. Having said that, _altivagans_ is a
bit of a mystery to me as it is depicted differently in many of the guides.
Unfortunately, the only breeding _altivagans_ I have encountered was a heard
only (song) bird in Jasper, Alberta. By the time I laid eyes on a Fox
Sparrow in Alberta I was down in _schistacea_ country. My perusal of
collections suggest that _altivagans_ is a _schistacea_ group Fox Sparrow
with some _iliaca_ tendencies. In the past _altivagans_ has been put in the
_iliaca_ group, but Zink's work confirms that it belongs neatly in the
_schistacea_ pile. _Unalaschensis_ proper and its coastal Alaska neighbours
are on the grey end of the "Sooty" _unalaschensis_ group and quite unlike
the _altivagans_ assuming that what I have seen in the specimen drawers is
typical. I also observed a bird in San Jose, California a couple of weeks
ago that I belive was an _altivagans_, but I need to get back into the
collection to make me feel more confident about this.

_altivagans_ should show:

striking red wings and tail, contrasting with a brownish grey back
indistinct pale tips to the greater coverts forming a dull paler wing bar
brownish-grey back
back feathers with slightly darker centers, making the back look ever so
obscurely streaked
grey face, but browner crown
crisp underpart streaking
underpart streaking that is dark brown, darker than the back colour
malar stripe tends to be crisper, not obscured by underpart streaks.

Alaska _unalaschensis_ group should show:

warm brown wings and tail, only slightly more rufous than the back
no pale tips to the greater coverts
brownish back, little grey
unicolor back, no evidence of obscure streaking (darker feather centers)
brown face with grey intruding largely behing the auriculars and perhaps
curving around to the back of the supercilium.
blurry underpart streaking that runs together, often obscuring the
underlying white colour on the chest.
streaking is nearly the same colour as the back
malar stripe tends to be obscured by underpart streaks.
The "Sooty" Fox Sparrows call resembles a louder and more powerful version
of the call of the Orange-crowned Warbler.
_unalaschensis_ birds from further south (coatal British Columbia, Queen
Charlotte Island) are much more chocolate in colour and even more unlike
_altivagans_

> Altavagans is transitional in many ways toward the
>coastal groups.

my impression is that _altivagans_ is transitional toward the _iliaca_ group?

A bird ascribed to altavagans was collected on Fire Island,
>New York, 12 May 1971 by Paul Buckley (specimen at USNM). I have seen this
>bird and agree with the identification. So it seems there is precedent for
>altavagans in the East.

I recently ran accross a report of a _schistacea_ type Fox Sparrow from
Quebec, from the late 80s. Have there been any other easten reports or
specimens of western Fox Sparrows?

A point of confusion is the population from the mountains of Vancouver. They
have only been recently found breeding there and have not been studied in
great detail but they appear to be intermediate between coastal
(_unalaschensis_ group) and mountain (_schistacea_ group) Fox Sparrows to my
eye. These birds are like coastal ones but have stronger rusty colours on
the wings and tail, brown back with a noticeable grey wash, noticeable grey
on the nape and supercilium. The brown underpart spots are slightly darker
than the back colour. If I remember correctly Zink encountered evidence of
introgression in this part of BC. The other point of confusion are the
interior B.C. birds, _olivacea_ which are part of the grey-backed
_schistacea_ group but have a distinctly olive colour on the back. I don't
know much about these birds, other than remembering seeing a good series at
the Cowan Verterbrate Museum (University of British Columbia) and thinking
that they were indeed weird looking. BTW, I have the Zink paper somewhere
but can't find it to give the reference.

Since the Fox Sparrows have been brought up I have a question regarding bill
colour. Eastern _iliaca_, mountain _schistacea_ and coastal _unalaschensis_
groups have orange or bright yellow bases to the lower mandible. However,
the _monoensis_ (_megarhyncha_ group, the large billed ones) I have seen
appear to have grey to blue-grey bases on the lower mandible. This is borne
out in most photos I have seen, except a couple where some "horn" colour
replaces the grey right at the base of the bill. Have any others noted bill
colour differences between _megarhyncha_ and the others?

Isn't it annoying when someone asks a question, someone else replies,
blabbers on and on but doesn't actually answer the question!

Cheers,

Al.

Alvaro Jaramillo                        Where there's smoke doesn't mean
Half Moon Bay, CA                       there is fire.
alvaro@quake.net                         Just means there's smoke.

------------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Thu, 13 Feb 1997 22:18:03 -0500
From: "Mark S. Szantyr" 
Subject: Re: [BIRDWG01] Fox Sparrow call notes

At 01:19 AM 2/13/97 -0500, you wrote:
>Late last fall, Mark Szantyr found a Fox Sparrow in Connecticut that was
>not of the iliaca group. The bird was well described but not photographed.
>His notes depict a bird that fits the characters of the subspecies
>altivagans or nominate unalaschensis. Most interesting was his description
>of the call note as "choink" something that attracted him to the bird in
>the first place. This call note, heard several times, was said to be very
>different from the Brown Thrasher-like smack of iliaca, with which he is
>familiar.
>
>Kimball Garrett and Jon Dunn have noted the different calls of the Fox
>Sparrow groups, with California birds of the megarhyncha group giving a
>California Towhee-like "chink" and coastal northwestern birds giving a
>hard, junco-like "tik" or smack, very similar to iliaca group birds.
>Altivagans is usually placed in the schistacea group of gray-backed birds
>(relative wing and tail length also being used by Swarth to segregate the
>groups) and unalachensis in a group of subspecies under that name from the
>Pacific Northwest. Altavagans is transitional in many ways toward the
>coastal groups. A bird ascribed to altavagans was collected on Fire Island,
>New York, 12 May 1971 by Paul Buckley (specimen at USNM). I have seen this
>bird and agree with the identification. So it seems there is precedent for
>altavagans in the East.
>
>A major unanswered question for me is the call of altavagans and other
>schistacea group birds. It might be assumed that they chink, but it would
>be good to know more certainly. I admit having been frustrated by a Fox
>Sparrow at my camp in the Revelstoke area of British Columbia, in the range
>of altavagans, only a couple of years ago. The bird was about as
>uncooperative as any Fox Sparrow I've encounterd, coming in silently,
>looking around, and then returning to sing from an inconspicuous perch.
>Thus, I never heard the call note, even though I was keen to hear it.
>Contrast this with my recent experience (among others), with Fox Sparrows
>in the Siskiyou Mtns. of n-central California (megarhyncha range), where
>the birds came in madly 'chinking' or singing (if I used playback). Maybe
>not surprisingly, Linsdale describes altavagans as very secretive; he
>doesn't describe the call note.
>
>Can anyone wandering the chaparral in the mountains of California this
>winter find an altivagans and tell me the call note? The call note for the
>Connecticut bird is odd in that it is neither a clear chink or smack,
>though it seems most unlike the typical calls of either the Pacific
>Northwest or iliaca birds. Any suggestions would be appreciated.
>
>Louis Bevier
>Philadelphia
>
>

For those who are interested, this is my written description of said
"western-type" Fox Sparrow.  Communication with Jim Rising suggests that
unalaschensis is a real possibility but review of skins at the Yale Peobody
Museum leave me unclear as to unalaschensis or altivagans, with several
characters including a paler face, faint dark streaking above the wing, and
clear, streaking without the dark blurry flanks of unalaschensis.  Three
skins that I have photographed ( one altivagans, 2 unalaschensis) are
virtually identical and would be very difficult to separate in the field.
As long as these are identified correctly in the first place, I am afraid
identification of this bird to ssp. might come down to its very distinctive
call note.  Also, I have seen the photos of the altivagans bird banded on
Long Island and the bird in question does not resemble this individual.


Notes of Fox Sparrow

On 5 December 1996 I was drawn to a small group of cedars in my yard by a
loud, metallic chip note, sounding very much like water dripping into a tin
can, sounding like  "toink" or "choink".  This note seeming unfamiliar to
me, I investigated.  I found a large sparrow-like bird perched about 10 feet
up in a cedar.  My initial view was of its ventral aspect and the bird
appeared largely white below with dense dark brown streaking along each
flank and these dark streaks coalescing to a very large dark brown and
irregular shaped central breast spot.  There were a few dark marks above
this spot but the throat appeared largely clear whitish.

Studying the bird more carefully revealed that the bird was dull brownish
above with dull rufous showing in the wing coverts, secondaries, and
tertials and a similar dull rufous wash to the dull brown tail.

Bill: Appeared two-toned dark above and yellowish below.  It did not appear
to be out of proportion with the head, appearing normal size and shape for a
Fox Sparrow.

Head: Largely dull brownish with paler area in lore and around eye. A buffy
or dull whitish eyering was visible.  the eye was dark.  The ear coverts
were same dull brownish but were washed with a faint dull rufous.  This
color extended forward below the eye and merged with a malar stripe of a
similar but slightly darker color.  The crown and nape were the same dull
brownish with a dull and faint rufous wash.

Upperparts: the back was a dull brownish  color, appearing to be slightly
washed with dull rufous as you progressed toward the rump.  The back was
unstreaked except for one or two extremely dull darker streaks above the
wings.  The upper surface of the tail was dull brown washed with a slightly
brighter rufous than the rump but the colors merged evenly and appeared to
form an even transition from the nape down to the tail tip.  This rufous
tail, while a bit brighter than the back, was still quite dull by Fox
Sparrow standards.

Wings: the wings were dull brownish, a bit darker than the back.  The
greater coverts and the secondaries and tertials were  edged with dull
rufous, similar in coloration to the tail.  The primaries were dark.

Underparts:  the underparts were white from the throat through the undertail
coverts, while the rear flanks were washed with a dull buffy color.
Inverted V-shaped streaks extended from the upper breast along both flanks.
They were heaviest at and across the breast and they seemed to extend into
the malar stripes and up a bit in front of the wings.  These marks coalesced
into a large and irregularly shaped central breast spot.   Small streaks
extended above the central breast spot toward the throat but not covering
the throat, as I said, they appeared to merge into the malar area.  All of
the streaking below was dark brown, darker than the brownish coloration of
the dorsal aspect of the bird.  The central belly was unmarked white.  The
undertail was a dull grayish brown with no appearance of rufous.

Legs: the legs were a pale flesh color.

Mark S. Szantyr, 5 Dec 1996.
Mark Szantyr
birddog@snet.net
2C Yale Road
Storrs, Ct. 06268
USA

------------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Thu, 13 Feb 1997 11:31:18 -0500
From: Louis Bevier 
Subject: [BIRDWG01] Fox Sparrow bill color

Re bill color on Fox Sparrow:  In Swarth's UC Zool. Publ. (Vol.
21: 75-224, 1920) on Fox Sparrows, there is a color plate by
Allan Brooks illustrating a color difference in the bills of
brevicauda (orange yellow) and stephensi (greenish gray), two
very similar subspecies within the megarhyncha group. The
differences between these two is so slight that birds collected
outside of known their known breeding range are not always
diagnosable. (The wintering grounds of stephensi remains
unknown.)

Although it would seem that identifying Fox Sparrows to a
particular subspecies group shouldn't be difficult, the
Connecticut bird pointed out how close some can be, including the
unalaschensis and schistacea groups, which otherwise are quite
distinct. Swarth mentions that western populations of altivagans
are browner and closer to the coastal groups, while eastern
populations are grayer backed and closer to other schistacea
group birds. I was aware that Allan Phillips had placed
altivagans with the iliaca group, and only meant to suggest that
in the case of the Connecticut bird, the description from a sight
record was not wholly adequate to make a certain determination.
Overall, the bird seems most like something showing altivagans.
The call was unlike either unalachensis or iliaca group birds in
sofar as known. (By the way, I misspelled altivagans a number of
times in my previous post.)

Other differences I have noted between the unalachensis birds and
altivagans include the color of the streaking on the underparts.
Altivagans has more reddish streaks that change to blackish
spotting posteriorly (like iliaca), whereas unalachensis are more
uniformly gray brown. The flanks are more heavily washed with
brownish on coastal birds as opposed to "typical" altivagans.

Still needing calls of schistacea birds...

Louis Bevier
Philadelphia

------------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Fri, 14 Feb 1997 21:02:11 -0500
From: David Sibley 
Subject: Re: [BIRDWG01] Fox Sparrows

I don't have any answers to the Fox Sparrow questions being posed but can
pass along some notes that might be of interest, and might lead someone else
to the answers.

I too have listened carefully for call notes of schistacea group fox
sparrows, and with little success. However I did hear one in late June at
Glacier National Park, Montana, giving alarm calls that I described as
"sharp 'chef' or 'chep' lower-pitched, huskier and flatter than iliaca, not
squeaky like Sierra birds". It's possible that the calls I heard were some
high intensity alarm calls near the nest and not the normal contact notes.
Maybe someone can comment on whether other Fox Sparows have a
different-sounding alarm call.

On bill color I have notes of birds with basically all gray bills from
Glacier NP (breeders, schistacea?, some with yellowish base), Bolinas CA
(wintering birds, coastal group, most have yellow on bill), Jasper AB
(breeders, altivagans?), and Seward AK (sinuosa of coastal group). I have
never seen this in the east, all birds here vary from bright orange-yellow
to dull straw-yellow on the lower mandible. Birds around Mammoth Lakes in
California generally have all gray bill but I have notes on one juv with
faint yellow wash on base of lower mandible. In addition a quick check of
field guide photos revealed an apparent coastal group bird with all gray
bill in the Master Guide to Birding, and an apparent mountain bird
(schistacea or megarhyncha type) with distinctly yellow lower mandible in
the Western Stokes field guide.

I wonder if others have investigated spotted vs. unspotted chin/throat as a
character for distinguishing coastal from mountain birds? It has worked well
for me as a simple measure of the overall more densely spotted underside of
coastal birds.

Finally I echo the concerns of Kimball Garrett, and specifically worry that
altivagans may be a broad intergrade population that could vary from more
iliaca-like in the north to more schistacea-like in the south and more
unalaschensis-like in the west. And how would one distinguish altivagans
from the intergrades between sinuosa (unalaschensis group) and zaboria
(iliaca group) found in Alaska? Not to diminish the significance of the
Connecticut bird, it is a very unusual record no matter which population it
comes from, but determining which population might not be possible.

David Sibley
Cape May Point, NJ

------------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Thu, 20 Feb 1997 22:46:21 -0800
From: Alvaro Jaramillo 
Subject: Re: [BIRDWG01] Fox Sparrows

Jon Dunn wrote:

>I'm not certain what the bill color is on the schistacea group.  The last
>time I'm certain I saw this group (in this case schistacea proper) was just
>east of Hayden in the Yampa River Valley of Routt County, Colorado (2 April
>1995).  I had several singing birds atop cottonwoods that I eventually got
>good views of.  Unfortunately, I didn't write notes as to bill color and
>have forgotten know.  Does Tony Leukering have any comments about bill color
>of schistacea (or anyone else).

I banded a _schistacea_ type Fox Sparrow a couple of weeks ago at the Coyote
Creek Riparian Station near San Jose, California. I don't know which
subspecies it actually is, but it certainly is one of the Slate-colored
forms, _schistacea_ group. This individual had a bright yellow base to the
lower mandible. Another photo in the Coyote Creek Collection of a bird
caught elsewhere in California that appears to be a _schistacea_ also has a
yellow bill base. The bird banded a few weeks ago had a bill smaller than an
_unalaschensis_ type Fox Sparrow that was caught in the same net round. BTW,
we catch at least two and probably more types of _unalaschensis_ Fox Sparrow
here but our resolution at this level is weak at best.

Cheers,

Al.

Alvaro Jaramillo                        Where there's smoke doesn't mean
Half Moon Bay, CA                       there is fire.
alvaro@quake.net                         Just means there's smoke.


http://www.quake.net/~alvaro/index.html

------------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Thu, 20 Feb 1997 16:11:34 +0000
From: Jonathan Dunn 
Subject: [BIRDWG01] Fox Sparrows

One item that hasn't been discussed too much in all of the very helpful
postings on this fascinating group is bill base color.  The unalaschcensis
group of brown birds all apper to have bright orange-yellow bill bases
(lower mandible and cutting edges) and this color is also shared by the
iliaca group.  I have called this a "candy corn" color for those that
remembered the tooth decay days.  Specifically, I mean the tips of those
candies (bright orange-red base with bright yellow (tinged orange) tips.
The megarhyncha group have a grayish-green bill base, the color being
suggestive of an Evening Grosbeak bill.

 Kimball Garrett has pointed out though, that in the outstanding color plate
by Brooks, in Swarth's definitive work (Swarth, H.S.  1920.  Revision of the
avian Passerella, with special reference to the distribution and migration
of the races in California.  Univ. Cal. Publs. Zool. 21:75-224), illustrates
a bill color difference between the two largest billed birds of the Pacific
States, stephensi (mountains of S. Calif.) and brevicauda (Trinity Mts. of
NW Calif., SW Oregon).  The subspecies brevicauda is shown with
orange-yellow base about like that of the unalaschcensis group while
stephensi is shown with the grayish-green base.  Further, Brooks illustrates
fuliginosa, the darkest of the unalaschensis group, with a nearly blackish
bill with no yellow-orange at the base.  It is hard to know on what basis
Brooks made these bill color determinations.  Presumably he painted this
plate from specimens and bill color on specimens of course quickly changes
soon after they "stiffen up."  I do know that Philip Unitt collected a
series of skins in winter on Volcan Mt. east of San Diego which he thought
initially were stephensi.  This was most significant as the winter grounds
of stephensi were (and still are) unknown.  But then he decided that he
couldn't tell specimens of stephensi apart from brevicauda (megarhyncha of
the Sierra Nevada Mts. are slightly smaller billed than these two monsters).
It is my guess that the bill colors depicted by Brooks in Swarth (1920) will
prove not to be entirely accurate, particularly in regards to brevicauda and
fuliginosa.  Perhaps we can get some comments from subscribers who live in
NW California (brevicauda) and NW Washington/British Columbia (breeding
birds only).

I'm not certain what the bill color is on the schistacea group.  The last
time I'm certain I saw this group (in this case schistacea proper) was just
east of Hayden in the Yampa River Valley of Routt County, Colorado (2 April
1995).  I had several singing birds atop cottonwoods that I eventually got
good views of.  Unfortunately, I didn't write notes as to bill color and
have forgotten know.  Does Tony Leukering have any comments about bill color
of schistacea (or anyone else).

The "big question" of late and one already posed, is what is the call note
of the schistacea group?  It has long been known that the big billed Pacific
montane group give a "chink" that is virtually identical to the common call
note of the California Towhee, or for those that don't know that species
call, vaguely like the call of a Hooded Warbler.  As others have pointed
out, I have heard many from the iliaca group and the unalaschensis group and
they all give the smack note (like a loud Lincoln's Sparrow or vaguely like
a Brown Thrasher). I had the same experience that Kimball had with his birds
in Utah.  My singing schistacea high in the cottonwoods came roaring down to
eye level when I pished. But unlike nearly every other Fox Sparrow that
vigorously chip when "pished up", these birds (at least two separate times)
sat there and looked as "dumb as a post" (my interpretation when they didn't
call).  After about two or three minutes they flew back to high in the
cottonwood and resumed singing. I have alerted several Colorado birders to
the "need to know" and Robert Righter (co author of new excellent book on
Colorado) was going to get tape recordings of Fox Sparrow calls during the
breeding season in the mountains of Colorado.  But he didn't get a chance in
the summer of 1996.  He has plans again for 1997.  I recall Will Russell
telling me recently that he recalls breeding birds in Colorado giving the
smack notes like the unalaschensis and iliaca group.  If anyone has
experience with call notes of gray headed (non iliaca) wintering birds in
the Southwest (Arizona and New Mexico), where they are scarce, that would be
helpful as most of that type there are supposed to be schistacea.  The only
two birds I have seen in the Soutwest (one each for Arizona and New Mexico)
were iliaca (for purposes here iliaca=zaboria).

Lastly, Kessel and Gibson plan on recognizing in their Alaska book the newly
described race by Webster (1983) of Fox Sparrow in the unalachensis group
(Proc. Biol. Soc. Washington 96:664-668).  It is named P. i. chilcatensis
and I believe it is found on the Alaska Peninsula to the west of anectens,
sinuosa and insularis. I have not yet read the above paper, so may be off on
the range. Perhaps someone with ready access to the Proceedings can check this

Jon L. Dunn

------------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Fri, 21 Feb 1997 09:39:37 -0500
From: "Jerry R. Oldenettel" 
Subject: [BIRDWG01] Distribution of NM Fox sparrows

     My limited New Mexico  experience is that the iliaca group is far more
common in migration/winter than schistacea birds, at least in places that are
more commonly birded.  The table below shows my encounters with Fox Sparrows
in NM since my arrival in the state.  Abbreviations are translated in the
notes below the table.  As you can see from the table, I have only
encountered schistacea in desert/arid wash habitat, a place where I spend
relatively little time (compared to riparian and "vagrant trap" type
habitats).

date     #/ssp.        location           county       habitat

950123   2-3/schist.   3-gun Springs      Bernalillo   wash
951028   1/iliaca?     20 mi n of Texico  Currey       Vag Trap
951029   1/iliaca      Melrose Trap       Roosevelt    Vag Trap
951111   1/iliaca      RSPA               Eddy         riparian
951126   1/?           BLR Hq             Chaves       Vag Trap
951126-1210 1/iliaca   BAR Hq             Socorro      Vag Trap
951224   1/iliaca      Mesilla Dam        Dona Ana     riparian
951229   1/iliaca      Hill               Dona Ana     riparian
960107   1/schist.     Hollow Can.,EBL    Socorro      wash 
960203-0204 2/iliaca   Washington Ranch   Eddy         Vag Trap
961222   1/iliaca      Melrose Trap       Roosevelt    Vag Trap
961230   1/iliaca      Redrock            Grant        riparian
961230   2/schist.     FR851/Gila NF      Grant        wash

Notes:
1. abbreviatons:
             mi n - miles north
             RSPA - Rattlesnake Springs Picnic Area
             BLR hq - Bitter Lakes NWR headquarters area
             BAR hq - Boaque del Apache NWR headquarters area
             EBL - Elephant Butte Lake
             NF - National Forest.
2.  My views of the bird north of Texico  were short and limited to the front
quarter and I would have put  the bird with altivagens or even fuliginosa
(appeared to have an all dark reddish-brown face, see NGS guide) except that
John Parmeter had other views and indicated that the bird had a streaked
back.
3.  Habitat.  Riparian means deciduous trees with  brushy areas near water.
 Vagrant trap is about the same  habitat, but with no water nearby.  Wash
means generally near or on the bottom of fairly wide washes through Pinion
Juniper or Creosote forest type habitats.  What I remember about these is
that the areas were generally made up of  scattered bushes, 2-5 ft. high,
with some grasses and a lot of gray-green (similar color to Big Sage).  Don't
claim to be a botanist.

     I can remember call notes being given in couple of these encounters
(950123 and 951224).  I was not aware that the call notes for the two groups
might be different at the times of observation and the current discussion
goes a long way in explaining my internal confusion as to just what Fox
Sparrows call notes are like.    Generally most birds respond to pishing by
moving slowly and silently into view in heavy brush, looking at you for up to
a minute, then working back down into the brush never to be seen again.  Very
frustrating.
     On 950123, I arrived in the area of the 3-gun Springs Trailhead (on the
edge of Carnuel, NM) before sunrise and had two birds calling (presumably as
they awoke).  I remember the calls being tick notes rather than smack notes.
 I never saw either of the two calling birds at that time, but later had the
schistacea nearby.  Don't remember whether the 951224 bird gave a tick or
smack note.
     I'm sure that this is not much help in the call note discussion, but I
will henceforth pay much closer attention and let John know that people are
interested.  He has much better ears and a much better aural memory than I do
anyway.

Jerry R. Oldenettel
Albuquerque, NM
borealowl@aol.com

------------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Fri, 21 Feb 1997 09:53:51 -0500 (EST)
From: "P. A. Buckley" 
Subject: [BIRDWG01] "Slate-colored Fox Sparrow" bill color

In May of 1971 I collected an adult female _[schistacea] altivagans_  Fox
Sparrow on Fire Island NY, and as pointed out by Louis Bevier, this was
(and may still be) the only known specimen of any taxon other than
_iliaca/zaboria_ east of the Mississipp River, if not even further west
(Auk 91: 181-185).

In light of the recent comments about bill color of the various Fox
Sparrows, I just hauled out the original slide of that bird to take a look.
What I found may be of some interest. [The film was K-64 and the color is
still excellent: Kodachromes are remarkably resistant to fading and other
color changes, even when stored in non-archival sleeves.]

In essence, the upper mandible is dark, the lower light. The ground color
of the upper is a blackish-horn, and of the lower a distinctly
pinkish-horn. There is a line on the upper mandible immediately above and
parallel to the tomium that shows the same color as the lower mandible, but
it disappears towards the tip.  On the lower mandible there is a
corresponding dusky wedge (similar to the color of the upper mandible)
that, conversely, pales towards the bill base but gets increasingly dark
toward the the tip.

This bird was uncharacteristically silent for an eastern Fox Sparrow and in
all the time it was around (about 10 minutes pre-netting, and when in the
hand) never uttered a sound.   When I first glimpsed it slipping away
silent thru the pine grove where we were netting, it was so dark, with a
rusty tail, that I thought it was a somewhat late Hermit Thrush. Fox
Sparrow never entered my mind until I finally saw it in the open.

P.A. Buckley

Box 8
Graduate School of Oceanography
University of Rhode Island
Narragansett RI USA 02882
401/874-4201 (ph)
401/874-6887 (fx)
pabuckley@gsosun1.gso.uri.edu


"In the fields of observation, chance favors only the mind that is prepared."
                                                           -- Louis Pasteur

------------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Tue, 25 Feb 1997 10:51:41 -0500
From: David Sibley 
Subject: Re: [BIRDWG01] Fox Sparrows

In a previous posting I mentioned variation in bill color of Fox Sparrow,
and in particular noted a couple of photographs showing birds with "wrong"
bill color. Now Jon Dunn has pointed out to me that he feels the bird in the
western Stokes field guide labelled "Rocky mountain" and showing a yellow
bill is in fact from the coastal unalaschensis-group and therefore should
have a yellow bill. The other photo, in the Master Guide, showing a coastal
type bird with apparently gray bill still stands, and matches my observation
of at least one gray-billed bird near Anchorage, AK, and a gray-billed
coastal group bird wintering at Bolinas, CA. Needs some confirmation but I
believe that unalaschensis-group birds can occasionally have gray bills.

David Sibley
Cape May Point, NJ

------------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Sat, 08 Mar 1997 09:56:00 -0500
From: David Sibley 
Subject: Re: [BIRDWG01] Fox Sparrow bill color

On 2/14 discussing bill color of Fox Sparrows I wrote:

>I have never seen this [grayish bill lacking yellow] in the east, all birds
>here vary from bright orange-yellow to dull straw-yellow on the lower mandibl

So it figures that the next Fox Sparrow I have seen well (coming to my
feeder the past few days and typical eastern/red type by plumage) has the
lower mandible drab pale flesh-colored and looking gray in some lights,
without a hint of yellow. Compare this to Paul Buckley's 2/21 description of
the altivagans from Long Island:

>In essence, the upper mandible is dark, the lower light. The ground color
>of the upper is a blackish-horn, and of the lower a distinctly
>pinkish-horn.

David Sibley
Cape May Point, NJ

------------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Tue, 25 Mar 1997 21:22:49 -0700
From: Tony Leukering 
Subject: Re: [BIRDWG01] Fox Sparrow bill color

Hi gang:

In tardy response to the Fox Sparrow thread, particularly of bill color in
various forms, I have a hand-held photo of a bird I caught in central
Colorado.  I will post this photo to a friend's web page and let you know
when it gets there.  I will do this, that is, as soon as I find the darn
thing.  (I am currently in the middle of a wholescale reorganization of my
slides).

Tony Leukering
Brighton, CO
jaegers@ecentral.com



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