Verification of Unusual
Rec. # 2008-01
|Scientific name:||Calcarius mccownii|
|Time:||~11 am to 315 pm|
|Length of time observed:||Both birds observed for a total of 15 minutes over 4 hrs and 15 minutes|
|Location:||Along 6800 N, 1.2 miles west of intersection of 6800 N and 7600 W, Tremonton, Utah|
|Elevation:||Not sure; would assume 4200'|
|Distance to bird:||Varied; distance at initial observation, when both McCown's Longspurs were observed together in field on north side of 6800 N estimated at 50-70m. Last observation at 3:10 pm, when both birds were seen together on shoulder of 6800 N estimated at 100 m|
|Optical equipment:||Primarily Leica 77mm Televid spotting scope with 32x wideangle eyepiece; also Leica 8x50 Trinovid binoculars|
|Weather:||Calm, cold 25-30 F; mix of sun and clouds|
Varied; light at initial observation, when both McCown's Longspurs were observed
together in field on north side of 6800 N was excellent; full sun, rich
lighting. Last observation at 3:10 pm,
when both birds were seen together on shoulder of 6800 N not as good; light was above and behind birds; however plumage details were readily apparent with spotting scope
|Description: Size of bird:||Estimated at 6 inches; slightly smaller than Lapland Longspurs, and appeared to be significantly smaller than Horned Larks. Size comparisons were relatively easy as McCown's were always in close proximity (i..e., inches from) either Lapland Longspur or Horned Lark|
|(Description:) Basic Shape:||Sparrow-like. Somewhat plump body.|
|(Description:) Overall Pattern:||Grayish upperparts, grayish-white underparts. With the exception of black breast band and reddish-chestnut median secondary coverts, and white tail with inverted black T, no obvious contrast or color patterns.|
|(Description:) Bill Type:||Conical, finch-like; very similar to Lapland Longspurs except all gray.|
Field Marks and
Both MCCOWN'S LONGSPURS were pale grayish overall, with gray faces. Little or no
contrast on head and face; the heads of both birds appeared quite plain, with no
apparent contrast. Back was gray, perhaps slightly darker than underparts;
underparts were gray-white.
Both birds had black breast bands that did not extend below the breast, but rather extended almost all the way across the breast. At least some of the black breast feathers appeared to have some grayish edging.
I did not observe any black on the faces, either on the crown, the edges of the auricular patch, or on the malar; no chestnut was observed on the nape or on the hindcrown. No yellow or buff was observed anywhere on either bird. Neither bird had dark streaking on the back.
Not sure about the legs and feet, I confess I failed to pay attention to this marking in the field.
Both McCown's had reddish-chestnut median secondary coverts (not greater coverts) that were clearly visible when the birds were on the ground, when their wings were folded. I don't recall seeing the reddish-chestnut median secondary coverts in flight, probably because it was nearly
impossible to follow an individual bird when the longspur/lark flocks flushed. When the flocks did flush, I always tried to find the McCown's by looking for the white tail with the inverted black T. The greater coverts were gray on both McCown's. I also noticed that both McCown's
had a black mark just below the bend of the wing, visible when the wing was folded.
Both McCown's had white tails with an inverted blackish T visible when they flew (seen on at least three different occasions), with the "crossbar" of the T at the tailtips. The T is formed, as far as I could tell, by the combination of two black central rectrices, and black tips on all rectrices.
Neither McCown's had the complete suite of plumage features consistent with an adult male McCown's in alternate plumage, but both birds had black breast bands, and I could not see any buffy edging to the reddish-chestnut lesser median secondary coverts, which would suggest that the bird was transitioning from basic to alternate plumage. However, Jack Binch’s photograph clearly shows buffy-edging on the four-five lesser median secondary coverts that are visible, which would indicate that the bird in the photo is an adult male in basic plumage. Jack’s photo also clearly shows that there is a distinct facial pattern, with a slightly darker auricular patch and forecrown. Jack had the benefit of a 600 mm lens with a 1.4x teleconverter; I was using a 77 mm scope with a 32x eyepiece. My guess is that at ≥100-m, my scope just did not have enough resolution to pick up the buffy edging, or I was too focused on the breastband and the wing pattern. After considering both Jack’s photo and my notes, my best guess is that both individuals were adult males in Basic plumage; the presence of the black breast band is likely due to wearing away of gray feather edges.
(see photo and field notes)
|Song or call & method of delivery:||No calls heard that could be definitively attributed to either of these two individuals.|
|Behavior:||Foraged on ground in fields and on shoulders of 6800 N. On at least one occasion, birds were observed foraging in manner similar to the Lapland Longspurs and Horned Larks that they were flocking with; both longspur species and the Horned Larks were pulling seed heads off of unknown brushy plant species found on fields on north and south sides of 6800 N. Foraged by walking along snow and reaching up to pull seed heads off these plants. Both McCown's Longspurs were observed sitting on the shoulder of 6800 N on at least one occasion. Appeared to be picking ?grit? seeds? off of road. However, may also have been attempting to get warmth from road. I have no direct evidence to suggest that either McCown's did this, but many Lapland Longspurs were observed to sit and crouch on the road (which was free of snow and ice), apparently attempting to gather warmth from the road. Like both the Lapland Longspurs and Horned Larks, both McCown's Longspurs were very flighty. No direct predation attempts were observed, but the longspurs and larks spooked easily and did not often allow vehicles to approach within 100 meters. We (Jack Binch and I) spent a large portion of our time watching longspur flocks take off and subsequently trying to relocate the flocks and the McCown's Longspurs. The McCown's were never observed by themselves; they were always with either Horned Larks and/or Lapland Longspurs. When I first saw the two McCown's (the initial observation), they were supplanted by either a Horned Lark or a Lapland Longspur (sorry I can't remember which; there Lapland Longspurs everywhere and I was too concerned about correctly identifying the McCown's to remember whether it was a Lapland Longspur or a Horned Lark!) Neither McCown's Longspur was observed to perch anywhere except on the ground, whether in a field or along the shoulder of the road|
|Habitat:||Snow-covered fields along 6800 N. Fields had either grasses (<1 ft tall) or weeds. Sorry, I don't know plant species well enough to identify. Road and shoulders of 6800 N.|
were they eliminated:
Both McCown's were observed side-by-side with Lapland Longspurs (>60 present),
and were slightly smaller than the Laplands.
Horned Lark was eliminated because:
this & similar species:
Prior experience with all four longspur species. I've seen McCown's and
Chestnut-collared in SE Wyoming (April 1997?) and NE Colorado (Pawnee Natl
Grasslands; April 23, 1998). Smith's
Longspur spring, Illinois (date unk). Lots (relatively speaking) of experience with Lapland Longspur; have seen >200 individuals over 22 years of birding. Have seen and observed >100 individuals of Lapland Longspur in last 10 days, including >60 Lapland Longspurs at 6800 N the day of this sighting, and >30 along Utah State Hwy 23 in Cache Co., on 1/27/08.
|References consulted:||Sibley's NAS: The Sibley Guide to Birds; JD Rising's A Guide to the Identification and Natural History of the Sparrows of the United States and Canada; Birds of North America online species account for McCown's Longspur.|
|Description from:||Notes taken at time of sighting|
|Observer:||Craig R. Fosdick|
|Observer's address:||PO Box 443, Logan, UT, 84323-0443|
|Observer's e-mail address:||email@example.com|
|Other observers who independently identified this bird:||Jack Binch|
|Additional material:||crude field notes; will be sent shortly; Photo taken by Jack Binch|
I went to this site with the specific goal of locating the Calcarius spp.
(i.e., non-Lapland Longspur) first reported by Steve and Cyndy Sommerfeld 1/26.
The Sommerfeld's report was the major impetus for my trip, along with Harry
Kreuger's McCown's Longspur sighting on 1/20/08 on Poen Rd, off Swan Falls Rd,
south of Kuna, Ada County, Idaho.
I do not believe the two McCown's I observed are difficult to identify, provided birders have a thorough understanding of plumage topography and a good scope. Both McCown's were rather obvious when they were on the ground and not obscured by vegetation. I should note that during
the 4+ hrs I was on 6800 N, I at one point saw a very pale Calcarius spp. that was not one of the two McCown's for which this record is being submitted. I don't know what this pale Calcarius spp. was; I saw it only briefly on the ground with some Lapland Longspurs, but it appeared very pale, and lacked any of the strong facial patterning evident on the Lapland Longspurs. It is possible that this was also a McCown's, perhaps a female; this may have been the bird that the Sommerfeld's originally reported? I never saw the bird again, and I could not confirm its identity.
I plan on returning to this location with the goal of relocating these birds and gathering additional information to support this record (i.e. photographic evidence). Hopefully, other people will also be relocate the birds, file their own Rare Bird Record reports, and provide photographic evidence.