Verification of Unusual Sight Record
For Utah

Rec. # 2016-09

Common name:

Eastern "Lilian's" Meadowlark

Scientific name: Sturnella magna lilianae
Date: 04/03/2016
Time: 10:00am
Length of time observed: 6mins
Number: 1
Age: Adult?
Sex: Unknown
Location: Zella Tank, Beaver Dam Slope
County: Washington
Latilong: 37.0426,-113.9219
Elevation: ~3,000'
Distance to bird: 20' to 100'
Optical equipment: 8x42 binoculars & 600mm DSLR lens
Weather: Sunny and clear
Light Conditions: Well lit
Description:        Size of bird: Large Songbird
(Description:)       Basic Shape: Mewdowlark
(Description:)  Overall Pattern: brown, white, yellow, and black
(Description:)            Bill Type: dagger-like
Field Marks and
Identifying Characteristics:
When we arrived the bird was perched on the edge of the tank and flew giving a high pitched and harsh "chweet" (my description) and rattle which had me flying out of the car, before landing about 100' away. I got some photos and it again gave the high pitched call before taking flight and heading south out of sight. The bird never made a "chup" call, but had the slurred call of a EAME. Although this isn't conclusive, it is quite notable.

Oddly, the bird was still molting which is late for either WEME or EAME. Overall it was still fairly pale but had a lot of yellow coming in. The head pattern was stark. The white malar was very obvious--because the bird was in molt it's hard to say where the coloration is going, but the paleness of the cheek gives me the impression it was going to stay pretty light. It seemed pretty far along with just the chest patch and side streaks really lacking in definition. The few streaks that had coming in on the flanks were thick and long, not small and thin. Also of note was the buffy coloration to the flanks and sides, as opposed to the white typical of WEME. The back pattern was brown and streaked with darker feathers.

When the bird flew it was apparent that the tail was mostly white except for a thin dark center stripe. THe amount of white in the tail was quite obvious, making it really stand out.

What the pictures don't tell you is the most important feature. In general meadowlarks are fairly rare on the slope and always worth a close look. This tank is 95 miles northwest as a meadowlark flies from the nearest KNOWN breeding Lilian's Meadowlarks. There is only one other record of Western Meadowlark from Zella Tank, and a handful on the BDS.

eBird Checklist:
(see photos)
Song or call & method of delivery: "chweet" call and a short rattle. Others describe the call as a"bzrrt" some times, but it s a sharp up-pitched call given quickly. The rattle was a very fast call, and lasted about 2 seconds. The bird never made a "chup" call which is typically tell-tale for WEME.
Behavior: Drinking from a water tank in the desert, before flying off.
Habitat: Mojave Desert/Joshua Tree "forest". The exact location is an old water tank for cattle that is surrounded by some short grass where the water runs out of the tanks, but is completely surrounded by arid desert.
Similar species and how
were they eliminated:
Western Meadowlark. The all white malar, combined with the paleness on the head, and the mostly white tail were the visual distinguishers. The call notes though seem to be the best indicator though as the bird never made a "chup" call which is a standard call note used by WEME. The distinct "Chweet" call note is what really stood out when I first saw the bird.
Previous experience with
this & similar species:
I have seen a Lilian's in southeast Utah, and several in Arizona.
References consulted: Sibley Guide to Birds and to compare call notes
Description from: Notes taken at the time of the sighting
Observer: Tim Avery
Observer's address:  n/a
Observer's e-mail address: **
Other observers who independently identified this bird: irley, and others later in the day
Date prepared: 05/03/2016
Additional material: Photos
Additional comments: Ebird checklist: