Verification of Unusual Sight Record
For Utah

Rec. # 2020-86

Common name:

McCown's (Thick-billed) Longspur  

Scientific name: Rhynchophanes mccownii
Date: 12-28-2020
Time: 12:33pm
Length of time observed: 15 minutes
Number: 1
Age: ?
Sex: Female?
Location: Upper Gold Hill Road
County: Tooele
Latilong: 40.2493566,-113.9572616
Elevation: 5,000ftish
Distance to bird: 7m at closest
Optical equipment: Nikon 10X42 Binoculars
Weather: Overcast and lightly snowing, 2 inches of snow on the ground.
Light Conditions: OK flat light. Clouds somewhat translucent
Description:        Size of bird: Small passerine
(Description:)       Basic Shape: Plump and short tailed
(Description:)  Overall Pattern: Mostly gray-brown
(Description:)            Bill Type: Stout-grainivore
Field Marks and
Identifying Characteristics:
As we were driving down the road, we noted a very large and dense flock of Horned Larks flush next to the road near an old corral, we stopped the truck and rolled down the windows to listen for rattle calls of a longspur, but the Larks quickly resettled back into the stubble just a few meters from the truck. We started quickly scanning them with the binos for Longspurs, and sure enough pretty quickly I found a McCown's, which seemed to be the only non lark in the flock. It was smaller and shorter tailed than the Larks, but very stocky and big headed with a stout pink bill, very plain gray-brown color with a pale throat and supercilium, dark brown cheek, faint streaking on the back, rusty bar in the wing coverts, and a faint gray chevron on the breast. Max also saw the distinctive white tail with the dark T in flight, but I didn't. We watched it for several minutes as they fed and periodically flushed and flew around for no apparent reason, but always resettled in th
e same general spot. At one point a Prairie Falcon pursued the flock, but they quickly scattered, only to resettle in the same spot. We carefully scanned for additional Longspurs but none were seen.
(see photos)
Song or call & method of delivery: Heard a few clear whistles in flight
Behavior: Mixed in with large flock of Horned Lark feeding in short cropped vegetation on roadside near an old corral
Habitat: Surrounding steppe mostly of mixed Black Sagebrush and Ephedra with some rock out crops, but area near corral was very disturbed and grown with Halogeton which seemed to be what the Larks were feeding on
Similar species and how
were they eliminated:
Horned Lark(female/juvenile)-Larger and longer tailed, faint mask on face contrasting with white throat, dark collar.

Lapland Longspur-Generally more contrasting and colorful, orange nape, black auriculars, black streaking on flanks and white belly, smaller orange-pink bill, rust wing coverts with 2 white wing bars, more slender build.

Chestnut-collared Longspur-Smaller darker bill and white wing bars in wing coverts
Previous experience with
this & similar species:
Yes, several
References consulted: Memory
Description from: From photo(s) taken at the time of the sighting
Observer: Bryant Olsen
Observer's address: 84102
Observer's e-mail address: **
Other observers who independently identified this bird: Mike and Max Malmquist were with me
Date prepared: 12-30-2020
Additional material: Photos
Additional comments: eBird checklist: