Verification of Unusual Sight Record
For Utah

Rec. # O_2007-03

Common name:

Black-chinned Sparrow

Scientific name: Spizella atrogularis
Date:  4/14/07-4/15/07
Time: morning    
Length of time observed: heard in at least 4 locations
Number: at least 4
Age: adult
Sex: male (presumably—singing)
Location: Canyonlands NP; Salt Creek Trail; from Kirk Cabin to the Upper Jump
County: San Juan
Elevation: about 5000ft
Distance to bird: unknown
Optical equipment: heard only
Weather: Sunny
Light Conditions: good—too bad I couldn’t see the birds!
Description:        Size of bird:  
(Description:)       Basic Shape:  
(Description:)  Overall Pattern:  
(Description:)            Bill Type:  
Field Marks and
Identifying Characteristics:

This is a sound record only—no birds were seen.                                                          

Song or call & method of delivery: The song was a typical Black-chinned Sparrow song. The elements of the song followed each other in very quick succession. First were two quick descending whistles, followed by two or three zips that accelerated into a final trill. The song was heard on numerous occasions as I hiked down Salt Creek.
Behavior: singing
Habitat:  mixed. The canyon bottom was fairly large and dense sagebrush and saltbush, while the canyon sides/slope (where not bare rock) held open Pinon Juniper forest. I could not tell exactly where the birds were singing from.
Similar species and how
were they eliminated:
To the best of my knowledge the song of the Black-chinned Sparrow is quite distinctive. I know of no other song that I feel I could confuse it with. However, when I returned home and looked at the range maps, I was troubled by my sound identification and wished that I’d tried harder to see one of the birds. Trying to talk myself out of what seemed like an unlikely ID I spent quite a bit of time listening to CDs of Western bird songs (Petersen and Birds of AZ and Sonora collections) trying to find a resident bird with a song that I might have mistaken for Black-chinned Sparrow. I have been unable to find any adequate surrogate.
Previous experience with
this & similar species:
I’m good (not great) at birding by ear, and I’ve certainly got a lot to learn. I learned the song of the Black-chinned Sparrow only about a week before I heard these birds. I learned this song by observing numerous males in the act of singing along the Bright Angel Trail at Grand Canyon (my home). I reinforced the song that same day and through the week with tapes. Therefore the song was both fresh in my mind, and well imprinted from both tapes and field experience when I heard these birds. I have a pretty good grasp of the sounds and songs of most (not all) of the birds of northern AZ (and consequently southern UT), and cannot think of another bird with a similar song. Nor could I find one among the passerines on the tapes I listened to. On the other hand, I recognize that the committee will be (rightly) reluctant to accept a bird this far out of range on sound alone. In any case, I wanted to document what I heard, and even if the record is not accepted, maybe it will motivate someone to go out and get a better record. I know that this is not a Utah review species, but given the location, I thought it was worth submitting.
References consulted: I consulted the 2 sets of taped bird song, the Petersen collection of Western Birds as well as a 2 CD set of birds or Arizona and Sonora.
Description from: Notes made later
Observer: Brian Gatlin
Observer's address:  PO Box 1431, Grand Canyon.  AZ   86023
Observer's e-mail address:
Other observers who independently identified this bird: none
Date prepared: 4/21/07
Additional material:  
Additional comments: