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This is a very interesting sparrow that is photographed well enough that one
would think a conclusive identification can be made, and yet key features
(especially dealing with the tail) are not visible, which is enough to
confuse (at least) me.

I have considered three species with which I am familiar (I have no
experience with Cassin’s Sparrow), and the photo bird has some characters of
each -- but also seems to have other characters that rule out each of these
three!

I do not know the identity of the photo bird, but will throw in some
comments.

Since “Sparrow1” shows much more of the bird, most of my discussion will
revolve around this photo. On my monitor, the bird shows a pale buffy face,
incomplete bold white eyering, yellow lores, and a gray nape and back with
chestnut streaking.

1) Facially, the bird immediately suggests Grasshopper Sparrow, especially
the eyering, buffy face and yellow lores. However, the bird shows very
little median stripe and what seems to be an all grayish upper mandible. In
my experience with the Florida subspecies (including at a few in-hand photos
that I’m examining as I write this), Grasshoppers should show a bold,
distinctive white median stripe, and the upper mandible is distinctly
two-toned, consisting of a pale (perhaps dull pinkish) bill with a dark
culmen. The photo bird shows neither of these marks. The back and nape are
also way too gray for Florida Grasshopper Sparrow, but Sibley (2000) shows
the eastern bird as having much more gray in these areas than does the
Florida bird, so this may fit. Certainly, if the photo bird IS a Grasshopper
Sparrow, it most certainly is NOT of the Florida subspecies. (On my photos
of adult Florida Grasshopper Sparrows, no eyering is visible; only a narrow,
indistinct orbital ring shows up ... hmmmm).

2) Since the face of the photo bird suggests an Ammodramus, I also
considered Henslow’s Sparrow, allowing that my monitor may be showing the
olive face as buffy. The back pattern fits Henslow’s pretty well, but I’m
still troubled by the lack of a distinct median stripe, which I believe is
characteristic of all Ammodramus species. I don’t know Henslow’s well enough
to offer further comment.

3) Ignoring the head of the bird, the back and wing pattern brings to mind
Bachman’s Sparrow, but I think the buffy face, bold eyering, and yellow
lores are all wrong. Too bad we can't see the tail in the photos; a good
view of that certainly would immediately rule out (or in) either Ammodramus
or Aimophila.

Photo 2, which shows only the breast of the bird and part of the (shaded)
face, again brings to mind an Ammodramus. Even heavily shaded, the eyering
is distinctive, and the pale buffy wash to the underparts fits well. The
flank streaking may be left over from juvenal plumage, although the
streaking is much narrower than on a juvenile Grasshopper Sparrow I
photographed in the hand. The streaking is somewhat reminiscent of a
Henslow’s Sparrow, but again, seems too faint and restricted for that
species as well.

The bird in photo 2 looks “pudgy” to me, which suggests Ammodramus, but this
may be an illusion due to the pose, or from not being able to see the back
half of the bird.

In short, I would not want to “have” to identify this bird –- nor will I! I
lean more toward Grasshopper than any other species with which I am
familiar, but the bird shows some marks that seem to suggest another
species.

Thanks, Tom, for sharing these photos with us –- and especially for TAKING
the photos. Far too many “rare” birds are identified only from a
description.


Best regards,

Bill

Bill Pranty
Audubon of Florida
410 Ware Boulevard, Suite 702
Tampa, Florida 33619
813-623-6826
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