[CT Birds] Big January 2013 results

Mark Szantyr birdinggeek at gmail.com
Thu Feb 7 22:47:12 EST 2013

Just in case the state is never heard from again, i wanted to post what will be my final public thoughts on the sparrow that had been identified as Saltmarsh Sparrow for January 2013.

To me, and to several others, some of whom are involved in active research on these species and some of whom have extensive field experience in the various ranges of nelsonii, the bird is not likely a pure Saltmarsh Sparrow, and maybe not be a Saltmarsh Sparrow at all. Getting away from the much discussed plumage characters, perhaps the absolutely most important identification character between these birds is bill structure and, less so, bill color. I am told that researchers can use this character alone to separate these forms in the field. Certainly when I found a May Nelson's in Groton a few  years  ago, i did so initially on the bill size. The bill on the bird in question is much more consistent with Nelson's than Saltmarsh. 

The streaking and marks on the head and breast and flanks are at best intermediate between the two forms and the original images show streaking  that is decidedly not consistent with Saltmarsh Sparrow. 

Much has been said about the plumage characters and observer experience with the forms. I believe that, in winter, these birds can potentially look very different than at the more expected times we see them in the state. I have been told that in winter, in fact , plumage might at times be misleading based on what we know from other times of the year. 

I think it is best to rely on the experienced field researchers in this genus and heed what hey have to say and in my communications with them they strongly believe that this bird may be a Nelson's  X Saltmarsh, is very unlikely to be a Saltmarsh Sparrow of any form, could be one of the variations noted in winter Nelson's Sparrow, is almost certainly not pure subvirgatus, and based on the only images available, best left identified to the genus level only.

Well, this was a blast. Sorry for any problems this may have caused. 

Over and out!


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