Saturday, February 1, 2014

Bell's Sparrows, Lovebirds, and a cool Woodpecker

Hi Everyone,

This morning I birded with Warren and Iris Woessner and we covered the Thrasher Spot and Encanto Park.  It was a great morning of birding with neat highlights.

Our first stop was at the Thrasher Spot for just over 1.5 hours starting just after 8 A.M.  The primary targets weren't Thrashers, but were the two Sage Sparrow species.  Activity for the Sage Sparrows were surprisingly low for Sagebrush Sparrow, but were ironically very productive for Bell's.  As more and more things are learned about these two species, I may have learned something today about the sparrows within a small area of the Thrasher Spot.

We decided to cover the section of the area that is to the northwest of the intersection, and is on both the north side of the Salome Highway and Baseline Road.  The other section that is on more of the southern side of Salome Highway (Salome runs from southeast to northwest, however), seems to be more of the highly covered spot by birders, at least from what I have observed.  I tend to bird on this side a lot more myself, because it has always been better for thrashers and I rarely go to the other side (and yet rarely see other birders on the other side).  But the area that is to the northwest of the intersection, and is on the north side of both roads, has a stretch that appears to be reliable for Bell's Sparrow.  Every time in the few times I have looked in this section prior to today, I have found a Bell's Sparrow there rather quickly.  When I was here last week, a Bell's Sparrow was the first Sage Sparrow species I observed.  When I was birding with Bob and Janet Witzeman last year, we spent hours looking for Bell's Sparrows on the southern side of the Salome Highway without success.  We made a run through this north side and found a Bell's Sparrow in a very short time length as compared to the time we spent looking on the "usual" side.

With this in mind today, Warren, Iris, and I decided tried our luck at this northwest section.  The activity was slow at first, and the Sage Sparrows we were encountering were very skittish and weren't giving us much to look at at first.  When one finally popped up, I saw that it was a BELL'S SPARROW and I got a good look at it to see it's dark and thick malar as well as it's plain and unstreaked back.  It then went down before I could get the others on it.  The sparrows then continued to be very skittish, and we then found a very cooperative SAGEBRUSH SPARROW.  We were able to study it's field marks at close range.  The sparrows than were very skittish again, until we finally had a nice and extreme BELL'S SPARROW pop up.  It utilized a taller bush (I don't know plants very well) than the usual short creosote bushes I see the other Sage Sparrows typically on.  We then had two more Bell's Sparrows perch up and give us nice identifiable views.  There were at least three Bell's Sparrows in the time frame that we searched in this area, and the first one I observed was probably a fourth.  The majority of the sparrows were very skittish, and out of the ones we could safely identify, it turned out to be 3-4 Bells, and 1 Sagebrush in this area.

Bell's Sparrows (the closest I could get)

1.  This bird was very striking to see through binoculars, but wasn't the closest for pictures.  

2.  This bird is more interesting.  It shows the thick and dark malar but appears to have a little more streaking on it's back than usual.

3.  This bird had it's back turned by the time my camera was ready, which shows it's unstreaked back well.  Our views in the field were better of it's dark malar stripe, which doesn't show well in the pictures. 

What is interesting to me, is that there are sections of the Thrasher Spot that have more open creosote desert, and then sections that are more "thick" that have the vegetation packed in more closely together with taller surrounding trees and bushes.  It especially seems this way where small washes run through the area.  From what I have observed, it seems to me that Bell's Sparrows like the slightly more vegetated areas than the Sagebrush Sparrow does.  Almost every time I have seen a Bell's Sparrow out there, it seems to be in a more vegetated area, where the creosote flats meet up with washes that have taller trees.  They seem to be more skittish than Sagebrush Sparrow, and are a lot harder to approach.  And I have also observed Bell's Sparrows perching higher up on mesquites and taller plants than the low "typical" creosote perches.  The low creosote perches are the main perch, but have seen Bell's Sparrows perch higher than Sagebrush Sparrow.  Sagebrush Sparrows, on the other hand, love the open and are very cooperative often at close range, and I haven't seen them utilize higher perches as much as I've seen Bell's Sparrows use them.  In one of the Facebook groups, we had a discussion on the sparrows and it was very interesting.  Lauren Harter mentioned the Bell's Sparrow having the possibility of being a lot more skittish of the two species, and I think she's right.  I've never had much of an "extensive" Bell's Sparrow study up close out there at the Thrasher Spot in many recent visits as I have had with Sagebrush Sparrow.  And there are Bell's Sparrows throughout the Thrasher Spot, but this just seems to be a more of a reliable spot to find them.  These are just my ramblings on my observations, they may or may not be accurate.  For those interested, I will include pictures and a map overview on my blog of the specific area I am talking about that seems to be productive for Bell's Sparrow.

Other than the sparrows, we enjoyed LE CONTE'S and BENDIRE'S THRASHERS up close and in full song, and ANNA'S and COSTA'S HUMMINGBIRDS were also present.

After the Thrasher Spot, we went to Encanto Park.  ROSY-FACED LOVEBIRDS were easily found in high numbers, especially near the parking lot just west of the Clubhouse.  We were also thrilled to see the LEWIS'S WOODPECKER that was reported yesterday.  It came in very close and landed in one of the oak trees at the clubhouse right above our heads.  A great day to be outdoors!

Lewis's Woodpecker



  1. Awesome photos tommy, and I love reading on the continued Bell's Sparrow work you're doing.
    I swung by to check up on the Lewis's too. Assuming it's the same bird that's been wintering there now for the last 2 years, that very bird was my lifer. It was visiting an old friend, and he wasn't so skittish any more.

    1. Thanks Laurence! It has been fun looking for the Sage Sparrows. That Lewis's Woodpecker is one awesome bird, I'm glad I got to see it when I went.