31 min

Northwest Ohio Sprague's Pipit Dispute

(my August 2008 post about a humorous dispute among birdwatchers. well, in this case "birders" because it's serious.)

Listserv postings

Subject: Sprague's pipit in Sandusky Co.
From: Bill W
Date: Sat, 2 Aug 2008 19:39:33 -0400

Dan S and Doreene L report a likely Sprague's pipit near a
pond in Sandusky Co. From the last stoplight in Clyde along Rte 20, go
.9 mi SE toward Bellevue, turn left (N) on South Ridge Rd (#175) and go
about 1.7 mi. The bird was seen near the pond on the right across the
road from house #5776. They saw this bird once, departed, then returned
later and refound it late this afternoon. Paler overall than American
pipit, prominent dark eye, pale bill, no tail-wagging, white on throat.
They did NOT have a camera for photos, and photos for this second Ohio
record of this species would be urgently needed.
Good luck to all chasers,
Bill W

Subject: PIPIT DETAILS? plus shorebird habitat
From: jen b
Date: Sun, 3 Aug 2008 04:59:38 +0000

Greetings birders -

Sprague's Pipit is a sickly-good bird for Ohio, and even though we have a
previous record it should be treated with sheer 'accidental' status. Observers
must be extraordinarily careful to note ALL details on a likely suspect,
including ALL marks, from pink legs, to extent and type of streaking on breast,
to presence of scalloped streaking on the back to wholesomely pale bill, to
extensively white edges to tail to behavior and calls. All of these characters
in combination must be confirmed. American Pipit - our regular migrant - shows
highly variable shades of pale buff brown to pale grayish brown in transition
and winter plumage. American Pipit is highly more likely to be relatively
easily seen in open ground habitat, and will often be bold to walk around open
mudflat/wetland edges. Observation of most pipit species tends to be
intermittant at best, as these rather secretive but active birds much prefer to
creep and bop around in partial view to the confusion and oft-times frustration
of would-be observers. Of the two species, Sprague's would certainly be the
most difficult to locate.

If there was habitat in which a Sprague's would favor in Ohio right now, the
greater Bellevue region certainly would resemble prairie and plains pothole

Bill Whan's encouragement for multiple photograph records of this particular
candidate is the single best advice, (as well as, obviously, extended periods
of study).

Best of luck in seeking out this rare pipit candidate. Meanwhile, take a look
farther south of Bellevue, to the flooded fields of T81, T80, and C34 (much
reported areas, look on rarebird.org for many more details) to find the
still-present (today) Black-necked Stilts (4), multiple Wilson's Phalaropes,
hordes of Pectoral Sandpipers and Lesser Yellowlegs, and several Least,
Semipalmated, and Stilt Sandpipers in the mix. At the C34 pond, today, an
immature Peregrine Falcon blasted a Lesser Yellowlegs to the awe of a group of
birders who were equally stunned at this predator's sheer speed and agility.

ALSO, good news for Lorain Impoundment. Over the next 10 days, workers will be
pumping dredge spoil from the river into the impoundments. That means...during
the pumping habitat will be awesome....and later, as the levels drop again:
bingo. Hopefully, anyway. Today, habitat was really slim, but we still managed
to pick up several peeps, Semipalmated Plovers, and Spotted Sandpipers.

Best of birding -

Subject: Re: Sprague's pipit in Sandusky Co.
From: Bob P
Date: Sun, 3 Aug 2008 08:44:56 -0400

First the caveats. I realize this is a second-hand report and may not
include all the details. And I am sure that Dan S has seen more
Sprague's Pipits than I have had hot breakfasts.
With that understood, I urge anyone who goes after this bird to pay close
attention to leg color. The pink legs of the Sprague's separate it from all
the races that occur in the Lower 48. That was what we used to look for
when I lived in Arizona when we commonly filtered through squadrons of
America Pipits looking for a stray Sprague's. You have to look closely,
though. On bright days, the bird's own shadow can mask the leg color.

This bird would seem to be very early, whatever kind of pipit it is. The
two records for Sprague's cited in Peterjohn are for 31 Oct and mid Nov.
The earliest American Pipit record is 2 Sep. Given that this bird is
seriously dislocated both spatially and temporally, perhaps we should not
assume that it is simply a matter of choosing between American and

Finally, it is great to see Ohio birders encountering pipit problems. In
the Old World, pipit problems are considered very thorny. A good pipit
problem can bring a day's birding to a screeching halt and in extreme case
can lead to fist fights.



Subject: Re: Sprague's pipit in Sandusky Co.
From: Kenn K
Date: Sun, 3 Aug 2008 09:48:59 -0400

I wasn't online last night and didn't see the posts about this bird until
now. Jen and Bob have already raised some important caveats, but for anyone
who is going to look for the bird (and isn't already out there), I would
point out that the identification isn't just a matter of choosing among
pipits. The vast majority of out-of-range summer reports of Sprague's
Pipits involve juvenile Horned Larks. That might seem silly if you've only
seen larks in adult plumage, when they're well-marked and obvious, but
juveniles are utterly different: Plain-faced, scaled on the back, streaked
or spotted on the chest, they suggest anything but a Horned Lark. Years ago
I was on a records committee in another state when someone submitted a
summer Sprague's record. The report included a detailed written description
of a Sprague's Pipit, all right, but the observer also turned in photos
which proved that the bird was really a juvenile Horned Lark. It can happen
even to experienced birders. Anyone going to look for the Sandusky bird
should keep that it mind.

For observers who are thoroughly familiar with American Pipit, Sprague's is
going to look very different -- not just in leg color, but in shape,
behavior, and almost all aspects of plumage pattern. The behavior, in
particular, is different: Sprague's favors area of grass tall enough to
hide it (unlike the open habitats favored by American Pipits), and it's a
solitary bird. It doesn't join flocks of American Pipits (not that that's
an issue at this time of year) or flocks of anything else, and its behavior
on flushing from the ground is different from that of American as well.

Fall migration of Sprague's Pipit usually begins in late September, so a
bird in early August is out of season as well as out of range, but that
certainly doesn't make it impossible. Birds do turn up at bizarre times and
places. My favorite example involves the Golden-crowned Sparrow (a bird
breeding in the far northwest and wintering mainly along the Pacific Coast)
that established a first Florida record in summer! So strange things
happen. Good luck to any searchers for the Sandusky Sprague's, and please
take photos if you see it.

Kenn K

Subject: Pipits and their I.D. contenders
Date: Mon, 4 Aug 2008 19:35:28 -0400

On Saturday Aug. 2 there was a report of a possible Sprague's Pipit seen
Saturday in Sandusky County. As I write this, there hasn't been any more
traffic about that bird on Ohio-birds, but over on RareBird.Org there were a
couple of posts from observers who went to the same place and saw potential
candidates for the species on Sunday.

I went to the site today (Monday Aug. 4) and spent almost two hours scoping
the entire edge and surroundings of the pond repeatedly. It was early
afternoon, but the high overcast made for very good lighting with no harsh
shadows nor obvious heat shimmer. A lot of shorebirds were present, to make
the search more enjoyable. There were many swallows foraging low over the
water, and a couple of Eastern Kingbirds perched low and flycatching near
the pond. On the ground I saw a few dozen each of Eur. Starlings and
Mourning Doves, a couple of Savannah Sparrows, and at least two juvenile
Horned Larks.

I wouldn't presume to tell someone else what bird they saw. But anyone who
has been to the site, or is planning to go, should be aware that birds
suggesting the appearance of Sprague's Pipits out of range in summer may be
juvenile Horned Larks. Several years ago I saw a parallel situation in
another state, and even though the observer had managed to photograph his
"pipit," he reacted angrily to my identification: "I know a - - - - - - -
Horned Lark when I see one!" But in fact, most birders are not familiar
with juveniles of this species, which look strikingly different from adults
and which have not been illustrated well very often. The larks remain in
this plumage only a very short time, a few weeks at most, and their
appearance is changing throughout that time as the feathers become worn and
molt begins. By the time we start to see winter flocks, that plumage has
been replaced and the birds are easily recognized.

I just glanced at a couple of field guides -- older editions of the Natl
Geographic guide had a really poor picture of a juvenile; the latest edition
has a better picture, but it fails to capture the face pattern and it shows
a darker bird than most of the ones around here. Sibley usually has
excellent illustrations of juveniles, but most of the juv Horned Larks I've
seen in Ohio have been paler, warmer, buffier, paler around the eye, whiter
on the throat, and less evenly washed on the chest than his illustration.
The juv in the Kaufman guide shows the broad pale eye-ring and supercilium
that make the eye stand out as conspicuously dark in a pale face, but it
shows a darker buffy throat than most of the birds around here and it
doesn't show the back pattern well. And some guides don't show juveniles at
all. Compounding the problem is the great amount of variation in plumage in
this species, so that even a perfect illustration of one individual might
not look much like another individual.

Across Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australia there are almost 100 species of
larks, many of them quite hard to identify, while in the Americas we have
just the Horned Lark (plus introduced populations and stray individuals of
Sky Lark). Horned Lark is not a typical member of the family -- only one
other lark has a similar pattern to the adult plumage -- but the juvenile
Horned Lark looks superficially very similar to many of the larks in the Old
World. If you've birded a lot overseas, when you see one of these juveniles
your first reaction might be "uh-oh, it's a lark," followed by, "oh, yeah,
it has to be Horned Lark here." But if you've birded extensively in North
America, even if you've seen thousands of adult Horned Larks, you can still
be thrown off by the juveniles because they are very different-looking

I don't want to discourage anyone from going to look -- after all, the
shorebirding is quite good at the site now, with crisply marked juveniles of
several species starting to show up. But observers should be aware that
Sprague's Pipits have no history of showing up out of range in summer, they
rarely walk around on open ground among corn stubble, and many of their
stated field marks could apply equally well to juvenile Horned Larks, which
are known to be at the site. So if you do find a Sprague's Pipit there,
please try to get photographs!

And, finally, kudos and thanks to the original observers for getting the
word out about their sighting. When we see a "possible" rarity, it's
tempting to keep quiet about it until we're absolutely sure, but that might
mean that the bird will get away before others have a chance to look for it.
It takes guts to publicize a tentative rarity, but we all appreciate having
the chance to know about these things promptly.

Kenn K

Subject: Re: Pipits and their I.D. contenders
From: Jim McC
Date: Tue, 5 Aug 2008 09:31:19 -0400

Hi all,

Thanks to Dan and Doreene for making us aware of a very interesting
bird. This discovery has stimulated some really good discussion of
identification, and to me at least, has been very educational. The spot
where the mystery bird was found produces plenty of good birds, and is
certainly worth visiting. Take a camera!

I also appreciate Kenn's comments about his experiences with juvenile
Horned Larks. I have seen them on numerous occasions and always find
them to be somewhat shocking, given their dissimilarity to the adults.
I've also seen a number of Sprague's Pipits away from their breeding
grounds, where they are not nearly as extroverted as the
testosterone-pumped, flight-displaying courting males. They behave like
little mice, slinking through short grasses in arid sites dominated by
low-growing species such as triple-awned and Muhlenbergia grasses.

Ohio's only Sprague's Pipit specimen was bagged by Jay Sheppard at
Butler County's famed Oxford airport on November 15, 1958. This site was
fabled for regularly producing Smith's Longspur in migration (they also
skulk about like feathered mice). That area is high, dry, well-drained
and gravelly, and supported arid short-grass plant communities involving
the same genera of grasses that those two birds would utilize further
west. Several factors in recent decades have largely obliterated those
interesting arid dropseed/triple-awned grass communities in western
Ohio, not the least of which is invasion by aggressive non-native
plants. Perhaps it isn't that surprising that our only indisputable
Sprague's record came from here, at that time of year. Nor is it
surprising that no one can find them in Ohio, given wholesale habitat
changes and in the case of the pipit, overall drops in the population,
not too mention their shrinking-violet behavior.

There are plenty of records of Sprague's Pipit well east of its normal
range. But east of Minnesota (where it has nested), the majority come
from mid to late October, with a lesser number from April. That
correlates well with their known migratory patterns. I don't believe
there are any July/August records of eastern vagrants.

One other footnote. I am in the process of studying the Smithsonian
Field Guide to the Birds of North America, by Ted Floyd, for a review to
be published in Bird Watcher's Digest. As an aside, this is an
interesting photo-based book that features some of the best photographs
yet published in a field guide. It is brand new and if you've not seen
it, pick up a copy and have a look. Anyway, Ted has a great photo of a
juvenile Horned Lark photographed in July in Alberta on page 323. Take a
look at this photo if you get a chance. In the caption, Floyd notes:
"Some are surprisingly similar to Sprague's Pipit, a shorter-tailed and
shorter-winged species".

Again, thanks to all who have participated in this interesting
discussion, and brought this bird to light.

Jim McC
Columbus, Ohio

Subject: Sprague's pipit report
From: Bill W
Date: Tue, 5 Aug 2008 12:22:54 -0400

Many have weighed in on the Sandusky Co bird reported as a Sprague's
pipit without having seen it. Lest we all get carried away, let's
remember we have careful first-hand reports, and a records committee to
evaluate them. Bill Heck and Paul Gardner and I visited the site twice
the following day looking without success, and didn't see anyone else.
The rarebird site is down again, but I do recall the Cullens have
visited the spot.
I did my best with hastily-prepared notes from a phone conversation to
pass along reported details, but of course they are hardly a substitute
for a complete report, and really shouldn't be picked apart. The
reporters' commendable intention was to get other observers to the site
to make their own observations, and perhaps to gather further
documentation such as a photo. What was described to me did not sound
like a young horned lark, but as I say it was necessarily a hurried affair.
Subscribers to Birding magazine can look at an August 1997 article by
Paul Lehman (pp 333-4) for a good photo of a juvenal horned lark and a
discussion of Sprague's pipit as a look-alike. There are plenty of
photos of both on the Web, too, if you prefer them to field guide art.
For the latter, there's a good one in Mullarney et al.'s Birds of Europe
on p. 239. If you don't know both species well, judge for yourself how
confusible they are.
Another Sprague's pipit record comes from Cleveland 31 Oct 1974
(Peterjohn 2001). A third was published in the Wheaton Club Bulletin as
seen by Irv Kassoy 2/6/72 in Ross Co. I had a look through eastern
records, where it has been accepted as far out as Massachusetts. In our
region, I looked for accepted records April-Oct, and found the following
east of South Dakota (MN, MI, OH, TN, ON, IL, KY): 11 in April, 17 in
May, 11 in June, 9 in July, 5 in August, 6 in September, and 22 in
October. So October has indeed been the most productive, though hardly
the only, month during this period with Sprague's records.
Anyway, if you want to actually check this report out, it seems late
afternoon offers the best light at this site.
Best of luck,

Bill W

Subject: Re: Sprague's pipit report
From: Kenn K
Date: Tue, 5 Aug 2008 18:57:47 -0400

Just some clarifications on Bill W's interesting post from earlier today.

> Many have weighed in on the Sandusky Co bird reported as a
> Sprague's pipit without having seen it. Lest we all get carried away,

I must not be getting all the posts from Ohio-birds. I've seen posts from
only three persons who didn't see the bird in question, and all of them
raised very calm, reasonable points about the appearance, identification,
behavior, and habitat of Sprague's Pipit. I went to the site and almost
certainly did see the same bird(s) reported as Sprague's Pipit, but I tried
to point that out as diplomatically as possible.

> [about illustrations of juv Horned Lark]
> ... field guide art. For the latter, there's a good one in Mullarney et
> al.'s Birds of Europe on p. 239. If you don't know both species well,
> judge for yourself how confusible they are.

Killian Mullarney is a wonderful bird illustrator, one of the best in the
world (I've watched him do quick field sketches that could have been framed
and hung up in a gallery), and his illustration in the field guide is
undoubtedly spot-on for a typical juvenile Horned Lark of the northern
European subspecies E. a. flava. But the Old World races of the species
look noticeably different from those in North America, so it would be a
mistake to try to apply Killian's illustration to our birds.

> In our region, I looked for accepted records [of Sprague's Pipit]
> April-Oct, and found the following east of South Dakota (MN, MI, OH, TN,
> ON, IL, KY): 11 in April, 17 in May, 11 in June, 9 in July, 5 in August, 6
> in September, and 22 in October.

Of course, "accepted records" are not necessarily valid records. If there
are summer records of Sprague's Pipits for anyplace like Tennessee or
Kentucky, they should be reevaluated. As for the others, to include
Minnesota and Ontario as part of "our region" in this regard is certainly
misleading, since western Minnesota and western Ontario lie very close to
the normal breeding range of the species. You can always obfuscate the true
pattern by lumping enough extraneous data. Boreal Chickadee is common in
Ontario in August, but I wouldn't use that fact as support for an August
sighting in Ohio. The fact remains that Sprague's Pipits are not known to
wander far out of range in mid-summer, nor to walk around on open ground for
distant scope views.

I appreciate Bill trying to stick up for his friends, but I don't think this
kind of post does them any favors. We've already said that we're grateful
to them for getting the word out about their sighting. As Ethan Kistler
pointed out, Horned Lark was misidentified as Sprague's Pipit just yesterday
in New Jersey, so these things happen. Even the most skillful and
knowledgeable birders in the world make mistakes sometimes.

Kenn K

Subject: Re: Sprague's pipit report(enough)
From: troy s
Date: Tue, 5 Aug 2008 19:48:16 -0400

To all,
I'll probably burn some bridges here, and I know its probably foolish to reply,
but I've always been a fool. I think Bill W was just saying that people are
putting way too much weight into his post as apposed to full description from
the people who saw the bird in question itself. I don't know about other
people, but I think the discussion has going to bashing people again and doing
counter points to other points that are counter points themselves. It reminds
of students arguing over something in my class. This is not productive. Kenn,
you shouldn't be "clarifying" anyones post. If you want to add your own ideas
they are greatly appreciated, but come on, be a little more tactful of it. I
think the discussion has reached a point where it no longer needs to take place
on here, since its now well known that Juvenile horned lark is a likely
candidate. We all know to watch out for it. But taking other peoples post and
disecting it point by point is not civilized. Lets leave the write up to the
records committee and let them decide. I don't think Bill is trying to stick up
for his friends, I think he is just saying it takes guts to tell someone what
they did or didn't see without having seen it yourself. And if it hasn't been
said that the observers are wrong, it has been implied quite well. I just think
there should be one email discussing the similarities between juvenile larks
and the pipit, then any other points/counterpoints should be off list or it
starts to sound like an "I'm right/ no I'm right" arguement. People its a bird!
Its not worth it. Lets move on. And to repeat your own words Kenn "I don't
think that post did you any favors," because I always had a great respect for
you, but I think you were kind of attacking Bill, and fairly or unfairly, it
belonged in private emails, not on the list. I don't like being wrong about
people, and I hope I'm not.

Oh and though I'm a hypocrite who replied onlist.....lol.....please reply
offlist if you have a reply so we can move on.

Troy S

Message Board postings

Topic: Sprague's Pipit near Clyde, OH
Posted: 03 August 2008 at 4:55pm

The Pipit was not easily found, but when it was seen it was easily ID'd with a scope. I had a good side view and a good front view when the bird stood five or more feet in from the water's edge.

About a half hour later the bird perched on a short corn stalk near the water's edge with it's back to me. The extensive white on the tail, when spread, eliminated the American Pipit and some other pretenders. It took several short low level fly catching flights from this same stalk.

There are several Michigan and Ohioans, who do excellent digi-scoping, they could help settle the ID. My 40D, with it's long lens, was just not up to the task.

Good directions can be found on the OhioBirds list server.

Posted: 03 August 2008 at 9:33pm

Brad and I also searched for the pipit this evening. My experience with Sprague's Pipit consists of seeing them in MT 2 years ago and Brad has never seen one. We checked 6 different field guides. The bird we located as the possible candidate did not exactly match any of them. But it certainly was not an immature Horned Lark.

It took quite a bit of scoping to find the bird and it was hard to keep track of. It did come down to the water's edge once for a few minutes, but spent most of its time in the mud cornstubble between the water and the cornstubble that has green weeds growing in it. Trying to get a look as it walked in and out of the stubble was complicated by the fact it was also walking up and down in furrows. It would disappear and a bird would walk out of the furrow and you'd start to follow it and then realized it was a mourning dove. By then the supposed pipit may have moved out the other side and you'd have to locate it again.

All views of the bird were too distant for any attempt at photographs or video. It spent all its time on the south side of the pond, and the viewing area from the road is on the north side of the pond. Farther to the southeast and east there is plenty of vegetation for it to hide in, and it was heading in that direction when we left around 7:00 p.m. We spent a little over an hour at the pond and probably had the bird in view for a total of 30 minutes of that time.

The number of shorebirds there was incredible compared to what we saw there last Monday. There were a lot of birds to look through, mostly L. Yellowlegs, Killdeer, Pectorals and Mourning Doves, but there were also at least 4 Stilt Sandpipers, some Spotteds and G. Yellowlegs. Very few peeps, and we did not see any dowitchers or Semi-palmated Plovers. There were many swallows flying over the pond and several Cedar Waxwings were around the edges.

More specific directions can be found on the OhioBirds listserve as Caracara states above, but these will work: From Clyde, go east on SR 20 about a mile past the last stop light (at CR 260) and turn left onto CR 175 (South Ridge Rd.). About 1.5-2 miles you'll come to a pond on the right side of the road. You can't miss it. Be careful pulling off the right side at the west edge of the pond as the road edge drops off sharply. There is just enough room to pull a vehicle off the road. If you pull farther up there is a mowed grass area to park in, but you won't have the best view of the east end of the pond from there.

If coming west from Bellevue on SR 20, turn right on CR 288 (just east of York School), which is the first road west of CR 292 where the "railroad ponds" currently harboring the Black-necked Stilts are. Drive north to the stop sign at CR 175 and turn left. The pond will be on your left in about 1/4 mile.

This pond has been active since March and has offered some good birds. Unfortunately, most people checking for the Black-necked Stilts have not driven north to check this pond so it has not gotten the coverage that some of the others have. Unlike the other ponds where the birds have seemed to ignore us, this group did not like us pulling over to the edge of the road to stop and were very flighty.

Good luck to anyone chasing this bird. And good luck getting a decent photo of it.

Posted: 03 August 2008 at 10:23pm

I definitely hope another birder with more experience than I, with Sprague's Pipit, can comment on this, but I am baffled at the above description that the "easily ID'd" Sprague's Pipit was observed to be FLYCATCHING (sallying) from atop a corn stalk. PLEASE correct me if I'm wrong but this does not seem at all like any typical Sprague's Pipit behavior. Also, it is rather strange that this Sprague's Pipit candidate repeatedly has provided such amazing views as it is foraging near open water. This is, again, atypical. Also, extensive white on the tail of this bird is simply not enough to clinch the ID. There are dozens more plumage points that need to be taken into full account (all need to add up) including pale pinkish legs, mantle scalloping, amount and thickness of streaking on chest...and several more pointers including behavoir as a key feature as well.

So, far, no one, including the original observers, have mentioned a string of plumage characteristics that actually initiate a clinched ID. White on the tail, streaks on the chest, and a bold beady black eye is found on anything from an immature Horned Lark, to a Vesper Sparrow, to an immature meadowlark!

Any sort of photos, at all, even distant/blurry, would possibly be helpful. I wish I could get out there myself, but work calls. Perhaps on an evening this week.

Many thanks for the update on this odd bird, and hopefully more and more folks are able to describe it and hopefully shoot some photos.


Posted: 05 August 2008 at 10:44pm
In case my original post was misinterpreted as me saying I thought the bird Brad and I saw was indeed a Sprague's Pipit, that was not my intent. Instead of "The bird we located as the possible candidate did not exactly match any of them. But it certainly was not an immature Horned Lark," I should have said, "The bird we located as the possible candidate did not exactly match any of them. But it certainly didn't match any of the juvenile Horned Larks either."

Due to all the discussion on Ohio Birds, I thought I'd put some more details out there about what Brad and I experienced (sorry for not putting this on Ohio Birds but I don't think we're even signed up any more), just to muddy the waters some more.

I had seen two birds I was sure were juvenile Horned Larks. Both those birds were very flighty and did not sit still for very long so my looks at them were somewhat quick, but I got an impression of "lark" as opposed to "pipit." Then this other bird came walking out of nowhere. It had a different look to it. As stated above, it was hard to get a really good full-body look at it for very long. We'd see parts of it for a good look here, other parts for a good look there. Even when it briefly wandered down to the water's edge, it was running here and there, very quickly, never standing still, so getting a really good look for details was hard even then. What we were able to see in all our time spent following this bird around was this:

- It had white wing bars.
- It had a striped crown, not the more spotted crown of a lark (as shown in the field guides anyway).
- It had pale legs. The distance was too far to say what color of pale, but they were pale, unlike the black legs of the lark (again as shown in the field guides).
- It had a pale bill.
- The bill appeared to be too long and narrow to belong to a lark.
- We saw the bird fly 3 times. The first time we did not see any white in the tail. The second time there were white outer edges, but as much as on a Sprague's Pipit? I really can't say. It was a fleeting glimpse due to the short distance it flew. But it did not scream "white tail!!" at me as I imagine the wide white stripe on a pipit should. The third time it flew we had a much longer look as it flew directly away from us. No white this time, but it was definitely a two-toned tail with a somewhat narrow darker band down the middle, with wide paler edges. Now that really confused us.
- As for the face, it seemed to be "busier" than the Horned Lark's is depicted in most field guides, more along the line of Sibley's Sprague's Pipit. I can't say I noticed a bold black eye as so many have described for both birds. The face was definitely paler than the rest of the head with an even paler supercilium.
- Brad and I each independently came to the conclusion that in some regards, it looked more like a Chestnut-collared Longspur than either a Sprague's Pipit or Horned Lark. I know, that's crazy talk. But again the bill was wrong for a longspur of any kind.
- We both got the impression of some dark buffy or pale chestnut areas on the bird, most notably the nape and the shoulder. Ironically, the Kaufman guide is the only one to give even a hint of this coloration.

Our conclusion? We'd wait and see what the experts came up with and go along with that. We were totally clueless as to the identity of the bird we saw. If the above description matches anything, we'd love to know what!

Hope this clears things up!!


P.S. I am currently studying up for a trip to South Africa in September, and I can see that pipits can be a real challenge. Maybe we should plan on every pipit we see just being a pipit sp. and be happy with that

After re-reading Jen's post, I realized I left out a few things about the mystery bird that we observed:

- The mantle was scalloped, which can fit either bird in question and probably others as well.
- The chest was not as heavily marked as is shown in all the field guides for Horned Lark, more like the pictures of a Sprague's Pipit.

- There did not appear to be any buffiness or streaking on the flanks.

-The undertail coverts, belly and lower breast were snow white.

Thoughts anyone?



by John - 5703 words - 31 min read
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