Saturday, September 27, 2014

Chipping Sparrows at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery

Chipping Sparrow
Chipping Sparrow. Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, San Diego, California. September 14, 2014. Greg Gillson.
Two weeks ago at FRNC I photographed a sparrow I thought might be Brewer's Sparrows. Some of these desert sparrows had been reported there along with the common resident Chipping Sparrows. Later at the cemetery I encountered similar sparrows and decided these new birds were Chipping Sparrows in non-breeding plumage. When I looked at the photos, it turns out that they were all the common Chipping Sparrows. Nothing rare after all.

Chipping Sparrow

The photo above is of the first bird that I thought might be Brewer's Sparrow. It was in bright sun and this photo has been adjusted to bring down the over-exposed breast and face from the bright sun. In the field, the dark whisker mark stood out to me and the lores (feathers between eye and bill) appeared pale. These two field marks should indicate Brewer's Sparrow. However, looking again I do see that the lores are somewhat dark and the whisker mark is diffuse. Tricky!

Chipping Sparrow

Another possibility is Clay-colored Sparrow. But that bird has well-defined crown streaking, especially a broad white central crown stripe that this bird lacks. Chipping Sparrows in breeding plumage have a solid chestnut cap, but here you can see the crown is slightly chestnut with black streaking. Brewer's Sparrow would not show any chestnut color on the crown.

Chipping Sparrow

Young sparrows, just out of the nest, are heavily streaked below, as this bird shown above. In the field I didn't know exactly what species this was, and concentrated on getting several photos that I could examine later. There were adult Savannah Sparrows and Song Sparrow there and I thought this might be a young Savannah Sparrow. The wing bars and a rather plain facial pattern (with just a line through the eye and not much of a lateral throat stripe) point to this being a juvenile Chipping Sparrow.