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Re: on identifying and reporting Sagebrush Sparrows

Chris McCreedy was responsible for the recent 'Sage' Sparrow study in Arizona. His response to Paul's email is below.
Justyn Stahl
San Clemente Island
Hi Paul, 
I
conducted the study in AZ, with the help if many volunteers. As Paul
wrote, identifying the two taxa in the field can be very difficult. 
I
apologize I have not gotten our results out there earlier, i has been a
busy few years. I finished my thesis, my Dad died and I was responsible
for his estate, I moved twice, changed jobs, and much of my free time
was devoted toward desert avicaching and desert thrasher survey protocol
developement. I have finally completed nearly all of those things and
will be picking back up on the Sage Sparrow paper this spring. 
We
captured wintering Sage Sparrows and used blood sampling to confirm sex
and assign ID. The differences are there, we caught 70-80 birds if my
memory serves, and our in the hand identifications conflicted with lab
identifications for only one, or perhaps two birds. Those conflicts
occurred the first day or two of the study, and it did not take long
before we were pretty confident of which species we had in the net
within a few moments of extracting the capture. 
We
photographed all of our birds and I will include ranges of overlap of
plumage traits in the paper. But I just wanted to say that following
Paul’s comments, I studied these birds intensively and I still leave the
majority of individuals I encounter in the field as ‘Sage’ Sparrows,
and I am instantly suspicious when I encounter eBird checklists with
most or all birds observed taken to Sagebrush and/or Bell’s, with 0 or
few left as Sage Sparrow. 
Common
mistakes are assuming that back streaks = nevadensis and that lack of
streaks (without taking distance and glare off of the back into account)
= A. belli canescens. Multiple photographs are desired both for views
of different characters and because camera settings and lighting can
make it difficult to understand plumage coloration and contrasts in
individuals with just a shot or two. 
I
am happy to look at photographs if you send them, though I work a lot
and cannot always get to them immediately for you.  You will find that I
will often tell you ‘best to leave it as a Sage Sparrow’.  I will have
the article out for you as soon as I can, and yes, I would love to
replicate our study at more sites and habitats in AZ and SE CA. 
Chris McCreedy
Tucson

Source: SanDiegoRegionBirding Latest Reports