Red Herring!

THE books say that Pacific Golden-Plover has toes that extend beyond the tail when the bird is in flight, some even say that this does not happen with American Golden-Plover, they are wrong. With Eric Mills and Dennis Garratt finding seemingly different Pacific Golden-Plovers in Nova Scotia, we in the Land that Time Forgot, otherwise known as southern Nova Scotia, have been diligently searching for one. Flight images of pale golden plovers have invariably shown toes projecting and they have all been, without doubt, American Golden-Plovers.

On The Cape today, two pale birds were present but with clean, white superciliums (can you believe that the singular of this word is flagged by the eBird spell-check!). They did however have bold ear spots, whopping great eyes that, were they on a cat, would surely get them an extra spoon of kitty feed and a certain slenderness about them. They weren’t very golden though and Pacific should be. The light was rather flooding, even though I was down two stops on the camera, so it is no surprise that they looked pale.

In the one photographed down, it had stretched and made itself look slimmer than it was. The primary projection is wholly American Golden-Plover too When they flew, the light refracting down their length brought out a distinctly Pacific Golden-Plover hue about their feathers and their toes stuck out beyond the tail, especially obvious on the one with the spread tail. So, when reading any shorebirds guide and finding it quoting the long toes myth, feel free to take an indelible pen to the text, toe projection might be a supporting detail but it is not diagnostic of Pacific Golden-Plover.

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Until we reached Steven’s Point, our pick-up spot, the two plovers had been the highlight of a rather quiet visit. That changed when I flushed a small brown bird that was no sparrow! After a couple of flushes I got the bins on it, hailed Ronnie and Mike and suggested we had a Marsh Wren. We ushered it on once more and Ronnie got some crucial shots, especially after it then disappeared and we were left with two choices, Marsh or Carolina.

The remarkable photo shows a dull bird with a well-defined supercilium and a rather short bill, had it any pretentions Carolina-wards. To the eye it was dun-brown, uniform looking with a rounded tail. Marsh fits, Marsh it is. I doubt that we can assign a race, given that more plumage detail may be needed although my bet would be for western.


Thanks to Ronnie d’Entremont for the use of the photo.

It is now sparrow season, albeit a quiet one, and those that do pop up, bar the regulars, seem to be Billy no mates, i.e., on their own. Such was the case on 10/12/16 when I saw a sparrow dive into a bush on Daniel’s Head (insert any joke you like here). I squeaked it and it popped up, White-crowned Sparrow of the race gambeli. So I thought I’d do a bit on the various races and borrow a few maps from the excellent I hope they don’t mind and I’d be happy to donate a few of my many images in compensation if they do.

Starting with the White-crowned Sparrows that we get here regularly, and here I start writing in Latin (gasp) for a bit because, currently, there is no better way to do it. White-crowned Sparrow Zonotrichia leucophrys leucophrys is our bird in the east, Black-lored White-crowned Sparrow. Z. l. gambelii also occurs here, perhaps a little irregularly, and is a central to western subspecies, Gambel’s Sparrow from now on. Out west, west is where it gets more complicated as there are three subspecies; Z. l. pugetensis which is limited to a section of the western US coastal strip from BC to northern California and is migratory, Puget Sound Sparrow from now on.. To the south is Z. l. nuttalli which barely move from their breeding zones to point of being sedentary, Nuttall’s Sparrow. Inland of the west coast and up in the mountains is Z. l. oriantha which goes south for the winter and is of little interest to us here as I don’t have a photo! Mountain White-crowned Sparrow.

Here are a couple of photos of Black-lored White-crowned Sparrows.


On The Cape in October 2015.


In Quebec in May 2013.

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And the Daniel’s Head Gambel’s Sparrow from 10/12/16 (two shots).


This is a Puget Sound Sparrow from Oregon, November 2014.


This is a Nuttall’s Sparrow from California, June 2014.

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And here are the maps showing ranges.

Further reading on White-crowned Sparrows in the west:


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