CONTENTS:  Events & Programs From the Editor A Word From The President, Laurie Nessel Notes & Announcements  National Audubon Sate Director, Sam Campana     •  National Audubon Board Meeting  • Attention: Arizona Employees! •  Photo Quiz AZ Special Species - Rufous-Winged Sparrow Birding for Dragonflies Science without Humanity: The Mt. Graham Telescope Project Classified Ad •   Field Trips  • Field Observations •  Photo Quiz Answers  • Dues ShareChristmas Bird Count Schedule 


Short-tailed Hawk photographed by  Jim Burns in the Chiricahua Mountains, AZ, August, 2002 with Canon EOS 1V body, Canon 400 mm f/2.3 lens and Fujichrome Velvia film.

  WINTER - 2002/2003  PHOTO QUIZ
By Jim Burns
 

THIS ISSUE’S CLUEWe first did crested birds in the summer of '01 and promised the next crested bird quiz would be harder.  As part of this quiz, see if you can assign gender to these these birds even before you name the species.  Two of these, as you can tell be comparing bill shapes, belong to the same family.

 

  

A) Good Photo, 
Easy Bird
 
  
 
B) Good Photo, 
Difficult Bird 
 
  
C) Bad Photo, 
Easy Bird
Our first venture into the world of crested birds was made relatively easy by the bold facial patterns of the three highlighted species.  Although the new sepia tone has immeasurably added to the visual panache of the newsletter, we are still basically working in shades of black and white and, with the exception of the eyering and undertail on our third bird, in this month's quiz we are dealing with rather plain birds in rather uniform plumage.  None of these birds show us much pattern or contrast.

Birders are attuned to seeing more and/or more vibrant color in male plumage, but often fail to consider pattern and contrast, irrespective of color, as another and perhaps more important male gender marker:.  On this basis we might guess our first two quiz birds are females and the third is a male.  Sibley refers to plumage patterns as tools of "passive communication: be which birds signal to others of their own species as well as to would be predators.  Crests are certainly another of these tools.  Birds, unlike birders, probably recognize and react to pattern and contrast rather than colors themselves.  This is the underlying reason field trip leaders request dark, muted clothing and I often wear camouflage when I'm out with my camera.

(Continued on page 12)

 

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AZ's SPECIAL SPECIES, RUFOUS-WINGED SPARROW

 

By Jim Burns

What is "the only common resident breeder in Arizona that has never been found in any other U.S. state?"  The answer is Rufous-winged Sparrow, Aimophila carpalis.  This interesting piece of state birding trivia was first posed on the internet last winter by Rich Hoyer, Wings tour leader from Tucson, and would seem to make Rufous-winged Sparrow the quintessential Arizona special species, a species truly found only here in our state.

Two factors conjoin to give Rufous-winged this unique status:  it is non-migratory and it requires a habitat niche which has proven to be extremely narrow.  That niche, extending southward from Tucson across the Mexican border through Sonora to northern Sinaloa, is a combination of flat terrain, tall grass, mesquite, cholla, and hackberry interspersed with bare ground.  Tall grass--read "ungrazed or lightly grazed"--is the key ingredient.  Where you find Rufous-winged Sparrows you will typically find Black-throated Sparrows, but you won't find Rufous-winged everywhere you find Black-throated because the latter is far more adaptable, apparently tolerant of overgrazing, and evolved to thrive in short grass and sparse grass habitats.

It is fascinating and instructive to view the grazing issue through the microprism of Rufous-winged Sparrow history in southern Arizona.  The penultimate U.S. species to be discovered and described to science, Rufous-winged Sparrow was first found by Bendire in 1872 in the Tucson area, where it proved to be abundant.  Cattle were introduced to the southern Arizona grasslands in the late 1880s, a final Rufous-winged specimen was taken in 1886, and then the species "disappeared" for nearly 50 years, presumably extirpated from the state and thus from the country!

Another specimen was not found in Arizona until 1932 when the bird was rediscovered on the Papago Indian Reservation near the Baboquivari Mountains, and four years later birds were seen again in Tucson in areas that had been only lightly grazed or had not hosted cattle at all.  Since that time Rufous-winged Sparrow has undergone a slow but steady increase as areas of its required habitat have been taken out of grazing rotations.

Despite its comeback, Rufous-winged Sparrow is still considered a local breeder.  At this time of year it can often be 

found ground foraging in small family groups in loose association with Black-throateds and overwintering flocks o Brewer's Sparrows.  It is perhaps more readily found in early spring and again during Arizona's "second spring," after the monsoon rains have begun, when males tee up and sing from the tops of mesquites or patches of cholla.  Nests are cups of dry grasses placed low in shrubs and cactus.  In wet years two broods are raised.

Currently one of the easiest spots to find Rufous-winged Sparrow is in the washes around the hamlet of Continental below Madera Canyon.  Park in the café/gift shop parking lot, cross the road and the rail line to the east and search the sparsely vegetated areas north and south along the tracks.  If it is springtime, either first or second, listen for the distinctive song which consists of two high introductory notes followed by a lower, accelerating, monotone trill.

Other good strategies are to walk either the gravel 406 Road which loops off to the right along the main road up to Madera Canyon or the road into Chino Canyon where the pavement ends.  Rufous-wingeds have also been found in Gardner Canyon north of Sonoita and in residential areas of Green Valley.  Recent reports have come from the Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum on the west side of Tucson and east of Agua Caliente Park on Tucson's far east side.

As you search for Rufous winged Sparrow consider why, besides its narrow habitat niche, it might have been such a late scientific discovery.  It may well have been overlooked because of obvious plumage similarities with Chipping Sparrow with which it shares rufous crown and dark "mustache" marks.  Additionally, the wing patch for which the Rufous-winged is named is often or even typically hidden beneath that species' scapulars.  But Chippies are Spizellas--skinny little sparrows with round crowns and notched tails--and Rufous-wingeds are Aimophilas--robust sparrows with flat crowns and long, rounded tails.

Though it may not be visually stunning like many of our state's special species, Rufous-winged Sparrow is a handsome sparrow and, by virtue of its singular and revealing biogeographical history in the state, well deserving of its cover status on Phillips, Marshall, and Monson's classic Birds of Arizona

 

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