Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
from the July 26, 2009 Newsletter, describing a backpacking trip on the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail in Red Buttes Wilderness Area, Siskiyou County, California:
The trail passed through lots of mountain-slope chaparral and I was amazed at the sheer numbers of Fox Sparrows, PASSERELLA ILIACA, who nested there. And they were Fox Sparrows very unlike those seen in the East. You can see one that many of you will doubt is a Fox below:
Romain, very familiar with Fox Sparrows in this area, says that what's in the photo is the "California" or "thick-billed" subspecies, Passerella iliaca ssp. stephensi. During winter, coastal races ("sooty group") invade the lowlands in this area.
At Kangaroo Springs at dusk I walked over to a campfire spot and dropped a piece of white paper onto some old ashes. Half a second after the paper left my hand a bird streaked between the ashes and my hand still in the air. It was a Fox Sparrow who landed in a nearby bush and looked at me. A minute later the bird flew back and landed in dust previous campers had created walking around the campfire.
From about 20 feet away I began snapping pictures as the bird sang and scratched in the dust like a chicken. I approached closer and the bird continued scratching and singing. Closer, and more scratching, closer and closer, and more singing. You can see the bird in very dim light, from ten feet, below:
Fox Sparrows mostly overwinter in the US Southeast and southwest, breed throughout most of Canada, Alaska and much of the US Northwest, plus they're permanent residents here in the coastal Northwest.