McCown's Longspur in Fish Lake Valley

Observers: Justin Hite and River Gates
Remote Name:
Date: 07/14/2004
Time: 08:57 PM -0400


We saw it while driving up the dirt road from Highway 264 to Leidy Creek Canyon (we were about halfway up the alluvial fan) on the east side of the White Mountains. The dirt road starts about 2 miles north of the Fish Lake Valley Community Center, north of Dyer, NV. We saw it after dark, at about 9:45pm. We stopped the car when we saw a songbird sitting on the road ahead of us in the head lights, hunkered down low to the ground. It had a very short tail, a pale unstreaked breast, a white belly, a head patterned like that of a female House Sparrow (pale brown ear patch bordered above and below by thick whitish stripes), a white eyering, and wings without noticeable wing bars. The bill was sharper than a House Sparrow’s, and mostly pale with dark along the dorsal surface and at the tip. We also thought it could be a juvenile Black-throated Sparrow, which have a relatively similar facial pattern, but these also have an all dark bill, a long tail, and a finely streaked breast band. We were unable to get good looks at the tail to check for the distinctive patterning; we were only able to note that it was quite short for an Emberizid. It flew a few times, and the flight was very distinctive. It would rise up off the road above the head lights, then swirl in haphazard loops and twists before dropping back to the road. The flight seemed to be a combination of a Skylark’s and a large moth’s. Neither of us has any experience with Longspurs, and don’t know if this flight is what they do or if this is just how songbirds behave when spot-lighted by cars in the night. We didn’t see any other rare birds on the trip, but did see 8 species of lizards which is quite a treat for those of us who live in the lizard-depauperate Mono Basin. Western Fence, Sagebrush, Side-blotched, Long-nosed Leopard, Desert Collared, Western Whiptail, Zebra-tailed, and Desert Horned Lizards. The east side of the Whites is amazing.