Joseph V Higbee.com

Musing X Wondering About Hybrids

November, 2007


Once again I find myself unable to sleep for thinking about a bird sighting. So here I am musing over this wonderful little sparrow with the golden crown and white throat that was spotted at the Hoquiam STP (Sewage Treatment Pond) by Carol Riddell and then two days later by myself. Musing over it in bed before getting up, I began to wonder why there didn't seem to be much interest generated by this bird. So, unable to sleep, I got up and checked the recent Tweeter's (a bird list) postings and, lo and behold, there was a note with some thoughts on the ancestry of the bird from Charlie Wright. Now Charlie is a young man and I'm an older man, and what he had to say disagreed with what I had been thinking, so I had to read his post a few times before seriously considering the points he made. Then, putting a this recent bird alongside one of a White-throated Sparrow, I could see he was possibly right. Perhaps it is a Golden-crowned Sparrow exhibiting some albinism and not a GCSP X WTSP (Golden-crowned Sparrow X White-crowned Sparrow) as I thought. However, a close look above the eye reveals the short yellow marking that is characteristic of the WTSP and wouldn't likely be found on a GCSP with or without signs of albinism.*
   About here my musing got crossed up with wondering; when does a rare bird become a 'rare bird'? I googled for "white-throated golden-crowned" and came up with only one documented sighting for such a bird,that one in 1951, and one recent post from Nevada. That, to me, would make this a pretty rare bird. But so far it has generated very little notice, and the same seems to be true of the report in Nevada. But a while back a thrush that is quite common in some parts of the world was seen in our area and people came from all over the country to see it. They could have just gone to where it is common and seen all they wanted. But because it was here instead of there it was "rare". Yet this little, common appearing sparrow with very different markings gets little notice. So I ponder and wonder, when does something rarely seen become "rare"?
   One thing for sure, being a layman and not an expert sure helps when it comes to this musing X wondering stuff. I remember earlier this year when Patrick Sullivan reported a Red Fox Sparrow at Nisqually NWR. The bird in question was P.i.altivagans, considered by some to be a hybrid of Red with either Slate-colored or Sooty Fox Sparrow. In the discussion on this bird's parentage, everyone seemed to lose sight of it's relative rarity. I mean, regardless of whether this bird was a race of FOSP (Fox Sparrow) or a hybrid of two races, it was still a very rarely seen and reported bird. Interestingly, I found two spellings of altivagans. The other was altvagans. Being a layman, I didn't have to worry too much about what to call it, or even whether to do so in Latin or English. I could just enjoy it and muse and wonder over what it was, a bird I had not seen before and may very well never see again. To me that describes a 'rare bird'.
   And I guess the same holds true for this strange sparrow with markings of a WTSP and a GCSP. Or possibly a GCSP with albinistic markings. (Naw) I have the photo and I have the memory of seeing a bird the likes of which has been recorded only once before, 50+ years ago. And I can muse and wonder how many other such birds never get reported because they are too "common" to be "rare".

Links:

*P.i.altivagans: http://www.pbase.com/jvhigbee/image/75955172