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Frequent participants in the online photo quiz know that we tend to focus on structural clues in identifying birds. Many of these are found on the shape and size of a bird's bill. Of course, there are times in the field when you can't see a bird's head (and even more times when the head is hidden in a photo quiz!).
Structure is still helpful—here we see that we are dealing with a passerine of some kind. But there are two other important considerations, behavior and habitat. This bird is on the ground on what appears to be sand. Certainly, a lot of birds can momentarily land on the ground. Something has this bird's interest and it would be logical to think that the bird was feeding, or at least attempting to feed. So, I would turn my focus to birds that are routinely found on the ground (sparrows, longspurs, buntings), before turning to something like Purple Finch, which, yes, can feed on the ground, but would be a bit out of place on the sand. It's best to start with the most likely and move from there. So, before considering Pechora Pipit, you should make sure more common and widespread species are eliminated—yeah, this is hard when you don't know where you are!
So we have a bird that's on the ground on what looks like sand. Overall it appears streaky. Within the ABA area, there are a couple of species that immediately come to mind that look like our bird—Vesper Sparrow and Savannah Sparrow.
Much is made of the rufous lesser coverts on Vesper Sparrow, but these are often difficult to see. Here, for instance, we can only see the tips of the median coverts because the scapulars are covering much of the wings. We can't see any rufous on the wings, but that very well could be because it's hidden. The supercilium on our bird is quite pronounced, however—more obvious than on Vesper Sparrow. Also note that while this bird appears to have an eye-ring, it is not as bold and obvious as on Vesper Sparrow.
But this bird also looks quite frosty for Savannah Sparrow and the flank streaking appear paler, more of a rufous color. Most Savannah Sparrows are considerably darker than our bird, but there is considerable variation. In fact, Sable Island breeding Savannah Sparrows (Ipswich Savannah Sparrows) are much paler and look like this. Also note the short tail, which is typical of Savannah Sparrows. This Ipswich Savannah Sparrow was photographed in Delaware, December 2006.
The following people (listed by submission date beginning with the earliest) submitted correct answers for the January Bird Photo Quiz—Savannah Sparrow:
The following list shows the number of submissions for each species guessed.
The photo and answer for this quiz were supplied by Chris Wood.