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Isabelline California towhee in Huntington Beach Central Park

On Sunday, Aug 31 2008, while birding in the middle of the Civil War (or at least a re-enactment of it), I saw a sandy-beige bird feeding on the lawn at the edge of a brushy area in Huntington Beach Central Park. It was consorting with two typically-plumaged California towhees, and it appeared to be identical to them in everything but color. The entire bird was buffy, including flight and tail feathers, with no darker brown “towhee-colored” feathers on it, and was paler on the breast and underside. Its bill was pinkish-gray. I got good looks at the bird, with and without binoculars before it flew up into a small tree about 25 feet away, where it perched for a minute, making a sharp chip note that was towhee-like. Though it was partially concealed in the branches, it was possible to get a couple of digital images. This is the best one, slightly cropped to make the bird larger in the frame. I believe it is an Isabelline California towhee.

Perhaps this aberrant-plumaged individual is well-known to local birders (I’m from out-of-state); it certainly stood out against the green lawn, and was very much brighter in tone than the other typical, subdued California towhees it was with.

Other than an absurd number of Orange-crowned warblers and the previously mentioned Civil War encampment, it was the only notable sighting of the morning. The Audubon group (LA?) we met leaving as we came in were off to Bolsa Chica because nothing much was up in the Park, perhaps because of the cannon and rifle-fire?

As a born Californian, I will refrain from making any blond remarks and simply wish the bird success in evading accipiters, feral cats, and black-powder firearms.

Incidentally, here is an explantaion for the color term “Isabelline” meaning dun or dirty beige: “The name of Isabelline, this grayish-yellow colour comes from the colour of the underwear of Isabel Clara Eugenia, daughter of King Philip II of Spain who at the siege of Ostend vowed not to change her underwear until the city was captured. The siege lasted for three years so the colour of her underwear must have been truly grayish-yellow (isabelline) when the city was finally taken.” I cannot confirm accuracy, only cite internet source.

Posted by Allison on Sep 2nd 2008 01:28 pm | No Comments yet
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