Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Armchair Birding

Every summer, the AOU(American Ornithologists' Union) releases new findings and studies about birds.  Birders eagerly wait for these reports to come out because there is often a lot of new information released about the current state of the bird world. Most importantly, with the advances of genetic studies, we are finding that there are more new species of birds out there. And vice versa! Take for example, the Caribbean Coot.  Gone.  It has now been lumped back into the American Coot. I always find it a fascinating read!  Anyhow, this years splits have given me some easy "life birds".  Without having to do anything, I've added two new birds! Or as birders call it, "Armchair Birds". 

California Scrub-Jay
Birders have suspected for a long time that the Western Scrub-Jay found along the Pacific Coast was actually a different species than the one found in places like Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, etc. There was a noticeable difference in the color between the two birds.  The Woodhouse's subspecies(was more light blue/gray) while the coastal subspecies was a brighter blue.  They even acted slightly different.  The coastal subspecies is not a shy bird as it sits upright on top of the vegetation.  The Woodhouse's does the same thing but tended to be a bit more shy. 

Woodhouse's Scrub-Jay
This year I focused on the California subspecies(now separate species) before heading over to Catalina Island. Another similar species of jay, the Island Scrub-Jay, is found on Santa Cruz island!  In the birding community, there is always talk that certain species will be split. And so I carefully made sure I noted that detail in my observations.  

Island Scrub-Jay
Today, the Western Scrub-Jay has now been officially split in the US.  The coastal subspecies is now referred to as the California Scrub-Jay.  Now when you go to California, you have to look for all the other "California" titled birds like the California Gnatcatcher, California Quail, California Thrasher, California Towhee, California Condor, California Gull and now...the California Scrub-Jay! Pretty cool!

The former Western Scrub-Jay found in Arizona(and other states) is now called the Woodhouse's Scrub-Jay.  What do these splits do to someone like myself?  Well, I have to go back into my records and separate them all. Each file is renamed!  In the case with these two jays, I had to move the photo documentation to the correct area.  In a sense, birders are librarians of data:)

However, the bird splits didn't stop there!  During my pelagic trek off the San Diego coast, several birders were kind enough to point out the subspecies of Least Storm-Petrels.  To be honest, this is a bird I'm unaccustomed to observing out in the field as I am an Arizona birder:)  It was great being with birders who could point out the subspecies of these petrels while teaching me to note the very slight differences in size and coloration. Again, I made careful notations.  

Townsend's Storm-Petrel
The Leach's Storm-Petrels were also split into 3 new species which are now known as Leach's, Ainley's and Townsend's Storm-Petrels. Apparently, this split has been a long time coming! The Townsend's Storm-Petrel is a smaller and darker bird when compared to the Leach's Storm-Petrel.  We were able to observe both species flying together for size and darkness comparisons. Yet another easy add! 

White-naped Brushfinch
And then the tropics happened. This one was about the details.  Newer species?  Yes and no.  I didn't add any here, but I had to retitle several of these birds.  Back in 2013, Las Aventuras traveled to Guatemala.  I found the White-naped Brush-finch.  I thought the title was ridiculously long.  Today, they have taken one of the hyphens out and now the bird is a White-naped Brushfinch.  The devil is in the detail:)

the "new" Lesson's Motmot
And finally for today's write.  The Blue-crowned Motmot complex.  I've been reading about this for some time and expected the splits to happen.  I just didn't know when it would happen.  I've already thought they were difficult enough to ID, but now they're even much more so!  Luckily, the region plays a big part in their ID help!

Whooping Motmot in Panama City, Panama
On a trek to Panama back in 2011, I stopped at a beautiful park called El Parque Metropolitano in Panama City.  I first began birding and had a blast here.  But I quickly discovered that my first Motmot I observed was actually the Whooping one.  How did I find out?  Well, I put Blue-crowned Motmot into ebird and it came up rare.  It all has to do with their calls and the blue caps on their head.  The Whooping Motmot's blue cap doesn't extend below the eye. Anyhow, the Blue-crowned Motmots have been split yet again.  The Whooping Motmot still stays the same, but the Blue-crowned Motmot has been broken up into two new species......the Blue-capped Motmot, now found mostly in Mexico, and the Lesson's Motmot which is found in much of Central America.  As you can see, this birding stuff can get quite nerdy.  More splits and lumps have happened this year but they didn't affect any of the other field observations.  For more info on the 2016 AOU updates, click here. Quite honestly, with all the heat from this desert summer, it's nice to add a couple new lifebirds without having to move an inch.  Until next time.....

Gone are the days of the Green Violetear. Today, this bird has been split into two separate species.  The Mexican and Lesser Violetear.  Above, we have the Mexican Violetear, which is a rare visitor in the United States. 


  1. Ha, ha! Good for you! You are not only a teacher, but an astute student as well! I am Impressed!

    Oh, and I love the armchair!

    1. Thanks! It's really fun reading all the updates each year!

  2. One alaways keeps learning as things keep changing. Love the Motmot shot

  3. Well, for those of us not listing on ebird, we'll just have to hunt down a Woodhouses...since my first scrub was a California. Should be easy in the Huachucas.

    1. Hmmmmm, interesting Bruce. The Huachucas, you say. I don't think I've ever seen one there. But I bet you'll find one there!

  4. Great way to get new "ticks". As you say things are always changing and at times it can be hard to keep up! but bird reports are so full of interest :)


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