Like many birders, I am fascinated with the many advances made by the scientific community, and advances in bird taxonomy are no different. Since the American Ornithological Society released the 59th supplement to the AOS Check-list on Thursday, I might as well cover some of the most notable changes as they effect North and Middle America.
White-collared Seedeater (Sporophila torqueola, sensu lato) has been split into two species: Cinnamon-rumped Seedeater (Sporophila torqueola, sensu stricto) and Morelet’s Seedeater (Sporophila morelleti). The latter is now the only species of tanager which regularly breeds in the continental United States. It reaches the northern end of its range along the Rio Grande in southern Texas; from there, its range extends south along the Gulf and Caribbean coasts to the southern end of its range in western Panama. It is also found on the Pacific slope from there north to Oaxaca. The former is endemic to the Pacific slope and interior of Mexico, from Oaxaca north to southern Sonora and disjunctly in southern Baja California Sur. There is at least one unaccepted record of Cinnamon-rumped Seedeater from the ABA Area, in San Diego, California, on 30 August 2015. As a pretty bird which happily eats seeds and produces a beautiful song, it’s a “good” caged bird, so a conservative approach is probably warranted. I only have Morelet's Seedeater for both ABA and world, so not too exciting.
The English name of Perisoreus canadensis has changed from Gray Jay to Canada Jay. This reverses a committee action from 1957 and is also a nod toward the possible adoption of the species as the official bird of Canada. The committee went against precedent with this decision: its often-voiced opinion that, unless there’s a species-level change, it’s not wise to tinker with long-established English names, didn’t win out this time (a similar proposal was made last year to change the English name of Aythya collaris from Ring-necked Duck to Ring-billed, but that did not pass). While changing the name from Gray to Canada is appropriate to keep with the English names of other Perisoreus jays (Siberian for P. infaustus and Sichuan for P. internigrans) and I approve of it, this might take a while for me to get used to so don't send me bck to the car if I slip up and say "Gray" instead of "Canada," I'm still adjusting.
Ammodramus was split to form Centronyx and Ammospiza, leaving Grasshopper as the only North American member of this genus, with an additional two in South America
The woodpecker genus Picoides has been split. North American species are now in Picoides, Dryobates, and Dendrocopos. Black-backed and American Three-toed will stay in Picoides, Great Spotted will be moved to Dendrocopos, and the rest will be moved to Dryobates
The Old World chat genus Luscinia has been split. ABA Area species are now in Larvivora, Cyanecula, and Calliope. I currently have none of these for ABA and probably won't unless I go to western Alaska
Gray Nightjar has been split. The scientific name of the species which has been found in the ABA Area changes from Caprimulgus indicus to Caprimulgus jotaka.
Asian bush-warblers were transferred from Cettia to Horornis. In North America, the only member of this genus is the Japanese Bush-Warbler, an introduced species in Hawaii
Just a few weeks ago, the birding world was shocked again when less than 24 hours after birders at Tadoussac Bird Observtory in Quebec had a record-breaking high count of 700,000+ warblers, Brian Patterson and Kate Sutherland reported a Tahiti Petrel on a Seabirding trip out of North Carolina. This was not only a first record for the state, but also a first for the Continental ABA Area and the Atlantic Ocean as a whole.
This was a species that, while common in captivity, has had a few valid records in the ABA Area in the past few years, most notably one last year in New Hampshire. Interestingly, prior to this supplement, the closely related Ruddy Shelduck was on the AOS Check-list but not the ABA Checklist
Storm-petrels in Fregetta, Oceanites, and Pelagodroma were elevated to a new family: Oceanitidae. Since my only ABA Storm-Petrel at the time of this writing is Wilson's, I have no members of the original family on my ABA list. I have Wedge-rumped and possibly Band-rumped from the Galapagos in my pre-birding years, which I will have to review my records for when I get the chance.
The subspecies of Buff-throated Foliage Gleaner found on the Pacific slope of Costa Rica gained full species status: Autolomus exsertus
Tyrannoidea has been replaced with Tyranni, which includes Cotingidae, Tityridae, Pipridae, Oxyruncidae, and Tyrannidae. Sequences in Tyrannidae have also been changed as well.
Coopman's Elaenia has been split from Lesser Elaenia as well as Chivi from Red-eyed, Olive from Tufted, Black-backed Water-Tyrant from Pied, and Hermit Wood-Wren from Gray-breasted.
Passerini's and Cherrie's Tanagers were lumped to form Scarlet-rumped Tanager
This was not a species change, but rather a subspecies change: Chiriqui Yellowthroat was found to be closer related to Masked Yellowthroat than to Olive-crowned Yellowthroat
Unfortunately, a lot of exciting proposals from a North American perspective were rejected this year, including those to lump Taiga and Tundra Bean-Geese, split Mexican Duck, change of the English name of Rock Pigeon back to Rock Dove, separation of Fork-tailed Swift into four species, change of the English names of Common Gallinule and Common Moorhen, recognition of the genus Catharacta, split Scopoli's Shearwater from Cory’s, split Boyd's Shearwater from Audubon’s, split Barn Owl into three species, elevate Platyrinchinae and Rhynchocyclinae to family level, rearrange the linear sequence of tyrant flycatcchers, change of the treatment of Piprites by creating the new family Pipritidae, transfer of Lesser Whitethroat from Sylvia to Curruca, separation of Toxostoma arenicola from LeConte’s Thrasher, separation of Melozone occipitalis from White-eared Ground-Sparrow, and split Yellow Warbler into two species.
I don't usually like to bring my opinions into scientific discussions, but t
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Lifers indicated in bold
Stopping at Shawangunk Grasslands National Wildlife Refuge (the same place I saw Short-eared Owls this spring, read more about it here) on the way back up to Syracuse was not just about adding a bird to my list, this was also to settle a score. The last time I tried for Henslow's Sparrow at this spot, I had waited for two hours with no luck, only getting a Dickcissel (a lifer at the time) and the sparrow reappearing after I had left. My mom and I got there around 3:00 in the afternoon, when it was blazing hot and nothing around. FWS has managed Shawangunk Grasslands in the past few years in hopes of attracting grassland breeding birds, with sparrows such as Henslow's are a particular target; finally succeeding in 2017. Skip ahead to now, and there is a pair of Henslow's Sparrows at the refuge that had built a nest on a trail that had been roped off to avoid disturbances to the nest. Since getting a close look was out of the question, this would be a waiting game like last year... Fortunately, another birder who had brought a scope was also on lookout.
As time passed, a male American Kestrel hovered over the grassland, a Bobolink sang from a perch near the nest site, and even a Black Bear foraged at the edge of the forest, but the sparrow didn't make itself known until another half hour, when I finally heard a repeated “tsi-lick” “tsi-lick” “tsi-lick” coming from the nest spot. While I have no problem counting heard only birds under normal circumstances, this would be my 300th bird on my NY life list, so I wanted a special look at it, so we continued to wait. Another half hour passed before I heard another series of the “tsi-lick” “tsi-lick” “tsi-lick” song. I focused my scope in on the bush and saw the male Henslow's Sparrow perched, singing his “tsi-lick” “tsi-lick” “tsi-lick”. I got pics through the scope before it dropped back down. We waited another half hour before finally moving on to Syracuse...
We didn't get to Montezuma until later in the afternoon on Tuesday. I was hoping to see either Black Tern or Least Bittern from the Wildlife Drive, but neither was present; instead mostly waterbirds, songbirds, and one Bald Eagle. I think the most notable bird I saw here was a Trumpeter Swan, and that wasn't even new for this year.
The next bird I would try for was Sandhill Cranes at Knox-Marsellus Marsh. There were several large wading birds there, but all turned out to be Great Blue Herons, not what I was looking for.
We were running out of time to find my remaining target species: Least Bittern, Black Tern, and Yellow-throated Vireo, so in a last ditch effort for new birds, we went to Van Dyne Spoor Road, where I had seen all three last spring. I heard the vireo singing from the forest and saw several Black Terns flying around, but came up empty with the bittern. Having gotten only two of my targets, we went home...
The next day, after trying again at East road for Sandhill Cranes with no success, we made the long drive home in silence. My birding marathon of the summer had unofficially ended, but would my checklist streak stay alive?
The following two days were spent trying to get into summer courses at LIU Post, so I couldn't bird unless I submitted incidental lists. Just as I thought my streak was about to die, as luck would have it, two days after the less than exciting 2018 AOS Check-list supplement came out, a pair of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks was seen at Nissequogue River state park in Suffolk county while we were out to lunch with some friends of my father who were in town for a wedding. While I had already seen Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks in Florida this year, an opportunity for another state lifer was too good for me to pass up. I accompanied my dad in dropping him off at the hotel, then we went after the ducks. Shortly upon arrival, we saw the ducks perched on a floating log.
My 46 day eBirding marathon came to a grinding halt when I saw Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, the day before summer classes started. My streak had held up even when I saw Solo: A Star Wars Story and Avengers: Infinity War, but not through a movie I was pressured into seeing, which you can read about what inaccuracies I have to criticize Universal on in Paleobirding #2: Breaking Down the Fallen Kingdom.
To be continued...
The day before, a male Wilson's Phalarope had been reported at the same spot in Heckscher State Park that I saw the male Ruff in the last chapter. If I was to go to Arizona this summer, this would've been a rarity I could afford to pass since I planned to be in Arizona around the time western shorebirds like Wilson's Phalarope and Baird's Sandpiper started to move south. However, due to unforseen circumstances at ESF, I would not be able to bird in the southwest this summer; forcing me to have to chase any western birds that appear on Long Island. Unfortunately, by the time we got to the spot the phalarope was seen, it had left. Wilson's Phalarope is more likely to appear at Jamaica Bay later in the summer anyway, so I would hopefully have another chance.
Another bird I shouldn't have had to chase this year was Arctic Tern, which I was hoping to get in Maine at the Acadia Birding Festival along with Atlantic Puffin. Once again, because I had to cancel the majority of my summer travel plans at the last minute, I would not be able to get either species in their breeding range. While there is a slim chance for puffins in northeastern waters in winter, early June happened to be the best time for Arctic Terns in New York, usually at Nickerson Beach in Nassau County and Cupsogue Beach in Suffolk. With about two hours to kill before I had a driving lesson, I took an Uber to Nickerson to try and refind an Arctic Tern. Because getting too close to a Common Tern nest is basically asking for the parents to attack you, I focused most of my efforts on the roped off area on the west side of the beach. Amidst all the Common Terns, I found a Roseate Tern (which I had also come to Nickerson to look for) and a good candidate for Arctic. I also went back to the main colony to see if the Gull-billed Tern was still there, which it was, but not without facing the wrath of the angry Common Tern soon-to-be parents.
On visit 2, I returned to Nickerson to try for better Arctic Tern pics and a Black Tern that had been reported there as well. This time, the only terns at the beach were Common, Least, and Forster's.
Later that week, I had convinced my parents to let me look for Eastern Whip-poor-wills at Edgewood Preserve after we all went out for dinner. My plan was to get there around dusk in the hopes of hearing one sing. After a half hour walking arounnd the main field my dad and I went deeper into the forest where, upon reaching a sandy area, heard a repeated "whip-poor-will." I knew it was an Eastern Whip-poor-will, and also this happened to be #300 on my New York state list! After getting a recording, we headed home.
To be continued...
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