aba events

Introducing the 2017 Bird of the Year!

It's the moment that surely dozens of you have been looking forward to for hours now, the announcement… [read more]

Introducing the 2017 Bird of the Year! Introducing the 2017 Bird of the Year!

Photo Quiz: December 2016 Birding

The December 2016 Birding is winging its way to ABA members right now. While we wait for the mail to… [read more]

Photo Quiz: December 2016 Birding Photo Quiz: December 2016 Birding

The Kaufman Challenge, v. 0.5

What could be simpler? Learn the names of fifty plants and animals around your home. That’s all there… [read more]

The Kaufman Challenge, v. 0.5 The Kaufman Challenge, v. 0.5

It’s OK to Talk to Strangers – at Least if They Have Binoculars

I was desperate to find another birder, but generally speaking there are few to be found in the Black… [read more]

It’s OK to Talk to Strangers – at Least if They Have Binoculars It's OK to Talk to Strangers - at Least if They Have Binoculars

Open Mic – The Endangered Species Act and Birds: A Wild Success?

At the Mic: Jason A. Crotty The Endangered Species Act (ESA) is difficult to evaluate, as its success… [read more]

Open Mic – The Endangered Species Act and Birds:  A Wild Success? Open Mic - The Endangered Species Act and Birds:  A Wild Success?

Announcing the 2016 ABA Awards Recipients!

The ABA Board of Directors recently voted to make three presentations of ABA Awards in 2016. The awardees… [read more]

Announcing the 2016 ABA Awards Recipients! Announcing the 2016 ABA Awards Recipients!
Nikon Monarch 7

#ABArare – White Wagtail – Arizona


Alaskan goodies in the Lower 48, especially as far south as Arizona, are always worth a note here. Yesterday afternoon Doug Backlund found an ABA Code 3 White Wagtail in Pima County, Arizona. This is a 2nd state record for this species, and one of only a few inland records in the Lower 48.

The bird was seen at Ajo Sewage Plant, which is near the corner of North Well Road and Rasmussen Road in Ajo, Arizona. The nearest major city is Tucson, about 2.5 hours to the east. Birders on the scene note that the only viewing is from outside the fence, and that a ladder or a pickup truck to stand in is helpful. A scope is highly recommended.

White Wagtail breed across the Old World, sneaking across the Bering Strait to breed in northwestern Alaska as well. They are a fairly common migrant in western Alaska in fall and spring, but quite rare elsewhere in the ABA Area. Most Lower 48 records are from California, and most of those are within a few miles of the shore. There are only a few inland west records, notably in New Mexico and Nevada. Most vagrant birds are the widespread east Asian ocularis subspecies.

2017 AOS Classification Committee Proposals, Part 3


Here is the third and likely last batch of taxonomic proposals, submitted in the last year to the American Ornithological Society’s North and Middle American Classification Committee. Part 1 is here. Part 2 is here. Proposals accepted by the AOC Committee are incorporated into the ABA’s Checklist.

We suggest the usual caveat, that it’s important to note that these are just proposals and the committee has yet to vote on them formally. There are some that are unlikely to make the cut for whatever reason, but we include them here because they are interesting and worthy of discussion.

This post will only mention those changes that affect the ABA Area, but if you’re interested in the whole ball of wax – the AOS NAMACC’s jurisdiction includes all of the North America south to Panama – please refer to the official list of proposals at the AOS’s website (.pdf).


Revise the linear sequence of genera in Fringillidae, and transfer Serinus mozambicus to Crithagra

This fairly straight ahead proposal rearranges the genera in the finch family based on a handful of recent phylogenetic studies. Serinus mozambicus, commonly known as Yellow-fronted Canary, is an established exotic in the ABA Area in Hawaii and a good candidate for inclusion on the ABA list. It moves to genus Crithagra along with a few Old World relatives.


Split Brown Creeper (Certhia americana) into two species

The New World’s lone representative of the treecreeper family, the unique Brown Creeper consists of two “groups” with more than a dozen named subspecies. The Northern Group contains the birds that most birders in the ABA Area are familiar with, with the Southern Group only creeping (you’re welcome) into the ABA Area in southeastern Arizona but occurring through Mexico into northern Central America. Birders and ornithologists have long noted differences between these two groups where they overlap, with northern birds being generally larger and lighter than the southern birds. The proposal is based on a study that looked at genetic differences between the groups and found them to be fairly significant, with little or no gene flow occurring. In fact, the “boundary” between the two groups seems to correspond with well-defined forest types, and is consistent with boundaries seen in other nearctic/neotropic species pairs. The proposal suggests the name Nearctic Creeper for the northern group, with Brown Creeper retained for the southern, mostly non-ABA, group, which seems unnecessarily confusing. The committee suggests Nearctic and Neotropical Creeper for the two.

Brown Creepers in southeast Arizona, like this one from Cave Creek Canyon in Cochise County, are quite different from those elsewhere in the ABA Area. Photo: Jay McGowan/Macaulay Library (S30887780)


Split Nashville Warbler (Oreothlypis ruficapilla) into two species

Nashville Warbler isn’t often among the increasingly short list of likely splits in the ABA Area, but the species does consist of two subspecies that, while similar in appearance, don’t breed anywhere close to each other. The eastern subspecies ruficapilla breeds across the northeastern United States and much of southeastern Canada west through Manitoba. The western ridgwayi subspecies, often known as Calaveras Warbler, breeds roughly from southern British Columbia into California. The proposal cites differences in morphology, behavior, and vocalizations, and genetic studies done in the not too distant past found significant distance between the two suggesting that even if their breeding ranges did overlap, they wouldn’t interbreed. The proposal suggests the established name Calaveras Warbler for ridgwayi, and the somewhat uninspired Rusty-capped Warbler for ruficapilla, noting that Nashville Warbler is a pretty lousy name for this species. Can’t say I disagree with that last part, at least.


Lump Thayer’s Gull (Larus thayeri) with Iceland Gull (Larus glaucoides)

This proposal has been simmering for some time, as many birders have long since come to the conclusion that these two species actually represent one near-hemisphere spanning cline, from the entirely white-winged nominate Iceland Gull of western Europe to the muddy-winged Thayer’s of the Pacific Coast. The proposal suggest that the entire premise for considering Thayer’s as a full species is flawed, at best, from the very source and the 1960s research that more or less informed that decision is called into question. In that case, the path of least resistance would require that, in lieu of genetic research on these birds, that Iceland and Thayer’s Gulls be considered one species. Another option, that nominate Iceland Gull and Thayer’s Gulls are full species in their own right, and that the bird we call “Kumlien’s” Iceland Gull, which breeds in eastern Canada and winters in the east of North America, is a hybrid swarm, does not seem to be taken into consideration by the proposal. But short of genetic samples taken from birds on their isolated breeding grounds, that question may never be answered.

Dark Iceland Gulls on the west coast, like this one from Monterrey, California, have always been problematic to identify. The AOS might make that question much easier, though no less interesting. Photo: Paul Fenwick/Macaulay Library (S33021659)


Change the spelling of the English names of Le Conte’s Thrasher (Toxostoma lecontei) and Le Conte’s Sparrow (Ammodramus leconteii)

This proposal seeks to correct a typographical injustice done to the John LeConte by none other than John James Audubon himself. Audubon was given the type specimen of the bird that came to be called Le Conte’s Sparrow but he neglected to enter the appropriate information at the time as he was recovering from a near-death experience, having shockingly very nearly shot himself in the head with a borrowed shotgun. Instead of a hole in his head, he put a hole in poor Mr. LeConte’s name in the monograph, where it stuck for nearly 175 years. The thrasher’s name was derived from the sparrow, evidently, and thus both were wrong. The proposal suggests that the names officially delete the space. To be honest, this whole thing was news to me, as evidently I’ve been spelling the names incorrectly (but now correctly) for years. Go figure.


Add Common Scoter (Melanitta nigra) to the Main List

Add Blyth’s Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus dumetorum) to the Main List

Add Chatham Albatross (Thalassarche eremita) to the Main List

Add Red-legged Honeycreeper (Cyanerpes cyaneus) to the U.S. list

These are house-keeping proposals of the type we see every year. As the ABA incorporates AOS taxonomic decisions into our list, the AOS incorporates documentation of new bird records per the ABA into theirs. These four species are added to their respective lists based on documented sightings. The scoter, warbler, and honeycreeper in California, Alaska, and Texas, respectively. The Chatham Albatross, originally seen in 2001, was re-evaluated by the California Bird Records Committee in response to the split of Shy Albatross some years ago and unanimously accepted.


Split Bell’s Vireo (Vireo bellii) into two species

Bell’s Vireo in the ABA Area consists of four subspecies split into two groups, roughly eastern and western. The two groups differ primarily in plumage and behavior, with differences in vocalizations often cited as well. The western group, often referred to as “Least” Bell’s Vireo has long been considered distinct, and is a conservation concern in California, Arizona, and New Mexico. The proposal notes that any change in taxonomic treatment of this group will have conservation ramifications. With that in mind, it’s surprising that it was not until recently that a full genetic study was done on this species, and the results were as expected with the two populations segregating genetically as well as spatially. The proposal suggests that the name Bell’s Vireo be retained for the population in the center of the continent, while Least Vireo is used for the endangered southwestern birds.


The full list, including background information, recommendations, and the whole log story about Thayer’s Gulls is available here (.pdf). We’ll post the results of the voting when we see them this summer.

SNEAK PEEK! Birder’s Guide to Travel, 2017

The 2017 issue of Birder’s Guide to Travel has just hit the printers. American Birding Association members should find it in their mailboxes in the next couple weeks. But you don’t have to wait until then to see what’s inside. You can see the entirety of this issue of Birder’s Guide right now. Simply click [read more…]

Blog Birding #313

Last week bird researcher and field guide author Chandler Robbins passed away just shy of his 99th birthday. At the US Fish and Wildlife Service Blog, the organization that employed him for decades, offers a remembrance.

“Chandler Robbins was the ‘dean’ of the bird conservation world, one might say,” says Jerome Ford, assistant director for [read more…]

Rare Bird Alert: March 24, 2017

If you haven’t been paying attention to Cornell’s exceptional Birdcast site in preparation of the coming spring migration, let me just be the first to suggest you do so. Birdcast takes data from eBird and combines it with meteorological predictions to essentially create migration forecasts, telling you where adn when birds will be moving into [read more…]

American Birding Podcast: Nathan Pieplow and The Field Guide to Bird Sounds

The next episode of the American Birding Podcast is live!

Nathan Pieplow’s new field guide is a departure from the traditional book of bird images. It depicts images of bird sounds as spectrograms, showcasing the diversity of vocalizations in North America. Nathan joins me to talk about his book, the Peterson Field Guide to Bird [read more…]

Chandler Seymour Robbins, 1918–2017

Chandler Seymour Robbins, one of the greatest birders and field ornithologists of all time, died yesterday in Columbia, Maryland. He was 98.

Robbins created the Golden Guide, among the most influential bird books ever published, and he conceived the Breeding Bird Survey, a landmark achievement in biological conservation. His contributions to ornithology and bird conservation [read more…]

Episode V: A New Hope (or Unhinged for Anhingas)

Jeff Skrentny and I decided a while back that we would be making one more trip down to Little Egypt and the Trail of Tears in hopes that we might finally be able to track down what may be Illinois’ most elusive summer resident: Anhinga. It would be my 5th attempt.

As the day that [read more…]

Blog Birding #312

Owl ethics are a hot topic in the birding internet these days, and Jeremy Bensette, at Jeremy Birder, shares his strategy for finding owls on his big year.

I think it’s worth first addressing the topic of owl ethics, suppressing sightings, and why I asked that people do not post strong opinions. Why suppress owl [read more…]

Rare Bird Alert: March 17, 2017

Continuing rarities in the ABA Area this week include the famous Black-backed Oriole in Pennsylvania, and the Streak-backed Oriole (4) in Arizona. A Rose-throated Becard (3) continues in south Texas, as does a Redwing (4), now apparently singing, in British Columbia. The Hawfinch (4) in Anchorage, Alaska, is still coming regularly to a feeder and [read more…]

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