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Rare Bird Alert: January 18, 2019

Notable ABA Area rarities still being seen into the last week include the Great Black Hawk (ABA Code 5) in Maine, which continues to make a mockery of everyone’s predictions about how a tropical bird can manage to survive a New England winter. The White-throated Thrush (4) in Arizona is also still being seen, as is the Red-flanked Bluetail (4) in California. Both a Pink-footed Goose (4) and a Barnacle Goose (4) are still in Colorado, with another Barnacle Goose (4) hanging on in New York. British Columbia birders saw the Fieldfare (4) this week, and the long-staying Golden-crowned Warbler (4) in Texas and the Red-footed Booby (4) in California were noted this week as well.

Ohio birders were excited this week when the species many regarded as the most-likely next 1st record was finally seen in the state. A sharp adult Slaty-backed Gull (3) in Stark means that Ohio is no longer the only state or province on the Great Lakes to lack this increasingly expected East Asian gull.

Staying around the Great Lakes, a Barrow’s Goldeneye in Manistee, Michigan, was a nice find for that state.

Noteworthy for Utah, a Great Black-backed Gull was seen in Dagget.

Washington’s 3rd record of Cape May Warbler was visiting a feeder in Snohomish. 

In Oregon, a Magnolia Warbler in Lincoln is good for the state.

A rather shocking record from Texas, a Bohemian Waxwing was photographed among a flock of Cedar Waxwings near Fort Worth.

Good for Georgia, a Bullock’s Oriole is at a private residence in Clayton. 

A drake Cinnamon Teal in Dare, North Carolina, is the state’s first in nearly 20 years.

In Maryland, a Barnacle Goose (4) was seen in Frederick. 

And in Connecticut, a Tufted Duck (3) is in Fairfield.

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Omissions and errors are not intended, but if you find any please message blog AT aba.org and I will try to fix them as soon as possible. This post is meant to be an account of the most recently reported birds. Continuing birds not mentioned are likely included in previous editions listed here. Place names written in italics refer to counties/parishes.

Readers should note that none of these reports has yet been vetted by a records committee. All birders are urged to submit documentation of rare sightings to the appropriate state or provincial committees. For full analysis of these and other bird observations, subscribe to North American Birds <aba.org/nab>, the richly illustrated journal of ornithological record published by the ABA.

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2019 AOS Classification Committee Proposals, Part 2

The second batch of 2019 bird taxonomy proposals submitted to the American Ornithological Society’s North and Middle America Classification Committee is out. For those who might not know, this committee is the volunteer group of ornithologists who make the split, lump, and name-change decisions that influence the ABA Checklist and our field guides.

We suggest the usual caveat that you are undoubtedly familiar with by now, 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 in my opinion the proposals are often more interesting than the actual results anyway as we get a peek into the wild world of bird taxonomy as it exists from year to year.

This post will only mention those changes that affect the ABA Area, but if you’re interested in the whole ball of wax – the committee’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).

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Change the English name of McCown’s Longspur Rhynchophanes mccownii

Before we get going on the next batch of proposals, I want to return to packet A to cover one I missed the first time around, tucked as it was at the end of a massive Harlan’s Hawk proposal.

Honorific common names are a mixed bag. For every J.J. Audubon or Alexander Wilson there seems to be a Jules Verreaux, whose “contributions” are probably not worth memorializing. When George Lawrence first described a new species of high plains “lark” he named it after his friend and the man who had inadvertently collected it, Captain John Porter McCown. McCown did not intentionally discover the bird, the byproduct of shots fired into a flock of prairie songbirds, nor was he even an ornithologist, but the fairly innocuous name has since been attached to this fairly innocuous bird for about 175 years. But as it turns out, McCown’s Longspur has the distinction of being the only North American bird named after an officer who served in the Confederate Army during the US Civil War. Not only did he fight for a side whose cause has thankfully been relegated to the dustbin of history, but he was a major character in many campaigns in Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, and elsewhere.

This proposal asserts that such a history doesn’t square with an AOS, and indeed a birding community, that puts a greater emphasis on inclusion and welcoming participants from all backgrounds, and that the name McCown’s Longspur should be replaced with one less problematic and more descriptive, like Prairie Longspur, Banded Longspur, or Black-crowned Longspur.

Might we see a new name for the ghostly McCown’s Longspur? Maybe Banded or Black-crowned Longspur would be more appropriate. Photo: Bill Schmoker

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Recognize the parulid genus Leiothlypis

In the last few years we’ve seen some changes in the way New World Warblers are organized at the genus level, most notably the elimination of the venerable Dendroica genus and the shrinking of Vermivora. This proposal states that some of those former Vermivora, a group of plain colored warblers including Tennessee and Orange-crowned moved not so long ago into the genus Oreothylpis, should instead be moved into a new genus, Leiothlypis, apart from a pair of warblers formerly in the Parula genus, Flame-throated and Crescent-chested. Of those two, Crescent-chested has been recorded in the ABA Area and would be the only member of the Oreothylpis genus to remain on the ABA Checklist.

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Change the linear sequence of the Hirundinidae 

This is another taxonomic order rearrangement, this time featuring the swallows and martins. There’s nothing terribly shocking in this proposal, though the fact that Bank Swallows and martins are not that closely related is different from how they’ve been treated in the past.

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Make changes to the English names of hummingbirds in the genus Lampornis

The hummingbird genus Lampornis consists of seven large and boldly patterned species found throughout Mexico and Central America. It is represented in the ABA Area by one localized breeder, Blue-throated Hummingbird, and one vagrant, Amethyst-throated Hummingbird. These two are anomalous for another reason too, they are called hummingbirds whereas Lampornis hummers elsewhere are given the evocative name “mountain-gem”. This proposal argues that making the names of all Lampornis hummers consistent makes more clear the connection between these two ABA Area species and the rest of the genus and maybe even emphasize the distinction between the female Blue-throated Hummingbird and superficially similar female Rivoli’s Hummingbird in the parts of the ABA Area where they overlap. Further, the proposal suggests eliminating the hyphen in all of the mountain-gems for clarity and brevity. And who doesn’t need fewer hyphens and more mountaingems in their lives?

Is it just me or is Blue-throated Mountaingem an objectively more beautiful species than Blue-throated Hummingbird? Photo: Bryan Calk Macaulay Library

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Split Hwamei Garrulax canorus into two species, recognizing G. taewanus

Hwamei is an East Asian babbler now established on the main Hawaiian Islands and added to the ABA Area checklist when Hawaii was included in 2017. Some authorities consider the Hwamei subspecies on the island of Taiwan to be a separate species from those on the mainland. Hawaiian birds are of this mainland nominate subspecies, G. c. canorus which, if the split were to be accepted, would see their common name changed to Chinese Hwamei.

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Merge the storm-petrel genus Oceanodroma into Hydrobates

The northern hemisphere storm-petrels are made up of two genera, the widely used Oceanodroma and Hydrobates, consisting only of the European Storm-Petrel. Recently phylogenetic work finds that Hydrobates should be placed within the Oceanodroma cluster, and is most closely related to the Fork-tailed Storm-Petrel of the north Pacific. Given that finding, it’s appropriate to put them all together in one genus and Hydrobates has priority. Essentially, all the “ocean runners” need to check their speed and become “water walkers”.

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Recognize family Leiothrichidae for Leiothrix and Garrulax

The Babblers have been a taxonomic grab-bag in the Old World for decades, and recent genetic work has begin to unravel their relationships. Fortunately, North American birds don’t have to worry too much about them, but three members of the recently recognized family Timaliidae, the “tree-babblers”, are established exotic species in Hawaii. This includes the aforementioned Hwamei as well as Greater Necklaced Laughingthrush and Red-billed Leiothrix. If this proposal is accepted, then these three will move from the relatively new Timaliidae to the even newer Leiothrichidae. Fortunately for those of us who are novices in the ways of babbler taxonomy, it’s a three for one.

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Modify the linear sequence of genera and species in the Passerellidae

Maybe the New World equivalent to the madness that is babbler taxonomy are the sparrows formerly in Emberizidae, now Passerellidae. This is an expansive piece of work that places the North American sparrows and towhees into the most accurate sequence yet.

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Merge (a) Pselliophorus into Atlapetes, and (b) Melozone into Aimophila 

Only (b) is relevant to ABA Area birders, a proposal that puts the “brown towhees”, Canyon, California, and Abert’s, in a genus with the towhee-esque Rufous-crowned Sparrow into an Aimophila genus that once again resembles its former glory last achieved before Cassin’s, Bachman’s and Botteri’s Sparrow were pared away. I know some Aimophila fans who will undoubtedly applaud this move.

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The full list, including background information and recommendations is available here (.pdf). We’ll cover the last batch of proposals when it comes in.

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#ABArare – White-throated Thrush – Arizona

On January 9, Linda Grant discovered an ABA Code 4 White-throated Thrush at Madera Canyon, in Pima County, Arizona. The bird has been seen by many birders since its discovery and is still present as ove yesterday (1/14). in addition to being a noteworthy bird in the ABA Area, this is a 1st state record [read more…]

Blog Birding #393

A year and half later, Puerto Rico is still dealing with the after-effects of 2017’s Hurricane Maria. At 10,000 Birds, Jason Crotty explains what the last two years of CBCs say about how the birds are recovering.

Immediately after hurricanes, surviving birds appear to wander in an effort to find any remaining food supplies and [read more…]

Rare Bird Alert: January 11, 2019

The Great Black Hawk (ABA Code 5) in Maine continues into this week, headlining a familiar cohort of long-staying ABA Area rarities. To it we can add the Golden-crowned Warbler (4) Texas, which was joined by a second bird this week, the Fieldfare (4) in British Columbia, the bizarre Pink-footed Goose (4) Colorado, a slightly [read more…]

American Birding Podcast: 2019 Bird of the Year Artist Megan Massa

Multimedia bird artist Megan Massa is the latest artist to create the Bird of the Year cover art, an auspicious list that includes David Sibley, Julie Zickefoose, and Louise Zemaitis, among others. Her experiences have run the gamut from the hobby side of birding to birds research to art and her creation, a Red-billed Tropicbird [read more…]

#ABArare – Red-flanked Bluetail – California

On January 7, Rebecca Marshall discovered an ABA Code 4 Red-flanked Bluetail on the grounds of the UCLA Clark Library in Los Angeles, California. This is California’s 3rd record of the Old World chat, but the first to be found on the mainland. Indeed, it is only the 3rd record this species on the mainland [read more…]

Blog Birding #392

Want to do more birding close to home in 2019? Seagull Steve of Bourbon, Bastards, and Birds explains the 5 Mile Radius and why it should be your goal this year.

Birders of all levels and all stripes have embraced the 5MR, and you should too! Bird Police, civilian bird wizards, “young birders”, geri birders, [read more…]

Rare Bird Alert: January 4, 2019

Rarities continuing into the first part of the year include the amazing Great Black Hawk (ABA Code 5) in Maine, the Pink-footed Goose (4) in Colorado, and the Golden-crowned Warbler (4) in Texas. British Columbia continues to host the Fieldfare (4) and the Long-legged Buzzard (no code) is apparently still hanging on into the Alaska [read more…]

Introducing the 2019 ABA Bird of the Year

It’s that time again, to launch a year honoring a special bird!

It feels a bit obvious, doesn’t it? That the ABA, celebrating our 50th year in 2019, would choose our long-standing logo bird, the Red-billed Tropicbird, Phaethon aethereus, to be the Bird of the Year in 2019. And it is, of course, but it’s [read more…]

American Birding Podcast
Birders know well that the healthiest, most dynamic choruses contain many different voices. The birding community encompasses a wide variety of interests, talents, and convictions. All are welcome.
If you like birding, we want to hear from you.
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