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Blog Birding #237

The spring warblers are supposed to be the easy ones, colorful and vocalizing, but leave too David Sibley to find one that doesn’t quite tick all the boxes for any one species. He explains at his blog.

What I saw was not what I expected, however. Instead of the uniform gray head and dark face of a male Mourning Warbler, this bird had a pale gray face, conspicuous thin whitish eye-arcs and a clean white throat! There was also a striking oval black breast patch. This black patch is normal for Mourning Warbler, but it usually goes along with dark gray (and even some mixed blackish) on the throat, and doesn’t stand out very much. On this bird it was really obvious against the white throat.

The Gulf Stream blitz by the folks at Seabirding is one of the great birding experiences in North America. Steve N.G. Howell gives a report of a trip that seems slow, but offered lots of insight into this remarkable ecosystem.

The tropical Atlantic is the second biggest desert on the planet (after the tropical Pacific), and by mid-late morning we came to appreciate that just because it’s full of water doesn’t mean it’s not a desert. The 360-degree vista of blue water was punctuated by only a handful of Wilson’s Storm-Petrels in the wake, as we headed deeper into the desert. Few people realize that Black-capped Petrel is an oceanic desert species, adapted to cover huge areas in search of food, and we did have a few nice views of this threatened gadfly petrel. But mostly it was hot and seemingly lifeless.

Bird names, both common and scientific, are full of honorifics to various ornithologists of the last couple centuries, but only a few who have named more than 100. Lynn and Sean at Mercenary Ornithology seek out who is on this illustrious list, and the #1 probably won’t surprise you in the least.

In total, 1,121 scientists have described at least one species of bird.  46% of those scientists have described one species, and only 17% have described more than 10.  There are 23 ornithologists that are in the illustrious 100 club – scientists that have described 100 or more species of birds.  Barring a drastic change in the definition of what a species is, no one will ever join this club again.

Green-tailed Towhee is a unique little bird that slots about halfway between the Pipilo towhees and the big Zonotrichia sparrows in size and habits. It’s nestled in the former genus now, but its presence there has not always been certain, as Rick Wright of Birding New Jersey and Beyond explains.

If I’ve kept track correctly, this short letter efficiently sideswipes Robert Ridgway — for failing to acknowledge Coues’s intellectual priority — Spencer Baird — for disagreeing with Coues’s treatment of Kieneria — Charles Bonaparte — for raising the genus in the first place — and the rest of the AOU’s checklist committee — for forcing the green-tailed into an unnatural position in the tally.

Most of us have a soft spot in our hearts for those baby birds that need rehabilitation, but does that empathy extend to starlings? Julie Zickefoose explains why it should.

Everybody knows starlings aren’t worth saving. Starlings displace native cavity nesters; there are way too many of them, and they don’t belong here anyway. Do we really need more starlings in the world?  (Readers in the UK, where starlings are native and on a mysterious, precipitous longterm decline, are saying YES!) But we emphatically don’t need more starlings outcompeting native cavity nesters in the U.S.A. Ask any flicker, red-headed woodpecker,  purple martin or bluebird.
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