Monday, February 25, 2013

Our Only Solitaire

[Tres Pistolas, NM. February, 2013]

There are 13 species of extant Solitaires in the World. We are fortunate to have 1 -- the Townsend's Solitaire. Here is the full list:
  1. Rufous-brown Solitaire (South America)
  2. White-eared Solitaire (Andes)
  3. Black Solitaire (Andes)
  4. Townsend's Solitaire (North America)
  5. Brown-backed Solitaire (Mexico, northern Central America)
  6. Cuban Solitaire (Cuba)
  7. Rufous-throated Solitaire (Caribbean)
  8. Black-faced Solitaire (Costa Rica, western Panama)
  9. Varied Solitaire (Panama, Colombia)
  10. Slate-coloured Solitaire (Mexico, Central America)
  11. Andean Solitaire (Andes)
  12. ʻŌmaʻo (island of Hawaiʻi)
  13. Puaiohi (Kauaʻi)
Solitaires are Thrushes and are mostly insectivorous but, like the Townsend's Solitaire, will eat berries and other fruit in the Winter. Also like other Thrushes, the Townsend's Solitaire is a fairly drab bird but what it lacks in color, it more than makes up with its beautiful song.

In the winter, Townsend's Solitaires live off Juniper Berries almost exclusively and therefore a good place to look for them is near, or on, their food source -- Juniper bushes.

Townsend's Solitaires are strongly territorial in winter, defending their Juniper bushes vigorously.
Townsend's Solitaire eating a Juniper berry. This thrush is named after the acclaimed American ornithologist John Townsend; who is responsible, among other things, for having described the Mountain Plover and Townsend's Warbler.

Plumaged in grey, the buff wing patches and a prominent white eye-ring are distinctive. Perhaps the only other bird it could carelessly be confused with would be the Northern Mockingbird.

The global population of this Western Thrush is estimated to be about 770,000 and is not considered under threat.
The other bird of note [another lifer for me] was Crissal Thrasher. The Crissal Thrasher was long confused with the California Thrasher to which it is closely related. Curiously, because of a typographical error, its scientific name [erroneously confused with a junco] was not corrected until  1983.

The bill is strongly decurved; more so than the curve-billed thrasher.

"Crissal" means pertaining to the crissum or the feathers around the cloacal opening. It is used to indicate the highly colored under-tail coverts present in this species. And, indeed this mimid was earlier also known as the red-vented thrasher. This feature (deep red-brown color of the undertail coverts) is diagnostic.

The bonus bird seen was the white-crowned sparrow:
Overall, a fruitful morning with both target species located; the highlight being our sole solitaire.

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