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Sunday, November 6, 2016

Welcome California Scrub-Jay plus Nuttall's Woodpecker and Western Meadowlark

[California. March 2016]

It is indeed a special moment to be witness to the introduction of a brand new species into the ABA area; yet that is exactly the good fortune that has befallen collectively on all birders in 2016 with the historic splitting of Western Scrub-Jay into California Scrub-Jay and Woodhouse's Scrub-Jay (see article here).

It is not often that we see the making of taxonomic history right in front of our eyes; and thus in euphoric celebration of this glorious occasion, we profile the California Scrub-Jay -- a delightful corvid that was observed earlier this year together with some other species typical of the area:
  • California Scrub-Jay
  • Nuttall's Woodpecker
  • Icterids: Western Meadowlark, Brewer's Blackbird, Tricolored Blackbird and Red-winged Blackbird 
  • Small songbirds: Audbon's Warbler, Ruby-crowned Kinglet
We start by welcoming California Scrub-Jay as a new species to the US:

California Scrub-Jay is a bright blue jay with a black mask, a faint blue necklace and pale undersides.

California Scrub-Jay is primarily coastal (here observed at Los Pensaquitos, San Diego) and ranges from Baja California to Washington State.

Woodhouse's Scrub-Jay, on the other hand, is found in the interior West -- from Nevada to Texas:

Here seen at Tres Pistolas (New Mexico), it is a duller blue, with a duller mask and greyer undersides. The faint necklace is also largely absent. In addition to the plumage, differences also exist in vocalization and bill shape.

Next, Nutall's Woodpecker is a virtual endemic to the state of California:

Here seen at Ramona Grasslands, this small woodpecker favors oak habitat.

Over to Icterids, we start with Western Meadowlark:

Also seen at Ramona Grasslands, this beautiful songster is virtually indistinguishable from its Eastern namesake and best separated by vocalization and range.

Farther north, Brewer's Blackbird was observed in Coyote Valley:

More common is Red-winged Blackbird:

But, perhaps the most notable Icterid observed was Tricolored Blackbird:

A female observed in the same area -- this species is listed as "Endangered" and has suffered a catastrophic decline in numbers thanks to the twin evils of over-development and destructive agricultural practices.

On the small songbird front:

Audubon's Warbler was observed (at Los Pensaquitos) and Ruby-crowned Kinglet at Ramona Grasslands:

Splits and lumps are a fact of life for birders; yet each such event affords an opportunity to reacquaint and rediscover; and, the spectacular California Scrub-Jay is a prime example of a species that invites our attention to renew our relationship with what once was known to us simply as "Western Scrub-Jay".


Bob Pelkey said...

An interesting presentation of one of the updates by the AOU Checklist Committee, Hemant. It was interesting to read elsewhere that the "Western Scrub-Jay" was unlike the Florida Scrub-Jay with the former failing to breed in cooperative groups as does the Florida species. Nice "bonus" birds as well.

Digital Plume Hunter said...

Indeed Bob -- the taxonomic landscape continues to evolve: