Sunday, August 3, 2014

New names for old birds

I recorded and photographed two new bird names on my list of today's birds. But I didn't record any new life birds. These weren't even new year birds for me. How?

Well, every year at this time the scientifically-slanted AOU (American Ornithologists' Union) publishes its checklist of North and Middle American birds (North Pole to Panama), adding new species discovered visiting North America the past year, changing names (common and scientific), reordering the checklist, and splitting and lumping species based on new DNA or morphometric or other evidence. Once published, the ABA (American Birding Association), the "birding-as-a-sport-club" adopts the checklist changes (but only for US north of Mexico, Canada, and the French Island of St. Pierre et Miquelon, and out 200 miles into the ocean or half the distance to another point of non-included land (but not Bermuda, Bahama (♫ come on pretty momma ♫), Greenland, or Hawaii).

Thus the following two birds I saw today now have different names for different reasons.

Nutmeg Mannikin becomes Scaly-breasted Munia
Nutmeg Mannikin becomes Scaly-breasted Munia. Kit Carson Park, Escondido, California. August 3, 2014. Greg Gillson.
Just last year this feral former cage bird became a countable species in southern California. Wild birds are widespread in river bottoms along the coast. In the pet trade this bird is known as Spice Finch or Nutmeg Mannikin.

The bird has nothing to do with nutmeg, nor is it found where nutmeg comes from. [Maybe it is nutmeg-colored. But that's not a real color. It's a made-up color. The only real colors are those original 8 in the Crayola box. As a kid, my family evidently couldn't afford the 64-color box for me, or the unbelievable 128-color box, so now I refuse to recognize any other colors. This bird is brown (or close enough).]

The Nutmeg Mannikin is NOT related to the bird family of Manakins. Mannikins are finches (known for their lively songs and seed-eating appetites); Manakins are related to flycatchers (sub-oscines, which means they can't sing to save their lives; they eat bugs); Manikins are, well, Mannequins. Where's Ogden Nash when you need him?

Scaly-breasted Munia Lonchura punctulata is the last bird on the ABA checklist--the last bird in your field guide, following House Sparrow and Eurasian Tree Sparrow.

Okay, enough silliness. On to Bird Number 2.

Clapper Rails in the West become Ridgway's Rail
Western Clapper Rails become Ridgway's Rail. San Elijo Lagoon, Solana Beach, California. August 3, 2014. Greg Gillson.
It was low tide at San Elijo Lagoon this morning. Over a dozen of these large rails snuck (sneaked, for you word snobs) out of their marsh vegetation where they usually hide unseen to eat the many exposed fiddler crabs and clams or whatever those lumps in the mud are. They were quite excited and called out often, eliciting a response from all the other rails in the marsh--quite a noise! It is more usual not to see or even hear any rails during a birding visit.

Last time I saw these birds they were called Clapper Rails. But a bunch of Clapper and King rails (several in Mexico) were split in this recent AOU update (see definition of "cryptic species" in yesterday's post about White-breasted Nuthatches). "Clapper Rails" are now found on the Atlantic. Ridgway's (yes, without an 'e') Rails are now the form found in coastal salt marshes in California and along the Colorado River and coastal western Mexico.

Ridgway's Rail  Rallus obsoletus
Clapper Rail  Rallus longirostris