Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Armchair ticks: Woodhouse's Scrub-Jay and Townsend's Storm-Petrel

The American Ornithologists' Union made two long-anticipated splits this year in its annual report. As a result, I added two life birds to my checklist without going anywhere!

An overview of this year's changes, including re-ordering many family groups, is on the ABA blog.

A few years ago the Scrub Jay was split into Western Scrub-Jay, Island Scrub-Jay, and Florida Scrub-Jay. It took a while, but Woodhouse's Scrub-Jay (Aphelocoma woodhouseii) finally has been split from Western Scrub-Jay. Therefore, Western Scrub-Jay received a new name: California Scrub-Jay (Aphelocoma californica).

California Scrub-Jay
California Scrub-Jay. Palomar Mountain, California. July 4, 2016. Greg Gillson.
The California Scrub-Jay is the form I'm most familiar with in Washington, Oregon, and California. Woodhouse's Scrub-Jay is an inland form. It's a bit paler with a shorter bill. I saw them on a trip to Colorado in October 1984: At Bright Angel Lodge at Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, Dalton Springs, Utah, and between Cortez and Durango, Colorado.

In 2008 I photographed a smaller blackish storm-petrel at sea far off southern California. It had a white rump that wrapped all the way around and onto the the sides of the undertail coverts. After much research I found it was a subspecies of Leach's Storm-Petrel. Well, Leach's Storm-Petrel has now been split 3-ways, with Townsend's (Oceanodroma socorroensis) and Ainley's (Oceanodroma cheimomnestes) separated from Leach's Storm-Petrel (Oceanodroma leucorhoa). Leach's is found from Alaska to Mexico, Ainley's only in Mexico, and Townsend's primarily in Mexico and rarely to southern California. [ID article here]

Townsend's Storm-Petrel
Townsend's Storm-Petrel. Tanner Bank, Ventura Co., California. November 2, 2008. Greg Gillson.
These "new" birds, plus a significantly re-ordered checklist are supposed to be incorporated into eBird about August 1st. Ducks and chickens are still first on the North American list, but everything else between there and woodpeckers is reshuffled--it's going to take me quite a while to get used to looking for pigeons, nighthawks, and hummingbirds at the beginning of the bird book, then shorebirds and gulls, followed by albatrosses, herons, pelicans, and hawks just before the woodpeckers, falcons, parrots, and passerines.