Monday, July 1, 2013

Birding SE Arizona


Zambian birds

The miombo rock thrush is a particularly engaging little bird, with its tastefully muted plumage. It is named for the increasingly threatened miombo woodland that covers much of south-central Africa, from Angola to Tanzania. Like many other species in the region, this rock thrush is a miombo specialist, so deforestation is a significant conservation threat. In Zambia, where I spent much of February and March, miombo is cut down for firewood, and to make way for tobacco, a highly lucrative crop that has to be dried, a process requiring fuel in the form of more decapitated miombo trees.

Assorted sketches of some of the avian highlights, including the Chaplain's Barbet (Lybius chaplini ), found only in Zambia.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

A secretive present from the storm

This delicately striped little sparrow is a member of the American genus Ammodramus, which is Latin for "sand runner". 

Like most members of the genus, the Le Conte's sparrow (Ammodramus leconteii) does indeed scurry rodent like along the ground, as I had the pleasure of witnessing at close quarters. Normally a highly secretive resident of damp grasslands in the middle of the North American continent, this individual was found guzzling seeds by the side of a road in Concord, MA. We think it was probably blown here by a recent storm, and too exhausted to bother escaping from approaching cars or ecstatic birdwatchers.
Tired/ tame Le Conte's sparrow too busy guzzling to wipe its beak

Like many members of the genus, particularly the grasshopper sparrow, the Le Conte's sparrow sounds more like an insect than a bird, with a high-pitched, buzzy trill.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

A taxonomic puzzle

This sunny bird, the yellow-breasted chat (Icteria virens), is traditionally classified in the family Parulidae, the New World warblers. However, it is a good deal larger than most of its closest relatives, and its songs are strident and not in the least warbling. In addition, mature males and females are equally colourful, something which cannot be said for most parulids. The only member of its genus, this species has yet to find a taxonomic home. A molecular phylogeny in 2010 ousted the yellow-breasted chat from "the core Parulidae group", but failed to clarify which of several "non-Parulidae outgroup taxa" it is most closely related to.
Yellow-breasted chat (Icteria virens)


Lovette, Irby J.; Perez-Eman, Jorge L.; Sullivan, John P.; et al. 2010 A comprehensive multilocus phylogeny for the wood-warblers and a revised classification of the Parulidae (Ayes)MOLECULAR PHYLOGENETICS AND EVOLUTION  57753-770