Butterflies, Birds and that Darn Shrike

Updated 1/26/16–For those of you coming to this post because of the Mendocino Shrike you can scroll down to the end of it for a link to a North American Birds article just recently published. The authors Peter Pyle, Jon Dunn, Nial Moores and Robert Keiffer conclude that the shrike is a Red-backedXTurkestan Shrike hybrid.

Because I just recently photographed an unusual and uncommon butterfly and I'm excited about it, I'm going to start with butterflies today. Screw the update on the shrike. You'll have to go through butterflies to get to it.

Normally my pictures of butterflies are of species that are common (except maybe for the Green Comma). Two Tuesdays ago I was on a coastal birding trip with Chuck Vaughn, President of the Peregrine Audubon Society and Mendocino County Ebird reviewer. The birding sucked but I had told Chuck that I now stopped for butterflies. While we we looking for shorebirds from the bluffs overlooking Virgin Creek Beach a small bluish green butterfly caught my eye.

My first problem was trying to name this butterfly. All of my butterfly books had a different name for it. Kaufman had it as a Coastal Green Hairstreak. Glassberg had it as a Bramble Hairstreak. Shapiro has it as a “Coastal” Bramble Hairstreak.

Art Shapiro in his Field Guide to Butterflies of the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento Valley Regions had this to say about it.

This is one of our worst taxonomic nightmares. Scarcely any two authorities agee on the limits of species, or to what named entity various populations should be assigned, or even on the correct biological entity to which some of the names refer.

I guess some progress has been made in sorting all this out. Sometime back I had gotten an account with Butterflies and Moths of North America in hopes of uploading some of my sightings to their website. I decided to try it for the first time with this Hairstreak. I received a response almost immediately.

This is actually Callophrys viridis since a decision by the ICZN. Callophrys dumetorum now applies to what was called C. perplexa. BAMONA has not adjusted this yet-Ken Davenport. Yours thus becomes an important record.

When the reviewer stated , “Yours thus becomes an important record.” it gave me a warm feeling. ICZN stands for the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature. I guess we will call this butterfly a Coastal Green Hairstreak for the time being. You can read about the ICZN's decision in the News of the Lepidopterists' Society's (Yes–I did go there!!!) newsletter.

NatureServe, An Online Encyclopedia of Life states,

Very limited range and scarce and local in most of it. Already extirpated around San Francisco. Almost all habitats subject to disturbance or destruction from development. Loss of host plant through competition from exotics is a threat to some populations. For now believed to be over 20 extant occurrences but with threats, this species could be or become globally imperiled.

You can read about the Green Hairstreak Project in San Francisco that is trying to link up isolated Green Hairstreak populations in the city in an attempt to keep them from going extinct.

Enough about Coastal Green Hairstreaks. Let's give the Edith's Checkerspot some love. It's a striking butterfly and they are now flying. This one was found in the grassy part of the trail to Virgin Creek Beach.

Orange Sulfurs are a common butterfly but you rarely see them with open wings. This is a female found recently north of Lake Cleone.

While trying to get a decent picture of the Orange Sulfur this handsome Brewer's Blackbird walked by eating from the flowers of the nearby ice plant. It's rare for me to get just the perfect light on a blackbird to show off it's iridescence.

Sora are listed as rare in Mendocino County. They are seldom seen. This one was swimming out in the open in a marshy area at Lake Cleone.

This Bonaparte's Gull was found at Virgin Creek. While not rare in Mendocino County you can see that this bird is oiled on it's left flank. Just yesterday on an SOS Survey at Virgin Creek Beach I noticed another black-headed gull flying over me. Based on the underwing pattern it was an extremely rare Franklin's Gull. Sorry–there wasn't time to get a picture as it disappeared to the south.

Finally we come to an update on the shrike as yet not identified. Is it a Brown Shrike, Red-backed Shrike or some form of hybrid?

On April 16th I received a morning call from Alison Cebula of California State Parks asking if I would like to help her with a Snowy Plover Survey in the Manchester State Park area. Alison as you might remember was the person who originally discovered the shrike at Alder Creek. I hustled down to the Van Damme Beach parking lot where she picked me up for the ride down the coast. We surveyed the Brush Creek area first and arrived at Alder Creek around 1:30PM. There were four birders at the overlook two local and two from the San Francisco Bay Area. The shrike was easy to find in the willows where Alison had first found it. I got a few pictures of it. I'm sure that a more assertive photographer could have done better.

After surveying the beach we came back to find the two Bay Area birders off the path and part way down the slope.

Alison asked them to get back on the path. They were unaware of Alison's and California State Park's concerns about endangered species in the area. Apparently they were also unaware of the poison oak.

This was the last day that the shrike was seen. I figured that I was the second to last person to see it. I find it to be the irony of all ironies that Alison was there when it was found and was there when it left. (Maybe!–see note below)

So now the call has gone out from the California Bird Records Committee for any and all documentation on this shrike. Joseph Morlan, the chair of that committee, was at one time certain that the shrike was a Red-backed Shrike. Based on a discussion on Surfbirds.com he's now sure that it's not a Red-backed but what is it?

Thanks for the new image which bears some resemblance to our bird. Expert opinion remains divided with at least two authorities confident that our bird is L. collurio X L. isabellinus while you and others support L. cristatus lucionensis. I now have a copy of Panov's monograph on shrikes which offers several other hybrid combinations which we had not considered including the possibility of L. cristatus X L. isabellinus. None of these taxa have been recorded in North America except nominate L. cristatus; the photos are pretty good; but we remain frustrated that this bird may never be identified to any level of certainty. Thanks again for any additional input you may be able to offer.

Joe Morlan

So birders that traveled many miles might never get a definitive identification for this bird. I don't know what that does for listers. STAY TUNED.

Note: In doing some research on this post I found some indication that a birder from British Columbia submitted some pictures taken on April 22nd which would indicate that the shrike was still in the area later then thought and even might still be there.

UPDATE (10/4/15): The September issue of the Falcon Flyer published by the Peregrine Audubon had a SPRING 2015 BIRDS roundup. It stated,

The spring birding period includes the months of March thru May, a very active time for bird migration and nesting. The highlight this spring was a vagrant hybrid SHRIKE, apparently of Asian origin, and its true lineage has yet to be sorted out. The bird, originally thought to be a Brown Shrike, was found by AC on 3/5 at the mouth of Alder Creek near Manchester. It was seen by literally hundreds of curious birders before it disappeared on 4/22.

Note the use of the terms HYBRID SHRIKE. This statement has some authority because one of authors of the article is Bob Keiffer. Bob Keiffer is working with Peter Pyle, Nial Moores, and Jon Dunn on an article for North American Birds (NAB) trying to determine the lineage of this bird. I know this because they have asked permission to use one of my pictures.

The link to the NAB article can be found here.

Joseph Morlan is now calling this shrike a Red-backed ShrikeXRed-tailed Shrike based on information from Peter Pyle.

If this confirmation holds-up it will certainly be a disappointment for the hundreds of curious birders that came from as far away as Rhode Island to see it. The American Birding Association(ABA) establish the rules for listing.

RULE 2: The bird must have been a member of a species currently listed on the ABA Checklist for lists within the ABA Area, on the AOU Check-list for lists outside the ABA Area and within the AOU Area, or on the Clements Checklist for all other areas.

(vii) hybrids are not countable. Any bird with physical characteristics outside the natural range of variation for the species and clearly suggesting that it is a hybrid should be treated as a hybrid under the ABA Recording Rules. Song in oscine passerines is a learned behavior and should not be used as evidence of hybridization with that group.

With a warming planet caused by putting carbon into the atmosphere that a lot of wasted carbon chasing a bird you can't list.






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