Monday, October 17, 2011

Quiz #421 (2011-4-03) Solution

Solution by Tony Leukering

Bryan Guarente started off his response with an appropriate exclamation:

"Holy primary length, Batman!"

Indeed, that feature was the primary (forgive the pun) reason for using this photo and I'd guess that the one respondent heading off in the wrong direction overlooked it. As suggested by Bryan, with primary projection that long and considering the habitat, longspurs and larks are the best bets to fill out the potential solution set; any other options in this habitat with this general color pattern would have considerably shorter wings. The dark nape and strong back pattern rule out Horned Lark and the darkish legs and strong rufous panel in the wing eliminate Sky Lark from consideration, leaving us with the world's four species of longspurs.

A quick nomenclatural and taxonomic aside: As noted by Peter Wilkinson, one of the four longspur species is of widespread occurrence in the Old World and, in fact, was described from there and has been called Lapland Bunting in English (sensu stricto) for a long time. When the British colonized the New World -- obviously, none of the serious birders of the day were amongst the colonizers, they willy-nilly applied names that they knew to species present on this side of the Pond, most of which were unrelated to the source species of those names (e.g., blackbird, robin, warbler, flycatcher). Interestingly, we kept the first name of Lapland Bunting, but decided that a new second name was in order, for whatever reason, and longspurs have been known as such here for quite a while. The longspurs have been housed among the Emberizidae for as long as that family has existed, but recent genetic evidence encouraged the American Ornithologists' Union to separate them in their own family, the Calcariidae. More interestingly, they moved the longspurs away from the Emberizidae, placing the family immediately before the warblers!

Now, I return you to our regularly scheduled program.

Once among the longspurs, primary projection quickly divides our options into two groups, the arctic breeders and the prairie breeders, and excises the latter from our potential solution set. As noted by Tyler Bell, the spacing of primaries in the wingtip (wing formula) easily separates the two arctic breeders, with Lapland showing regular spacing and Smith's showing a large gap or two (see illustration in The Sibley Guide). So, other than general coloration and habitat, we didn't need to look at much else on our quiz bird other than the primaries in order to arrive at the correct ID. Of course, one-features IDs are not to be trusted, but various and sundry other field marks visible in the quiz pic support that ID. I took this picture of a Lapland Longspur at Cape May Point S.P., Cape May Co., NJ, on 7 November 2010.

Incorrect species provided as answers:
Savannah Sparrow - 1

Congratulations to the 28 of 29 getting the quiz correct:
Al Guarente
Jennifer Courtemanche
Joel Such
Christian Nunes
Thomas Hall
Pam Myers
Devich Farbotnik
Peter Wilkinson
Robert McNab
Ann Reichhardt
Margaret Smith
Josh Parks
Patty McKelvey
Kirk Huffstater
Su Snyder
Donna Nespoli
Sean Walters
Liston Rice
Tyler Bell
Rudi Nuissl
Richard Jeffers
Adrian Hinkle
Margie Joy
Diane Porter
Marcel Such
Bryan Guarente
Chishun Kwong
Joe Bens

Answer: Lapland Longspur