North American Birds

VOLUME 69 No1 2016

A Quarterly Journal of Ornithological Record Published by the American Birding Association. The mission of the journal is to provide a complete overview of the changing panorama of our continent’s birdlife.

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N O R T H A M E R I C A N B I R D S 2 N ow in its twelfth year, the Friends of North American Birds Fund continues to garner sup- port from birders across the continent. Our enterprise operates on a shoestring (and often hangs by a thread) these days, and so these donations make all the difference. We heartily thank every- one for their generous gifts again this year. For those considering a contribu- tion, remember that your donations are fully tax-deductible and that all monies collected are used to offset the costs of printing and mailing the journal as well as (since 2014) for providing a digital all-color issue of the journal online. To [boldly] go where angels fear to tread? The birds featured in this journal regu- larly test the limits of feld identifcation. For many individual birds, we have no choice but to "let them go" as unidentif- able in the feld, or at least to admit that our identifcation remains in the realm of conjecture. There is nothing shame- ful, after all, about educated conjec- ture or intellectual humility. "The only true wisdom lies in knowing you know nothing," so Socrates is supposed to have said, and that insight echoes down through much of both eastern and west- ern philosophic traditions. But sometimes we refuse to resign ourselves to not-knowing. Perhaps the most intense instance of this tenac- ity ever published in this journal is the feature article in this issue, on a well- watched enigmatic Old World shrike found in March 2015 on the northern California coast in Mendocino County. Clearly, the bird was something unusual in North American context, different from the very rare, but precedented, Brown Shrike, a species recorded in Alaska, California, and even Nova Sco- tia in years past. To many observers fa- miliar with Red-backed Shrike, the bird Editors' Notebook Editors' Notebook gan, Eastern White-breasted Nuthatch in New Mexico, Dusky Flycatcher in Virginia, Atlantic Brown Booby in On- tario), DNA has provided confdence in or confrmation of identifcation, even to the level of subspecies. But in the case of the shrike, capturing the bird for feather or blood samples would have been peril- ous in its habitat of choice, and fnding excrement or a shed feather would have been even more challenging. The culture of birding and ornithology in California does not include much specimen collect- ing in recent decades, and naturally, had the bird stayed to complete its molt, its identifcation might have been less ex - cruciating. So we have a conclusion that rests upon what we can observe in the feld and in photographs. The paper's level of detail will be challenging for most of us: familiarity with the convoluted taxonomic history of these shrikes is understandably low among North American birders, much less the birds' tricky feld identifcation, which is still being worked out and is either diffcult or impossible for many frst-cycle and female shrikes in this assemblage. But our understanding of molt is also woefully limited, and this is an area in which all of us could use some reinforcement, even those who own Pyle's reference works and Howell's recent (2010) Peterson Reference Guide to Molt in North American Birds. So think of this article as an opportunity to exercise the brain and consider new possibilities for the craft of feld identifcation in the era of excellent global communication and digital imagery. Catching up With the generous donations of late, we hope to be able to bring the jour- nal back to its schedule by 2017. Since 2012, we have had just two part-time staff to do the work formerly done by six people on the journal, and many strongly resembled that species but had too little white in the tail and too much in the primary bases. So what was it? A cadre of Californians—Peter Pyle, Bob Keiffer, and Jon Dunn—teamed up with shrike expert Nial Moores, a Brit from Liverpool who is currently direc- tor of Birds Korea (www.birdskorea. org), an environmental group working for conservation of birds and their habi- tats on the Korean Peninsula. Moores's work on shrikes in Japan in the 1990s, and his intimate familiarity with some of the confusing eastern Asian shrikes (and their hybrids) from his many years in the Republic of Korea, proved in- valuable for approaching the mystery of the Mendocino shrike. Tim Worfolk, who illustrated A Guide to the Shrikes of the World, and a host of Russian and Japanese ornithologists working with shrikes across Eurasia likewise gen- erously contributed their knowledge throughout 2015, and museum cura- tors provided access to some 911 speci- mens for the authors to review. One would be hard-pressed to name any individual bird so meticulously stud- ied in the history of North American birding, not just feather by feather, but during its preformative molt! And if the authors' conclusion is correct—that the Mendocino shrike represents a hybrid be- tween Turkestan Shrike and Red-backed Shrike—then it is the only bird known to represent the frst record of two dif- ferent species for North America. Could this bird have been collected? Certainly, that might have been possible, but it is very rare nowadays that vagrant birds are collected for specimens in California. It's not certain that collecting the bird would have provided greater confdence in the bird's identifcation, but we suspect that biochemical investigation would have added another piece to the puzzle, at least. For some records of bird vagrants (memorably, Tropical Kingbird in Michi -

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