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Hi, this junco caught my eye today (Vancouver, BC). I've never tried to figure out the junco subspecies before but this was noticeably different from the normal Oregon juncos that were around. I've been trying to figure this out via the macaulay library and I'm getting confused so thought I should just ask here. I think my bird looks like a bunch in the library like these cismonatus juncos, but then again the first photo for Oregon is this, and I'd be hard pressed to separate mine from these. Please let me know what you think, because I'm baffled.

872406504_weirdjunco.thumb.JPG.84caeaa7fa775a209155799432710ea6.JPG

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I would probably call that an Oregon. The sides look drabber because I think the bird is molting... I'm not comfortable with bird molts though. The sides just don't look dark enough to me.

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Despite the way in which eBird chooses to categorize things, I believe cismontanus refers to a bird with Slate-colored plumage but a clearly defined hood. This is definitely not Slate-colored plumage, hence it's not cismontanus. I agree with Oregon.

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5 hours ago, Melierax said:

The sides look drabber because I think the bird is molting

Juncos do very little molting in spring, and that restricted to head feathers. Usually.

It could be an ORJU x SCJU hybrid, as those sides/flanks certainly have an admixture of gray. It's not, technically, referable to the subspecies cismontanus (as Hasan noted), but it may well be referable to eBird's cismontanus entry.

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51 minutes ago, Tony Leukering said:

Juncos do very little molting in spring, and that restricted to head feathers. Usually.

It could be an ORJU x SCJU hybrid, as those sides/flanks certainly have an admixture of gray. It's not, technically, referable to the subspecies cismontanus (as Hasan noted), but it may well be referable to eBird's cismontanus entry.

Thanks Tony! I'll submit it that way and let the reviewer decide what to do.

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1 hour ago, AlexHenry said:

Certainly closer to Oregon, though I’m not sure if it’s a “pure” Oregon

Agreed. I see "pure" ORJUs every single day, and this bird doesn't strike me as one. Definitely has some SCJU influence with these flanks and the fact that the bird appears overall very cold-toned.

5 hours ago, Hasan said:

Despite the way in which eBird chooses to categorize things, I believe cismontanus refers to a bird with Slate-colored plumage but a clearly defined hood. This is definitely not Slate-colored plumage, hence it's not cismontanus. I agree with Oregon.

Partially true. I believe it works the other way as well, with ORJUs that have SCJU influence (i.e. dark or dusky flanks, a less clearly defined hood, darkish corners of the breast where it meets the base of the hood on the upper breast, etc.)

https://macaulaylibrary.org/asset/143659381#_ga=2.12603127.1707160905.1611208953-635920480.1580272015

https://macaulaylibrary.org/asset/85847981#_ga=2.84952025.1707160905.1611208953-635920480.1580272015

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30 minutes ago, DLecy said:

Partially true. I believe it works the other way as well, with ORJUs that have SCJU influence (i.e. dark or dusky flanks, a less clearly defined hood, darkish corners of the breast where it meets the base of the hood on the upper breast, etc.)

https://macaulaylibrary.org/asset/143659381#_ga=2.12603127.1707160905.1611208953-635920480.1580272015

https://macaulaylibrary.org/asset/85847981#_ga=2.84952025.1707160905.1611208953-635920480.1580272015

"Many [reports of cismontanus] refer to brownish Slate-colored Juncos, while others show pronounced Oregon-like characteristics that suggest recent hybridization. Classic, black-hooded, gray flanked Cassiar-like males are reported in the east far less often." From the Peterson Reference Guide to Sparrows of North America.

"... a well-marked male Cassiar Junco like this one is subtly distinctive. In its overall grayness, the bird closely recalls a Slate-colored Junco, but the darkness of the head, breast, and nape approaches that of a male Oregon Junco, creating a more striking contrast between the "hood" and the rest of the upperparts than is visible in any but the very blackest of male Slate-coloreds. More significant than the colors themselves is their distribution: the blackish nape is sharply set off from the grayer or brownish back, and the dark of the breast meets the paler gray of the flank and the white of the upper belly in a welldefined straight line, where the white underparts of a Slate-colored Junco curve up " https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2323&context=nebbirdrev

I'm no expert on the morphology of juncos and it's surprisingly hard to find any info on what exactly, in a strict sense, cismontanus even means, but my understanding and the consensus on the actual scientific articles (not bloggers or forum posts) is that a true, classical 'Cassiar' or cisamontanus is very Slate-colored-like with a slight hood. Like this:

https://macaulaylibrary.org/asset/152939621#_ga=2.121623435.269253878.1614787027-209356072.1610052628

As I think Tony has mentioned before, the way in which eBird organizes the taxonomies of DEJU is not helpful, as basically anything existing anywhere between Slate-colored and Oregon is categorized as cisamontanus, regardless of whether it really is or not, including any range of hybrids or intermediate birds.

The birds you linked certainly lean a bit towards the Oregon side of things, but it's certainly an open question as to what we can actually call them. That said, if we're defining male cismontanus as an intermediate between Oregon and Slate-colored but with slate gray flanks, (and the extremely dark, defined hood seemingly necessitates them as male), then by definition we cannot call those two birds cismontanus, and they must be some hybrid or other miscellaneous combination.

Females, on the other hand.....

Edited by Hasan
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18 minutes ago, Hasan said:

I'm no expert on the morphology of juncos and it's surprisingly hard to find any info on what exactly, in a strict sense, cismontanus even means, but my understanding and the consensus on the actual scientific articles (not bloggers or forum posts) is that a true, classical 'Cassiar' or cisamontanus is very Slate-colored-like with a slight hood.

As I think Tony has mentioned before, the way in which eBird organizes the taxonomies of DEJU is not helpful, as basically anything existing anywhere between Slate-colored and Oregon is categorized as cisamontanus, regardless of whether it really is or not, including any range of hybrids or intermediate birds.

I hear all of the above, and I know that the lectotype of J. h. cismontanus was a male slate-colored type bird as you described in in your original post, but if we are playing by current eBird rules (which many/all of us are), the birds I linked are indeed cismontanus individuals.

Just for a moment, assume the hybrid combo was added to eBird. The birds I linked and the scenario I highlighted would then likely fall under the SCJU x ORJU category, right? But then where is the line drawn? What about truly intermediate birds? And females? With regards to females, Wright states: "Away from the breeding range, however, many are probably not distinguishable from female Oregon Juncos, while many others are likely identical in the field (or in the hand) to especially brownish (probably first-cycle) female Slate-colored Juncos." So....what do we call everything else outside of the "classic male" cismontanus phenotype? I'm starting to get confused now. 

Additionally, Wright states that "It is worth remarking that the same scenario probably recurs even now, with occasional pairs of "pure" Oregon and Slate-colored Juncos producing young that potentially replicate the appearance of a true Cassiar Junco (Miller 1941 ). With that possibility in mind, it may be strictly more accurate away from the breeding grounds to speak of "apparent" Cassiar Juncos or "Cassiar-type" Juncos, though it seems likely that most such birds are in fact genuine Cassiar Juncos, members of the stabilized and geographically delimited population designated J. h. cismontanus."

The challenge of how how to reconcile all of this in eBird is likely why the catch-all was applied to cismontanus. There is always the Slate-colored/cismontanus slash when using eBird. Thoughts?

FWIW, IMO the bird in the post is not a "pure" ORJU. As to what it is...well, I guess Dark-eyed Junco seems to fit just fine after all.

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cismontanus and altivagans... just the worst

Seriously though, these intergrade populations - are they even really subspecies? (Probably not??) Can they really be treated the same way as other taxa?

23 minutes ago, DLecy said:

The challenge of how how to reconcile all of this in eBird is likely why the catch-all was applied to cismontanus. There is always the Slate-colored/cismontanus slash when using eBird. Thoughts?

I use the Slate-colored/cismontanus option a lot. It’s a great catch-all for the Slate-colored-ish birds in areas where Oregon is the dominant subspecies.

However the Slate-colored/cismontanus option does not seem fitting for an intergrade that is closer to Oregon (like the original photo in this thread).

Perhaps there should be a Oregon/cismontanus option as well?

Or perhaps we should just give up with these tweener taxa?

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37 minutes ago, PaulK said:

Just adding that my reviewer rejected the cismontanus ID for this one as it doesn't conform.

Makes sense. Did the reviewer suggest it was an Oreganus Group bird or advise to leave it simply as Dark-eyed Junco and leave out the ssp. or group?

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14 minutes ago, DLecy said:

Makes sense. Did the reviewer suggest it was an Oreganus Group bird or advise to leave it simply as Dark-eyed Junco and leave out the ssp. or group?

Said it was Oregon, but didn't tell me what to do so I changed to straight DEJU.

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4 minutes ago, PaulK said:

Said it was Oregon, but didn't tell me what to do so I changed to straight DEJU.

Interesting. Can't say I agree with that, but it's NBD. I applaud you for keeping this one a str8 DEJU.

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1 hour ago, DLecy said:

Interesting. Can't say I agree with that, but it's NBD. I applaud you for keeping this one a str8 DEJU.

Re the reviewer, I know who she is because of social media stuff and she's fantastic.

Re keeping it straight DEJU, I'm honestly not confident enough in my ID skills to report ssp unless it's something really interesting that I've noticed and taken a hard look at. So my list was however many DEJU plus this oddball, because I'm not looking hard enough at all the Oregons to make sure that there isn't anything else lurking in there unless it jumps out at me. So I'm not even making a point here, just reverting to what I'm IDing the others as.

Literally the first time I ID'd a ssp it was to start calling the fox sparrows Sooty, and the reviewer picked it out as a locally rare Slate-colored, so I've decided to hold off on this kind of thing unless I'm really sure....

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Right on. I'm sure the reviewer is fantastic. I just don't think this is a pure ORJU bird at all, but I suppose it's close enough as to not be a big deal.

Props on getting more comfortable with subspecies. Don't be scared, there's lots of fun to be had. 

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@DLecy I think there's a larger discussion to be had about the nature of taxonomy and its inherent incompatibility with the way birders identify birds. I remember a discussion within my local RBA group a few months back about white at the base of the primaries on Spotted Towhees- that where Eastern is the default, almost all (or at least a majority of) vagrant Spotted have white at the base of the primaries, a decidedly Eastern trait, and one quite rare in the general Spotted population and almost nonexistent west of the plains. Thus, one might propose that nearly all of the Spotted Towhees in my area are in fact hybrids, or at least have some level of backcrossing making them not 'pure'. Given the breeding range overlap, I imagine there's a good chance this is actually a true proposition, but does this make every single Spotted-type bird uncountable? And, considering that physical features are not often a good representation of the percent makeup of either species (a backcross with 25% of one species could feasibly look very similar or nearly identical to the 25% parent), would we truly be able to have confidence that even a bird without white at the base of the primaries is actually a pure Spotted?

It's likely that the 'true' identity (whatever that means) of many 'cassiar-type' Juncos is unknowable, just as it's probably unknowable exactly how pure vagrant Spotted Towhees are. Either way, I've always been of the mindset that if it quacks like a duck, call it a duck and move on. And use the slash option sometimes.

Edited by Hasan
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On 3/4/2021 at 10:59 PM, DLecy said:

...

With regards to females, Wright states: "Away from the breeding range, however, many are probably not distinguishable from female Oregon Juncos, while many others are likely identical in the field (or in the hand) to especially brownish (probably first-cycle) female Slate-colored Juncos." So....what do we call everything else outside of the "classic male" cismontanus phenotype? I'm starting to get confused now. 

...

 

FWIW, IMO the bird in the post is not a "pure" ORJU. As to what it is...well, I guess Dark-eyed Junco seems to fit just fine after all.

I can't argue.

As far as I'm concerned for field identification, speaking only for myself, not telling anyone else what to do, just personally as a non-expert--there are no female cismontanus.

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On 3/4/2021 at 9:36 PM, Hasan said:

...

I'm no expert on the morphology of juncos and it's surprisingly hard to find any info on what exactly, in a strict sense, cismontanus even means, but my understanding and the consensus on the actual scientific articles (not bloggers or forum posts) is that a true, classical 'Cassiar' or cisamontanus is very Slate-colored-like with a slight hood. Like this:

https://macaulaylibrary.org/asset/152939621#_ga=2.121623435.269253878.1614787027-209356072.1610052628

...

Good to know I'm probably on the right track with the few I've reported.

I hope you don't mind my saying that I don't think "morphology" is the word you want.  That's more measurements or structure.

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28 minutes ago, Hasan said:

"[morphology] includes aspects of the outward appearance (shape, structure, colour, pattern, size)"

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Morphology_(biology)

Apologies.  Apparently people use it in different ways, so my "correction" was uncalled for.

I'll point out, though, that some people do use it to exclude colors:

"...ranging in bill morphology from the tiny straight bill of the Little Ringed Plover Charidrius dubius used delicately to pick isopods from the strand line, to the long de-curved bill of the Eurasian Curlew Numenius arquata used to probe deep into wet sand to drag out large polychaetes, to the heavy hammering bill of the Eurasian Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus ideal for smashing open the shells of bivalve molluscs (Figure 1.10)."

Graham Scott, Essential Ornithology.  Nothing about the striking difference in color.

https://books.google.com/books?id=9iaQDwAAQBAJ&pg=PA14

 

"Adaptation to similar ecological roles causes unrelated species of birds to become superficially similar in details of appearance, morphology, and behavior."

Frank B. Gill, Ornithology.  "Appearance" is separated from "morphology".

https://books.google.com/books?id=jFfs1jsPfwgC&pg=PA52

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I got 'chu @Hasan. I think we are roughly on the same page. Akin to your Spotted x Eastern Towhee example, the same can likely be said for most, if not all, sapsuckers out west. And um, let's not forget about, you know...GULLS.

For most casual, and even serious birders, determining what exactly a particular bird is, is not necessarily a big deal, is sometimes unknowable, and many people are fine ID'ing birds to family or species and not group, ssp, or hybrid status. We can let the taxonomy groups and bird record committees deal with the hard stuff. 

As for our Junco here, Wright says that many birds should be referred to as "Cassiar-type" birds away from their breeding grounds. So the question you posed about a "Spotted-type" bird being uncountable, or even the junco in this thread, relates more to how birders count birds these days (a la eBird). I am young enough to not have birded extensively B.e. (Before eBird), but I wonder if the need/desire to classify things such as this junco is exacerbated with the advent of eBird? I surmise, the answer is resoundingly yes. I can imagine a scenario 20 years ago where someone may have observed the bird in question, possibly even taken a picture, and then called it a "Cassiar-type" in their notes and was done with it. Now with eBird, well...just look at this thread; and obviously "Cassiar-type" isn't an option when eBirding.

20 hours ago, Hasan said:

@DLecy I think there's a larger discussion to be had about the nature of taxonomy and its inherent incompatibility with the way birders identify birds. 

I've always been of the mindset that if it quacks like a duck, call it a duck and move on. And use the slash option sometimes.

Agreed. And yet that DEJU definitely didn't feel right to me for ORJU. If I were personally putting that bird on a checklist, I would have just left it at Dark-eyed Junco. But that's me. 

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