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millipede

any junco experts?

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Not necessarily "experts" but, a little more than the basic knowledge/skill to know the different forms... here's the story... (everyone loves stories right???)

I don't know if it's just for eBird listing or what but my son is getting a little more into birding lately... which is good because my birder daughter is a big baby if it's cold out...
We were visiting the Eagle Watch Nature Trail in Gentry Arkansas today as part of the Great Backyard Bird Count... a little way down the path we found a good group of juncos... at least 15 but they were hard to count. Since there was more than a few and they were foraging out in the open I decided I HAD to scan for any types besides the typical slate colored we have here. Oregons are not unheard of around here and the other winter we had a gray headed at Hobbs State Park on a few visits. So, I was mostly looking for Oregons since that would be the most likely form to show up outside of the slates...  Sure enough, I found a nice dark head that was a nice separate color from the rest of the body... strong difference... NOT a normal slate where the color from the head to the back blends together and isn't so perfectly separated...  Yay, I found an oregon... I thought. My son did not see it at this point and we moved on. After walking further in and exploring, we found the juncos again on the way back out... well, just a few of them this time. In that group was a bird with a dark head...  Look son, do you see it now???  Yes, he sees it...  Then he says... "I thought the oregon was brown..." or something like that. That made me pause and think... wait... what? hmmm...I had to think about it as my memory is not great but, he was right... which was kind of funny since I'm a LOT more experienced a birder than him... he's just getting a little interested in it but he obviously remembered something from the guide.

So now that we're home I've been looking at the guides and such. Boy birds names and forms and species and subspecies and such change... so, there's not a lot I found about this particular bird but, in the 2nd ed Sibley's guide, it showed what we believe to be our bird...  it's just a slate colored but, the Canadian Rocky Mountain form of a slate colored...  As I held up the book to me son I asked if that was our bird... he said yes, only the body was not as dark as in the picture... good eye and memory as he was right. The bird we saw was indeed a nice slate gray color but it was lighter than the one on page 531 in the Sibley guide... the head was nice and dark though. In the field I noticed that the sides were also more of a gray, not a brownish so I don't think it was a female or anything...

Anyway... anyone know much about all these different forms? and this one in particular?  AND...  would that be common to see in NW Arkansas??? 
I REALLY wish I had a camera... mine broke back in Aug/Sept of last year and I have not replaced it yet. I sometimes use my daughter's(my old, old one) that has some chips on the glass/lens AND is only a 10x zoom... I didn't have that with me today but sure wish I did... Saw some pretty cool territorial behavior today among several different woodpecker species... was a great day. I'm taking that lousy camera with me tomorrow, but I wont be back at that location. I'll be birding Devil's Den State Park for a NW Arkansas Audubon field trip... a location I've somehow never been to in the almost 20 years I've lived here.  ha.  Anyway...

Any thoughts on this bird?????

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I always identify cismontanus (Also called Cassiar, also called Canadian Rocky Mountain) by the overall slate-colored appearance but with the defined hood. Most of the ones I see do have some brown, but I have seen some without. In any case, I would probably call your bird a cismontanus just due to the description. Looking on eBird, the subspecies isn't uncommon in the Arkansas area: https://ebird.org/map/slcjun?neg=true&env.minX=178.56114165787858&env.minY=15.18776539271735&env.maxX=13.67832915787858&env.maxY=72.52451403967618&zh=true&gp=false&ev=Z&mr=1-12&bmo=1&emo=12&yr=all&byr=1900&eyr=2020

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7 minutes ago, Melierax said:

I always identify cismontanus (Also called Cassiar, also called Canadian Rocky Mountain) by the overall slate-colored appearance but with the defined hood. Most of the ones I see do have some brown, but I have seen some without. In any case, I would probably call your bird a cismontanus just due to the description

Thanks... that sounds about right and glad that other people see this form...

7 minutes ago, Melierax said:

Looking on eBird, the subspecies isn't uncommon in the Arkansas area

Yes, slate colored is the only common(and quite common) form in Arkansas... no shortage of them really during the winter.  But I've never seen this particular one... Slates are just normal slate when I see them.

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update on my search for info... I used the eBird map to look up the cismontanus  specifically... Far less common and NONE in Arkansas... But, I'll find out later, I wonder if our reviewer doesn't have that listed as a form to report...  He's going to be VERY busy(I think we have one reviewer for the whole state) for the GBBC so I don't know how quickly I'll hear back from him...
Just over the border in Oklahoma, some lady has reported quite a few of them over the years... I'm talking 20 to 30 minutes from here... so, I can't decide now if the cismontanus is more common than I think in this area and I just haven't noticed them... or if it is indeed not that common(but not "rare" either). 
I'll get some thoughts from local birders... either way, it's not something I can recall seeing, definitely don't see them every day... just the normal slate colored...  so this is learning for me which is always good...  I don't like the " cismontanus " name and can't picture myself remembering it easily... but then, Canadian Rocky Mountain is a mouthful.  HA... 

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Ah, cismontanus. An ornithological and taxonomic nightmare, if ever there was one. There are many thoughts about what that thing is and virtually no solid data. There is great disagreement as to its status, whether an Oregon Junco (ORJU)-like subspecies of Slate-colored (SCJU) or the SCJU end of a long contiunuum of intergradation between SCJU and ORJU. It's hard to find in-depth treatments of the form (whatever it is), because of that lack of real information about it. One succinct one is available here. The referenced Miller article (1941; tome, really) is the only thorough treatment of named junco subspecies, but it is hard to come by and 261 pages long! It is the junco-aficionado bible. Unfortunately, with all of the new genetic techniques we now have to assay things of this ilk. as far as I know, no one has looked into this... whatever it is.

Other good online sources include Tweit (2014) and Wright (2013).

However, there's another problem. When eBird (ebird.org) provided a taxonomy that included subspecies, it had included cismontanus. Unfortunately, available ID literature dealt with the form poorly, if at all. However, at some point later, eBird, essentially, made it the dumping ground for SCJU x ORJU, a fact that is obvious via two points.

The first, and most obvious, is the eBird/Macaulay photo archive of that eBird entry. Among those photos, one can find numerous individuals that look like what was described for the subspecies -- an essentially SCJU-like junco, but with the strongly contrasting hood of ORJU. However, you can also photos of individuals that run the gamut from very SCJU-like to very ORJU-like, most birds being obvious intergrades between the two subspecies groups. Exacerbating this problem, the breeding subspecies in all of Canada (nominate hyemalis) meets and hybridizes with multiple different subspecies of ORJU, from a nearly prototypical ORJU subspecies to an ORJU subspecies that is often mistaken for Pink-sided Junco (pale gray, etc.).

The second feature of the eBird taxonomy that shows that the current cismontanus entry is a dumping ground is that the taxonomy does not have an entry for the most frequent intergrade combo among Dark-eyed Junco (DEJU) -- SCJU x ORJU. That taxonomy has every other known crossing of DEJU subspecies groups, yet it does not have the most-common one.

There are few birders insane enough to really study juncos, but I know three of them, and I am one of them. All three of us agree that cismontanus is probably not a valid taxon, but until someone finally does the field and genetic work, we're stuck with this ambiguous thing. Have a nice day!

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I’ve used the flank coloring to distinguish cismontanus and the lone Oregon I’ve seen.  I’ve had a male and female cismontanus showing up this winter.  The male has dark grey mixed with some brown/rufous in the flanks.  The female mostly grey and some brown flanks, but obvious slate hood compared to the males black hood.  Oregon had entirely brown/rufous flanks.  
 

To add to the confusion between the two, someone on iNat thinks the male may actually be an Oregon.  

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44 minutes ago, Tony Leukering said:

Ah, cismontanus. An ornithological and taxonomic nightmare, if ever there was one.

Now I don't feel so bad about being uncertain of the bird... ha... thanks.  Whatever it is, it's the first time I've noticed one like it so, that's interesting enough. 🙂

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