Please Join Us for 2019/Afiliarse con nosotros 2019!

Birding with the Pajareros Del Sur at the Wilson Botanical Garden. Photo by Jo Davidson

It is time to join the San Vito Bird Club for the first time OR to renew your membership for 2019!

Benefits of membership include bi-monthly Bird Walks at the Wilson Garden/OTS Las Cruces Biological Station, invites to the members-only Annual Meeting at Cascatas Del Bosque, day trips in and around the Coto Brus Valley and occasional overnight jaunts throughout Costa Rica in search of rarities like the Lanceolated Monklet. Plus your membership support helps us bring BirdSleuth-International, an environmental education program from the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, to local schools as “Detectives de Aves”. Please read President Wendell’s post about the Detectives de Aves year 2018 here.

Detectives de Aves teachers Carla Azofeifa and Paula Mesen with SVBC President Peter Wendell. Photo by Alison Olivieri

Part of your membership dues will be donated to the Organization for Tropical Studies Las Cruces Biological Station that provides us with an exciting place to bird and free coffee and camaraderie after the walks.

We are keeping dues at 2018 rates: C11,000 or $20 per person for International Members and C14,000 or $25 per person for residents of Costa Rica. Family membership are priced for two people but always include children.

Without you, we are nothing so please join today! You can give your dues to Peter at the Bird Walk on December 9 or to Randall Bourbon Jimenez or to any other executive committee member: Greg Homer, Alison Olivieri or Harry Hull.

Notes from the Classroom

 

We have had a very busy, productive, and sometimes frustrating, year teaching Detectives de Aves here in Coto Brus. (For those of you who are unfamiliar with this program, you can learn all about it here http://www.birdsleuth.org/international/.) This year instead of simply writing about how many schools we visited, how many kids we taught, etc., I would like to take some time to discuss what I see as the larger purpose of teaching Detectives de Aves to as many kids as we can, as best as we can. This post is a little long, but I hope you will find that it is worth your time.

It’s All About Making Connections
This year we have had the opportunity to make lots of connections.
In March two of our teachers, Carla Azofeifa-Rojas and Paula Mesén, and I had the opportunity to go to Guatemala to meet and collaborate with other teachers of Detectives and volunteers dedicated to providing essential educational opportunities to one of the most disadvantaged populations in Guatemala – Rural Indigenous Women.

This year we were also able to connect with a new teacher of Detectives, Marco Mora, who has been, and hopefully will continue to be, a valued colleague who has brought new energy and perspectives to the program. We also made connections with two new schools, Santa Rita and La Esmeralda, and reconnected with two schools we haven’t worked with in a while, La Lucha and Concepción. And finally, we connected with Pablo Elizondo to bring kids from three of our schools to Madre Selva, on the Cerro de la muerte, to connect with kids from the schools his organization, Costa Rica Bird Observatories, has been teaching this year.

Finally, we are ending this year making new connections with our neighbors, and fellow bird enthusiast (bird-lunatics?) the Pajareros del sur. Both groups hope that this collaboration will help both groups make connections with the greater community of Coto Brus, and with neighbors who haven’t known each other well enough up until now.

 
Now I want to spend a little time connecting with you all writing about these three, very important events.

 
To Guatemala, and back again
In March of this year Carla, Paula, and I had the great pleasure to visit Guatemala to meet and work with teachers and supporters of Detectives de Aves in Alta Verapaz, and to attend the Guatemala Bird Fair on lake Atitlan. This trip was made possible by a grant from the National Geographic Society obtained by the formidable Dr. Lilly Briggs, our close partner at the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology. We were also accompanied by Jennifer Sánchez, who has been teaching Detectives de Aves for years at the Parque de Libertad in Desemparados, San José during the school vacations. A rather impressive group of young, professional women.

 

The reason for the trip was two-fold: first an opportunity for people working on Detectives de Aves to meet and share experiences, and second to continue developing a survey to try to measure the effectiveness of Detectives de Aves in imparting knowledge and changing the attitudes and behavior of our students. You might be surprised by how difficult it is to develop such a survey, especially across linguistic and cultural norms. It looks easy at first but becomes very complicated as you dig into it. The survey is an important way to objectively measure the practical impact of the course on the kids, and is even more important when it comes to raising money and garnering Institutional support for the program. Those of us who have worked with the kids in the classroom know that it changes their attitudes and behaviors because they tell us stories about how they stopped killing birds with slingshots, or about how they protected a nest near their house, or about how beautiful the birds they see on their walk to school are, etc. We can tell they have learned to care by the passion they bring to the lessons. However, the surveys we had been using had not been very effective showing this, and scientists don’t care much for Anecdotal Evidence. So, Lilly hoped that by bringing our teachers together with those from Guatemala, they could work through the problems and come up with a unified instrument that would be able to objectively demonstrate the positive effects of the course on the kids, and that would work equally well in Costa Rica and Guatemala.

 
So, our first task was to travel to the Central Highlands to stay with Rob and Tara Cahill at their most impressive center in Alta Verapaz, to meet Vilma, Gilda, and Norma, three Q’eqchi’ women who have been teaching Detectives de Aves to the local kids. Rob and Tara are an extremely dedicated couple who have a genuine vocation to help the community in which they live, and particularly the women of that community. If you want to learn more about what they are doing, please go here: http://cloudforestconservation.org/. They will do great things with whatever support you want to provide.

 
The climate and ecosystem around Rob and Tara’s place is very much like Linda Vista or Paraguas here in Coto Brus. It is very rural, with a large indigenous population, lots of trees and wildlife, although less every year, and lots of birds and fog in the Winter. Unlike Coto Brus, however, Alta Verapaz, and particularly the Indigenous areas, have had very few resources and little government support over the decades, leading inevitably to high levels of poverty and a large percentage of families surviving through subsistence farming. Just to give you some idea of the effect that this has had, during the Civil War that only ended in 1996, there were no public schools in the area. None. Although now almost all the kids go to primary school, the majority of their parents remain illiterate. A lot of kids start dropping out of school after third grade to work, after all by that point they have already learned to read and write and have surpassed their parents. Maybe 50% of the kids finish primary school (6th grade), less than 5% high school, and virtually none attend university. It is even worse for girls. While still beautiful for now, the area is facing an impending environmental disaster. The population has been rising rapidly and the traditional way of feeding families by clearing old-growth forest to plant maize, has become unsustainable because growing maize quickly exhausts the soil and they are running out of forest to clear for more crops. In this context, education in general, and environmental education in particular, is critical to the medium and long-term survival of these communities, since it one of the only means through which families will be able to provide for themselves in the future without further, grave environmental damage.

 
Guatemala is not Costa Rica. This is obvious, but in a very important sense this is what we all learned in Alta Verapaz from Vilma, Gilda, Norma, Rob and Tara. We live in increasingly cynical, self-absorbed, and angry times in which the idea of the Common Good seems more and more like a sucker’s bet. However the very stark contrast between the resources and opportunities available to even the poorest and most isolated families in Costa Rica and the lack of the same in Guatemala is a clear demonstration of what 70 years of peace without an army, an unrelenting commitment to public education and health care, and an almost universally acknowledged duty to raise others from poverty and to provide opportunity to the disadvantaged can accomplish. I’m not saying this to lionize Costa Rica, which like all countries is far from perfect, nor to denigrate Guatemala, but to show one manner in which the trip to Guatemala was a way for Paula, Carla, and Jennifer to reconnect with what Costa Rica represents, and to appreciate the advantages they have gained by growing up here. More importantly, I believe that we all discovered a profound connection with Vilma, Gilda and Norma, and that we have a duty to help as we can out of respect for the obstacles that they have had to overcome to become the women they are, and with the humbleness that comes from realizing that we have not had to face the same challenges because of the sacrifices, work, and commitment of those who came before us. Oh, and also because Vilma, Gilda, and Norma are absolutely hilarious… I don’t think any of us will forget our experiences in Alta Verapaz, and I hope the memory will be a reminder that we have a duty to do what we can for our neighbors, even if they are 1.000 kilometers or more distant. As I said in the beginning, it’s all about the connections.

 
Neither birds, nor animals, nor the weather observe national boundaries. Rivers don’t stop at borders, nor does polluted air. Any environmental work is necessarily collaborative and international. It does little good to protect areas used by migrating birds in Costa Rica, if all of their habitat is destroyed in Guatemala, Honduras, or Mexico. This was brought home to all of us during the working sessions of the Guatemala Bird Fair. The chance to learn from the experiences of other academics and bird guides trying to change the ways both governments and local communities view their natural and living resources was invaluable. I found particularly impressive the presentation by Dr. Vincente Fernández on the community-based monitoring of birds on the Yucatan peninsula. He outlines many successful techniques that have been used to involve rural communities not only in the collection of valuable scientific data, but in gaining a much deeper appreciation of the wild creatures they share their lives with, and in learning to work with those creatures to improve their lives. I want to use some of his ideas and techniques to involve our Detectives graduates in citizen science down the road. Paula and Carla had the opportunity to connect with, and be inspired by, colleagues from Guatemala and other parts of North and Central America. They assisted Lilly teaching a super intense training session for Detectives, which was hugely popular. Oh, and I understand that there was some late-night dancing well – being old, I was already in bed.
If you want to see an excellent, short documentary of our trip to Alta Verapaz, please go here https://youtu.be/lqgacdHkpvE for Spanish, or here https://youtu.be/T18guTwhovg for English. I’m afraid there’s no dancing in the videos…

 
Also, a big Thank You to Dr. Lilly Briggs, Rob and Tara Cahill, the many supporters and members of the San Vito Bird Club, and the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology who made this all possible.

 
That’s all for now. Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be writing more about our year in the classroom, and our collaborations with the Pajareros del sur. I think you’ll find that many of the same themes raised will return over and over again since they are an essential aspect of what we do and why.

 
Saludos desde Coto Brus,
Peter Wendell

 

Taxonomy Update – 2018 (from Jo Davidson)

Dear SVBC members and friends. We have gathered on this web page to mourn the loss of two beloved species which recently died at the hands of the North American Classification Committee (NACC). The American Ornithology Union (AOU) has published the list of taxonomy changes for 2018, and we in the Southern Zone have lost two species. They are still around, thank goodness, but have been reclassified as members of another species.

Our local Cherrie’s Tanager and the Passerini’s Tanager are once again lumped together as one species. They are both known again as the Scarlet-rumped Tanager (Rampocelus passerinii).

The Masked Yellowthroat, which we have seen during our walks at the San Joaquin wetlands, is now lumped together with, and now known as, the Olive-crowned Yellowthroat (Geothlypis semiflava).

Fortunately, we also have two new species to celebrate. The Buff-throated Foliage-gleaner was split, and the species in our area, the Chiriqui Foliage-gleaner (Automolus exertus), is named for the Panamanian canton which is a large portion of the range of this new species. The White-collared Seedeater was also split, and the Costa Rican species is Morelet’s Seedeater (Sporophila morelleti), named for the person who first found the original species in 1885. The species that occurs in areas north of Costa Rica is now the Cinnamon-rumped Seedeater.

Three of our Costa Rican Woodpeckers have been placed in a new genus – Dryobates. Their previous and new scientific names are as follows:

Hairy Woodpecker – Picoides villosus is now Dryobates villosus      

Smoky-brown Woodpecker – Picoides fumigatus is now Dryobates fumigatus     

Red-rumped Woodpecker – Veniliornis kirkii is now Dryobates kirkii

Additionally, the Mouse-colored Tyrannulet has had its scientific name changed from Phaeomyias murina to Necotriccus murinus.

Finally, I implore the AOU and the NACC to stop picking on the Red-breasted Blackbird. Last year they changed its scientific name to Leistes militaris, and this year they have changed its English common name to Red-breasted Meadowlark.

Please update your field guides to reflect these changes. Happy birding to you all!

tax 1tax 2

Why Are They Called ‘Ant’-Birds?

Antbirds–Ant Tanagers–Antvireos–Antshrikes–Antpittas–Antwrens–Antthrushes?  Why are so many Costa Rican bird species modified with the word ‘Ant’ in from of them?

Most people have the misconception that all of these various species of ‘Ant’ birds are consumers of…ants!  This is not the case (although some birds, like the Northern Flicker woodpecker, do consume ants with gusto).  These birds are called ‘Ant’ birds for another reason.

‘Ant’ birds are given this prefix not because they eat ants; but rather because they FOLLOW ants, in particular Army Ants ( most often Eciton burchellii).  If you live or have visited the neo-tropics you may have had the opportunity to observe Army Ants on the move.  Hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of these tiny marauders will sweep through an area not unlike…an army!  Along their march the Army Ants attack and kill pretty much anything they encounter.

***No, they are not as fierce and aggressive as those ants in that great movie with Charlton Heston, ‘The Naked Jungle’.  In that movie the ants could ‘..clean a bull down to the bones in less than an hour.’  Great movie!***

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Invertebrates and even small vertebrates probably fear nothing more than being swarmed over, torn apart and ultimately eaten by Army Ants.  And so, when an army of Army Ants is discovered by the beetles, crickets, worms, centipedes, lizards and even small snakes of the forest floor they do exactly what you or I would do; GET THE HELL OUTTA THERE!

And guess who takes of advantage of this Army Ant-induced mass-panic?  Correct; our ‘Ant’ birds!  A swarm of Army Ants creates a delicious and nutritious movable feast of beetles, crickets, etc. for the ‘Ant’ birds who hover above the swarm and simply wait for movement.

FYI: If ever you find yourself in swarm of Army Ants…do not panic; simply move out of their way.  Army Ants are blind and stay in contact with their kin through a pheromone trail left by the ant in front of them.  But they can bite!  Also, take some time to look and listen for some bird species you rarely get the opportunity to see; the ‘Ant’ birds.

(photo courtesy of Greg Homer, taken at El Tangaral in San Vito de Coto Brus)

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Let’s Try Some ‘Deductive Reasoning’

Observing the photo at the bottom of this page, courtesy of young Hellen Hidalgo, we see a sizable tree near Campo Dos y Media in the southern zone of Costa Rica.  In this tree we can also see about 14 or 15 spectacular long pendulous nests built and maintained by Crested Oropendolas (shown here, courtesy of Monique Girard):

Crested Oropendula. Photo by Monique Girard

Crested Oropendola. Photo by Monique Girard

As we observe the photo below more closely we notice a few interesting features of these Oropendola nests.   Let’s put on our Deductive Reasoning Caps and ask ourselves, ‘Why?’.

  1. Why are the nests constructed very high up in an isolated tree?
  2. Why do the nests seem to be hanging from the extreme distal (furthest from the tree) part of the branches?
  3. Why do the nests all seem to be on just one side of the tree?
  4. And lastly, why are the nests communal?

Over countless generations, Crested Oropendolas have found this particular lifestyle to be the most successful for them; the best way ensure that their genes are passed on to another generation.  All organisms do the same; we call this Population Dynamics or Population Ecology.

FYI: These questions are merely rhetorical and posed just for fun.  No homemade cookies for the best answers.

(photo courtesy of young Hellen Hidalgo)

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Watch this video of Detectives de Aves in Guatemala! Mira el video de Detectives de Aves en Guatemala!

Espanol abajo

Because Detectives de Aves is THE most exciting program sponsored by the SVBC, we decided to re-post this 7 minute video from the Cornell University Laboratory of Ornithology — they hit it out of the park with this short film!

In April, two of our teachers — Carla Azofeifa and Paula Mesen — went with SVBC President Peter Wendell to the highlands of Guatemala to share teaching experiences and learn from indigenous teachers Vilma, Gilda and Norma.

That visit was reciprocated in May when Tara and Rob Cahill came to San Vito in May with Vilma and Norma — all from the Cloud Forest Conservation Society — to participate with us in local schools. These travels were funded by a grant to Dr. Lilly Briggs from National Geographic. (See a report here.)

It’s just a GREAT program and we are proud to play a part. In this presentation, those of you who don’t live here will meet Carla Azofeifa and Paula Mesen, two of our wonderful teachers! Please consider sending a donation to continue this program in local schools by visiting our Support the Club page.

Ya que Detectives de Aves el EL programa más emocionante patrocinado por el SVBC, decidimos volver a postear este video, de 7 minutos, del Laboratorio de Ornitología de la Universidad de Cornell. ¡Realmente se lucieron con este corto video!

En abril, dos de nuestras maestras Carla Azofeifa y Paula Mesén, fueron junto al Presidente del SVBC, Peter Wendell, a las tierras altas de Guatemala para compartir sus experiencias de enseñanza y aprender de las maestras indígenas Vilma, Gilda y  Norma.

Vilma y Norma nos devolveron la visita en mayo, cuando vinieron junto a Tara y Rob Cahill, de la Cloud Forest Conservation Society, para participar en nuestras escuelas locales en San Vito. Estos viajes fueron financiados mediante una donación del Dr. Lilly Briggs de National Geographic (vea el reporte aquí).

Este es un GRAN programa y estamos orgullosos de tomar parte. En esta presentación, aquellos de ustedes que no vivien aquí, ¡conocerán a Carla Azofeifa y Paula Mesén, dos de nuestras maravillosas maestras! Por favor considere enviar una donación para continuar con este programa en nuestras escuelas locales, visitando nuestra página Apoye el Club

Birds on the Move/Las aves en movimiento

ESPANOL SIGUE

Female Flame-rumped Tanager, a new record for Costa Rica. Photo by Pepe Castiblanco

On a sunny morning in early November, Pepe Castiblanco and I went to look for a bird that had never been recorded in Costa Rica until it was discovered in October. Most followers of this website know Pepe but, in case you do not, he is a birder, natural history guide, musician, raconteur, photographer, baker, restaurateur and co-owner – with his wife Kata Ulenaers — of a nearby B&B.

Pepe’s friend, Juan Abel, who is dashing and works at the Organization for Tropical Studies as a forest guard, found this bird – a Flame-rumped Tanager – on his finca, consorting with a group of Cherrie’s Tanagers. He called some friends, extraordinary birders, to come take a look and so it went. Because this is private property, the search becomes a question of permission. We were grateful to have a chance to go look and got lucky with the bird.

Juan and his wife Ruth have a large, enthusiastic dog that lunged through the door as we pulled into the driveway. Before we were able to get out of the car, the dog clipped one of Juan’s sons’ legs, sending coffee dribbling all over its back, and climbed into the car onto my lap. It was an auspicious start.

We walked around the house, through a guava orchard. The trees look odd because each round, fat fruit is sequestered in a bag to stymie insects and birds. The Abels have chicken coops and banana feeders and a ring of old trees around their farm. We saw four Rose-breasted Grosbeaks taking the sun in a pine tree and heard woodpeckers and Slaty Spinetails churring from the woods.

After a bit, Hafjeth Abel, 19, joined our search party while he fed the chickens, steering us away from making hopeful glances at their banana feeder. The group of tanagers we were after apparently does not frequent the feeder but hangs around the other side of the property near the forest edge. Over we went and suddenly they arrived, sputtering and squeaking, with the Flame-rumped female in plain view, perched for Pepe’s camera. Two Yellow-billed Caciques came out of the forest — an uncommon sighting as they are more often heard than seen.

The new tanager comes with some confusing taxonomy. It has three common names: Flame-rumped, Lemon-rumped and Yellow-rumped. And two scientific names: Ramphocelus flammigerus and R. icteronotus plus a subspecies indicator like this: Ramphocelus flammigerus icternotus. You can consult the authority of your choice, but the Asociación Ornitológica de Costa Rica follows the American Ornithologists Union checklist so this one is being presented to the Rare Records Committee as Flame-rumped Tanager, Ramphocelus flammigerus.

Maybe another one will join it or show up elsewhere. We will try to keep ourselves updated and report back from time to time.

Juan Abel, standing back row center, found a new bird for Costa Rica in October 2017. Also pictured Pepe Castiblanco, standing right. Photographer unknown.

ESPANOL AQUI
Una mañana soleada de noviembre, Pepe Castiblanco y yo salimos a buscar un ave que nunca había sido registrada en Costa Rica, hasta que fue descubierta en octubre. La mayoría de quienes siguen este sitio web conocen a Pepe, pero en caso de que usted no lo conozcan, él es un pajarero, guía de historia natural, músico, anecdotista, fotógrafo, panadero, restaurador y co-propietario – con su esposa, Kata Ulenaers, — de un B&B de la localidad.

El amigo de Pepe, Juan Abel, quien es gallardo y trabaja para la Organización para Estudios Tropicales como guarda, encontró esta ave, Flame-rumped Tanager, en su finca, compartiendo con un grupo local de sargentos. Juan llamó a unos amigos, pajareros extraordinarios, para que vinieran a ver. Dado que esta es una propiedad privada, la búsqueda se convierte en una cuestión de permiso. Tuvimos la suerte de tener la oportunidad de ir a observar y encontrar el ave.

Juan y su esposa, Ruth, tienen un perro grande y entusiasta que se lanzó a través de la puerta mientras nos parquéabamos. Antes de que pudiéramos salir del carro, el perro atrapó una de las piernas de un hijo de Juan, echándose el café sobre el lomo, y se encaramó en el carro hasta llegar a mi regazo. Un prometedor comienzo.

A guava, bagged to exclude insects and birds. Photo by Alison Olivieri

Caminamos por la casa, hasta llegar a una plantación de guava. Los árboles se ven extraños porque secuestran su fruto en una vaina, para protegerlos de aves e insectos. Los Abels tienen gallineros y alimentadores de aves, y un anillo de árboles viejos alrededor de su granja. Vimos varios Picogrueso Pechirrosado (Calandrias) tomando el sol en un pino y escuchamos carpinteros y Arquitectos Plomizos en el bosque.

Después de un rato, Hafjeth Abel, de 19 años, se unió a nuestra búsqueda mientras alimentaba las gallinas, alejándonos de echar miradas esperanzadas al alimentador. Aparentemente, el grupo de tangaras que estábamos buscando no frecuenta el alimentador, sino el otro lado de la propiedad, cerca del lindero del bosque. Fuimos ahí y llegaron, chillando y revoloteando, con la hembra Flame-rumped a plena vista, en una posición privilegiada para la cámara de Pepe. Dos Caciques Picoplata salieron del bosque, una observación entraña, ya que frecuentemente se los escucha más de lo que se los ve.

La nueva tangara viene con una taxonomía confusa. Tiene tres nombres comunes: Flame-rumped, Lemon-rumped y Yellow-rumped; dos nombres científicos: Ramphocelus flammigerus y R. icteronotus; y un indicador de subespecie: Ramphocelus flammigerus icteronotus. Usted puede consultar con la autoridad de su escogencia, pero la Asociación Ornitológica de Costa Rica sigue el listado de la American Ornithologists Union, así que esta especie está presente en el Comité de Registros Raros como Flame-rumped Tanager, Ramphocelus flammigerus.

Quizá otra se le unirá o aparecerá en otro lugar. Trataremos de mantenernos al tanto y reportarle de cuando en cuando.

Taxonomy Update: from SVBC Taxonomy Tsar, Jo Davidson

The American Ornithology Union has recently released the taxonomy
changes for 2017. In addition to changes to the names of two birds
that may be encountered most often by local members of the San
Vito Bird Club, there are also changes in the English names of two
other Costa Rican birds, as well as in the scientific names for a few
others. Let’s deal with the two most locally significant (and quite
sensible) changes first.

A bird that those of us in San Vito are very familiar with,
Aulachohrynchus prasinus, or Emerald Toucanet, is now called the
Northern Emerald-Toucanet. (Note that there is now a hyphen!)
This species was split from what is now called the Southern
Emerald-Toucanet, which occurs mainly in South America and lacks
the obvious blue patch on the throat.

Meet the Talamanca Hummingbird! This beautiful hummingbird
was, until recently, called the Magnificent Hummingbird, or Eugenes
fulgens. The species was split. Its new scientific name is Eugenes
spectabilis, and its new English name was derived from its home
range in the Talamanca Mountains. E. fulgens, which is now called
Rivoli’s Hummingbird, is found from Nicaragua north as far as the
United States.

The English names have also changed for the following Costa Rica
species:
●Clapper Rail (Rallus crepitas) is now Mangrove Rail (Rallus
longirostris).
●Prevost’s Ground-Sparrow (Melozone biarcuata) is now
Cabanis’s Ground-Sparrow (Melozone cabanisi).

Scientific name changes are important to know, especially for those
SVBC members who post photos to the Asociación Ornitológico de
Costa Rica Facebook page. These include:

●Anas americana, American Wigeon, is now Mareca americana
●Anas discors, Blue-winged Teal, is now Spatula discors
●Anas cyanoptera, Cinnamon Teal, is now Spatula cyanoptera
●Anas clypeata, Northern Shoveler, is now Spatula clypeata
●Circus cyaneus, Northern Harrier, is now Circus hudsonius
●Sturnella militaris, Red-breasted Blackbird, is now Leistes
militaris

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