January and February Listcheck updates

The buffy underparts and bright red belly of Japanese Great Spotted Woodpecker are clearly visible in this shot, and the form is now split as an island endemic. Photo: psdake (commons.wkimedia.org).
The buffy underparts and bright red belly of Japanese Great Spotted Woodpecker are clearly visible in this shot, and the form is now split as an island endemic. Photo: psdake (commons.wkimedia.org).

'Great spot' in four-way split

Recommendations to split Great Spotted Woodpecker into at least four species have arisen from a new genetic analysis. The new species are created from forms found in Eurasia and North Africa, Iran and Azerbaijan, Japan and China respectively, and differ in plumage as well.

The recommended splits are:

• Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopus major (Eurasia and North Africa)
D poelzami (Iran through to Azerbaijan)
D japonicus (Japan)
D cabanisi (China)

A mooted split of the two Canary islands subspecies D m canariensis and D m thanneri was found untenable with a limited genetic sample of one short DNA sequence, and another split of D m numidus from Algeria and Tunisia is also suggested, being diagnosably distinct.

Perktas, U, and Quintero, E. 2012. A Wide geographical survey of mitchondrial DNA variation in the great spotted woodpecker complex, Dendrocopus major (Aves: Picidae). Biological Journal of the Linnean Society In press.

Potential Painted Bunting split

In common with many North American species, Painted Bunting Passerina ciris divides into western and eastern subspecies, in this case with a 400 mile gap between the two breeding areas in Florida and northern Mexico.

Genetic studies have now shown that gene flow between the two is very limited, and that along with substantial migration and moult timing differences the two could be considered to be separate species. Instead of the Rocky Mountains, these two potential different species are actually kept separate by the Gulf of Mexico. However, the two differ largely in moult timing, size and migration strategy, and are virtually indistinguishable in the field.

Shipley, J R, Contina, A, Batbayar, N, Bridge, E, Peterson, T, and Kelly, J F. 2012. Niche conservatism and disjunct populations: a case study with Painted Buntings (Passerina ciris). The Auk In press.

Darter differentiation

Based on plumage and body proportions, the split of Old World darters into African (Anhinga rufa), Oriental (A melanogaster) and Australasian (A novaeholandiae) species has been confirmed, though it was previously already accepted by some authorities.

Furthermore, three subspecies from Africa, the Middle East and Madagascar have been recognised in African Darter, and a Papuan and Australian subspecies in Australasian Darter. "Qualititative differentiation in plumage patterning was almost of the same high order as that between these (three) darters and the Anhinga A anhinga of the New World", say the authors.

Schodde, R, Kirwan, G M and Porter, R F. 2012. Morphological differentiation and speciation among darters (Anhinga). Bulletin of the British Ornithologists' Club 132: 283-294.

New Chilean Storm-petrel
As predicted previously in Birdwatch, a new species of Oceanites storm-petrel - O pincoyae (Pincoya Storm-petrel) - has been described from the Puerto Montt channel, off Chile. The bird has been described from 12 specimens collected at sea in February 2011, one of which was retained as the type.

Similar to Wilson's Storm-petrel, it has white outer tail feathers and has a distinctive juvenile plumage, unusually for a storm-petrel. It also demonstrates unique behavioural adaptations like repeated diving. Already endangered, its world population is around 3,000 birds.

Harrison, P, Sallaberry, M, Gaskin, C P, Baird, K A, Jaramillo, A, Metz, S M, Pearman, M, O'Keeffe, M, Dowdall, J, Enright, S, Fahy, K, Gilligan, J and Lillie, G. 2013. A new storm petrel species from Chile. The Auk In press.

Northwestern Crow no more

Northwestern Crow, found in coastal north America, has long been ticked on range by visiting birders, with no field characters and only slight differences in voice to identify it. New and comprehensive - though as yet unpublished - voice analyses of western American Crows have now shown the 'species' to almost certainly not exist, with sonograms from its supposed core range fitting within the variation of those of its common congener. It is likely to be part of cline in the Pacific subspecies of American  Crow.

Spencer, A. 2012. North by Northwest. http://earbirding.com/blog/archives/4139.

Wood-wren split
Grey-breasted Wood-wren Henicorhina leucophrys, from the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Colombia, forms two distinct populations at different elevations in its native tropical montane forests. The two already-named subspecies have long been suspected to be different species by visiting and local birders and biologists, and the new phylogenetic anlaysis appears to confirm this. Samples of H l bangsi (found from 600 to 2,100 m in elevation) and H l anachoreta (1, 800 to 3, 600 m) were taken by the researchers, and tested for differences in morphology, genetics and vocalisations.

The two are not each others' closest relatives, and the paper concludes that they are different species, though no suggestions for revised names have yet been published. This might be the first time that speciation according to parallel elevation has been shown to occur, though its believed that this differentiation did not occur in the sample area, but is maintained there after the two colonised from the sites of origin.

Caro, L M, Caycedo-Rosales, P C, Bowie, R C K, Slabbekoorn, H and Cadena, C D. 2013. Ecological speciation along an elevational gradient in a tropical passerine bird? Journal of Evolutionary Biology. In press.