Western Scrub-Jay in Asotin Co.

Wayne C. Weber contopus at shaw.ca
Fri Mar 29 07:46:33 PST 2002

Patrick, Ruth, Tweeters, and Inland NW Birders,

With all due respect to those involved, I don't believe the
subspecific identity of the Asotin Co. Western Scrub-Jay has been
firmly established yet. Part of the problem is that Dick Johnson's
message to Inland-NW-Birders on Feb. 27 (the most recent of 3 messages
sent by Dick on the subject) was not forwarded to Tweeters. I am
attaching it herewith.

Discussion has focussed on whether the Scrub-Jay is of a "coastal" or
"interior" form. However, more than one "coastal" subspecies, and
perhaps more than one "interior" subspecies, seems possible in Asotin

Based on the descriptions of the jay that have been posted, it clearly
is not Aphelocoma californica immanis, the subspecies that is abundant
in SW Washington and most of western Oregon, and familiar to many
Tweeters. The most likely subspecies to occur in Asotin County would
seem to be A.c. nevadae, which ranges north to southeastern Oregon and
southern Idaho, or A.c. superciliosa, which ranges north to Summer
Lake and Hart Mountain in south-central Oregon. Nevadae belongs to the
"interior group" of subspecies, and superciliosa to the "coastal
group", which were once recognized (and may be recognized in future)
as distinct species. However, as Dick Johnson notes, superciliosa is
somewhat intermediate in characters between the "coastal" and
"interior" groups, and looks similar to nevadae in some respects.

>From what I have read so far, it is not possible to say for sure

whether the Asotin County bird is of the nevadae or superciliosa
subspecies. Ruth Sullivan's photos may be good enough to make that
determination for sure, but then again, they may not. Patrick
Sullivan's discussion in his note of March 28 adds a bit to the
confusion by referring to "Woodhouse's Scrub Jay", following the
article by Dunn & Garrett in WESTERN BIRDS (Vol. 32, pages 186-187,
2001). "Woodhouse's Scrub Jay", as used by Dunn & Garrett, refers to
the entire interior group of subspecies, including A.c. nevadae. The
subspecies A.c. woodhousei is not found to the west of north-central
Utah. If the Asotin County bird is of the "interior" group, it is most
likely to be A.c. nevadae.

The effort to identify this jay illustrates several problems:

(1) It is risky to try to identify subspecies based on field guides
which only illustrate 2 or 3 out of a dozen or more subspecies,
especially when the particular subspecies are not even labelled in
some of these field guides.

(2) To avoid confusion, Latin names for subspecies should be used
whenever possible.

(2) Even with good photos, it MAY NOT be possible to conclusively
identify a subspecies with photos alone. (In-hand measurements, if the
bird were captured and banded, might help to confirm identification).

(3) Attempts to nail down the identification of a contentious bird may
be confounded when discussions are taking place independently on two
different E-mail groups (Tweeters and Inland-NW-Birders)! (Charles,
your effort to summarize Dick Johnson's comments, in your post to
Tweeters on March 25, was helpful-- I was thinking of doing something

With all the above said, it may yet be possible to nail down the
subspecific ID of the jay, if Ruth's photos can be viewed on the
Internet by observers familiar with several subspecies. Can they be
included in the Tweeters gallery?

Kudos to all involved who have tried to confirm the identification of
the Asotin County jay, but it's obviously more complicated than it
seemed at first!

Wayne C. Weber
Kamloops, BC
contopus at shaw.ca

----- Original Message -----
From: Richard E. Johnson <johnsonre at wsu.edu>
To: <inland-nw-birders at uidaho.edu>
Sent: Wednesday, February 27, 2002 10:20 PM
Subject: [inland-NW-birders] Scrub-Jay

> A few additional notes on the Scrub-Jay question.


> Earlier I commented primarily about the two contrasting subspecies,


> they were the two most often thought of and mentioned by me and

others as

> the available alternatives:


> 1) immanis = the "coastal" subspecies in western Oregon and the


> Gorge, which has an intense blue color to most of its upper parts,


> white to light gray underparts, including undertail coverts, and a

> conspicuous dark blue breastband on either side of the white of the


> and throat.


> 2) nevadae = the "interior" subspecies in southern Idaho, se

Oregon, and

> northern Nevada, which has a lighter, grayer blue color to its upper


> darker grayer underparts, usually moderately dark bluegray


> coverts, and no, or almost no, blue breastband on either side of the


> throat.


> However, there is one more subspecies that is perhaps equally likely


> appear in Asotin County, namely the subspecies superciliosa. It

occurs in

> the Central Valley of California north to, among other places, the


> Mountains of ne California and se Oregon, and Hart Mtn Refuge,


> Lakes, and Summer Lake, all in eastern Oregon. This subspecies is

of the

> "coastal" group of subspecies and would be part the coastal species,


> the coastal and inland forms again be recognized as separate species


> they were before 1931.


> But what is interesting for the present discussion is that this


> is somewhat intermediate in some of the traits that separate the two


> listed above. It has a lighter blue color than immanis, but perhaps


> quite as light as nevadae, and the blue is less grayish. It has a


> blue breastband, but not as dark and conspicuous as in immanis. But


> like immanis in having white to light gray underparts including


> coverts. This could easily apply to the bird I saw, in which case

it is

> neither the "inland" form nor the "coastal" form from the Columbia


> There is a color photo of superciliosa, with a contrasting (but


> similar, at first glance) photo of nevadae on the back cover of the


> issue of Western Birds (vol. 32, no. 3), and a related short article

> inside. My thanks to Steve Mlodinow for calling my attention to

these nice

> photos. I subscribe to the journal but had shelved the issue without

> noticing, or at least not now recalling, the photos. This one may


> be the answer!


> On the theme of whether the Asotin County bird is the first record


> Washington east of the Columbia Gorge, Mike Denny tells me there

have been

> several relevant sightings: about 1996 in Kenniwick, 1974 in Walla


> and a couple down Irrigon, OR, way (i.e., near the Wash/Ore border).


> says he'd always assumed they were from the Gorge.


> Dick Johnson


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