Fw: [Tweeters] "Purple-throated" Nutcrackers

Jeff Gibson gibsondesign at msn.com
Sat Sep 24 18:28:09 PDT 2016

From: Jeff Gibson <gibsondesign at msn.com>
Sent: Saturday, September 24, 2016 6:02 PM
To: Gudalewicz Dasha
Subject: Re: [Tweeters] "Purple-throated" Nutcrackers

Dasha, and Tweeters

Having spent a lot of time, in the past, around Nutcracker country, I would be pretty sure that the purplish stain on those Sunrise Nutcrackers is from the purplish Whitebark cones, their main diet where there are Whitebarks. Also note the matted-down feathers - from the pitch on the cones. The Whitebark Pine is a plant just dripping with pitch (easily seen in that photo from Banff). Working on a summer long bird study back in '81 near Tioga Pass on the east boundary of Yosemite, there were plenty of Whitebarks and Nutcrackers there, at 10'000 ft. That summer I came up with the label "Pitchheads" to describe the pitchy, and purple stained, Nutcrackers.

I also noted this at Sunrise, many moons ago.For anyone doing a color stain experiment on those cones , you might wanna use disposable gloves, or bring some solvent to get the pitch off your hands.

I've never seen stained Nutcrackers in their lower land Ponderosa Pine habitats - in places like Stehekin, Conconully, and Lake Wenatchee. Ponderosas don't have purple cones.

I worked for several summers at Mount Rainer National Park, back in the seventies and saw plenty of Nutcrackers, mostly at Sunrise, but also at Paradise. Rainier is so huge that it has it's own rain shadow. In wet (world record snowfalls) lush Paradise, there are no pines of any sort, unlike the rain shadow of Sunrise, with it's Whitebark Pines and sparser meadows.

Lately I've wondered what Nutcrackers were doing in pine- less Paradise. I think it was maybe just tourism - the main place I saw Nutcrackers there were near the lodge, scamming food from tourists at picnic tables. Those birds are another smart corvid and do fit the role of "camp robber" - maybe that was their niche there. Just sayin'.

By the way, if you're making a campfire in whitepine (either Western White, or Whitebark) country the dry pitch- covered cones, found laying around the base of the trees, make a real good firestarter.

Jeff Gibson

Port Townsend Wa

From: tweeters-bounces at mailman1.u.washington.edu <tweeters-bounces at mailman1.u.washington.edu> on behalf of Gudalewicz Dasha <dasha at gudalewicz.com>
Sent: Saturday, September 24, 2016 11:07 AM
To: Tweeters
Subject: [Tweeters] "Purple-throated" Nutcrackers

Hello Tweets,

Two weeks ago at Sunrise, Mount Rainier, I saw and photographed a nutcracker with throat stained pinkish/purplish. That reminded me that three years ago, in July, 2013, I saw two birds with similar stains, also at Sunrise.

First six images here:

Clark's Nutcracker - ololaiki<https://ololaiki.smugmug.com/Animals/Birds/Corvids/Clarks-Nutcracker-2/>

That made me curious. But I couldn’t find anywhere what causes such staining.

And the only other photos I found online were made in Banff NP:
BANFF NATIONAL PARK: Friendly Relations Between Clark’s ...<https://leerentz.wordpress.com/2010/10/30/banff-national-park-friendly-relations-between-clarks-nutcracker-and-whitebark-pine/>
BANFF NATIONAL PARK: Friendly Relations Between Clark’s Nutcracker and Whitebark Pine

I asked Dennis Paulson if he ever saw something like that and he did! At Sunrise in October 1974 he photographed what he called “Purple-throated Fruitcrow” :)

Dennis and I think that the most reasonable theory is that immature Whitebark Pine cones produce some kind of purplish stain.

>From Clark’s Nutcracker profile on BNA Online:

“Beginning mid- to late Jul, harvests unripe pine seeds ( Tomback 1978a<https://birdsna.org/Species-Account/bna/species/clanut/references#REF7261> , Hutchins and Lanner 1982<https://birdsna.org/Species-Account/bna/species/clanut/references#REF7244> , Christensen et al. 1991<https://birdsna.org/Species-Account/bna/species/clanut/references#REF41626> ). Removes seeds from closed whitebark, piñon, limber, Jeffrey, and ponderosa pine cones…”

But at the same time:
“Whitebark pine seeds stored as early as 15 Aug in Rocky Mtns. and 25 Aug in Sierra Nevada.”

Does anybody know when nutcrackers start collecting Whitebark seeds at Rainier? (as my first sighting was in July)
Have any of you encountered (and probably photographed) stained nutcrackers?
Or have you handled unripe Whitebark cones and can confirm that they stain?
If you’re planning on hiking Rainier (or any other place where Whitebark Pines grow) would you be willing to collect a cone (if it is in the hand’s reach!) and check if it stains?

Thank you!
And happy birding,

Dasha Gudalewicz,
Sammamish, WA
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