The birding community reacted with great enthusiasm. Jeffrey Giordano, president of the American Birders' Society said. "This is AWESOME! A new bird for our members to chase after. This will certainly be our Bird of the Year for 2013!" (And I'm hoping I'll get to paint it then, too! I mean, not to be a Bird of the Year hog, but...who you gonna call, right?)
Sunday, April 1, 2012
The newly described Dun Mountain Warbler, Pseudoseiurus monochromis, as painted by ME!
I’ve been holding this story in for weeks. I’m about to burst with excitement. How often does a bird painter get asked to depict a newly discovered species—in North America?? It’s every bird painter’s best dream. But enough of my yakkin'. I’ll let the paintings and the press release speak for themselves:
Ornithologists from the National Bird Observatory (NBO) in Osprey Chalk, Connecticut, are pleased to announce the discovery of a North American bird species that is new to science. The dun mountain warbler (Pseudoseiurus monochromis) was recently discovered by bear hunters on all-terrain vehicles trying to reach forested habitat on the far side of a 10,000-acre mountaintop removal site in southern West Virginia. The species was described by ornithologists from the NBO, who were alerted to its existence when the West Virginia bear hunters (who were being filmed for a reality television show) remarked on camera that "it was the only thing we seen that was alive for miles around."
"This species has apparently moved into the expansive wastelands left behind by mountaintop removal (MTR), and is thriving there," said Patrick Fitzmichael, director of the NBO and chairman of the E. R. Hare Citizen Science Endowment at the NBO. "We found more than 35 nests in southern West Virginia in just one weekend of searching. We think that this population grew out of remnant bands of birds that were living and apparently breeding above the treeline in the Appalachians on scree slopes where no one in their right mind would ever go for birding or anything else."
The natural history of the dun mountain warbler is most unusual. It nests on barren, rocky ground in mountaintop removal sites, laying its eggs among the stones and exposed clay. It flips rocks and pebbles looking for invertebrates, colonizing recent MTR sites, scavenging prey from reptiles and amphibians to insects, even following earth moving equipment with an alert expression and pertly wagging tail, waiting to see what is stirred up by the digging.
The plumage of the dun mountain warbler is described as dirt-brown and gray—or dun—which helps the bird and its cryptically colored eggs to blend in perfectly with their surroundings. Little is known about the dun mountain warbler's courtship, but field researchers were able to catch a short recording of its song, which is described as "a loud beeping tone similar to a piece of heavy earth-moving equipment backing up."
A spokesperson for the Consolation Coal Company reacted this way to the announcement: "We've known for years that our efforts to turn unusable tree-choked mountain habitat into nice, flat, open areas would be good for the environment. If a bird lays a egg on a mountain, what happens? It rolls to the bottom and breaks. The baby bird dies. We're happy that nature is finally realizing that our mining operations not only mean jobs for the local community, but they also make good places for birds to nest. Now THAT's family values, which is what we've always stood for."
Thus far, the dun mountain warbler seems to find its center of abundance in southern West Virginia's coal country, and NBO is mounting expeditions to neighboring states of Kentucky and Tennessee to survey MTR sites there. The future looks bright for this specialized but opportunistic species as mountaintop removal proceeds apace. The Obama Administration has recommended a study to determine if the species needs more breeding habitat. "We're ready to approve more than 150 MTR mine site permits if it means we can help this rare warbler survive and even thrive in the future."
Bill Thomas III, editor of Birders' Watching Digest said, "This is the feel-good birding story of the year! More habitat for an endangered species--and a NEW one at that!"
The Old River Birding Festival in Oak Harbor, West Virginia, will be offering customized tours to see the dun mountain warbler from now through September. Contact the festival at www.birding-wv.com.