10 July 2010

Hybrid Bunting in Salt Lake City

On a recent trip to Salt Lake City, I took a short birding trip in City Creek Canyon, a location that comes up often on the Utah birding listservs. It was neat to see several species whose boundaries seem to be in the short distance between SLC and Logan, like the Western Scrub-Jay, which generally doesn't occur in Cache Valley, and the Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, which can be found in Cache County but only with difficulty. But the highlight of this little walk was a unique bird that I had not seen before. The bird looked mostly like an Indigo Bunting, a species that is typical of the eastern US, but which occurs in Utah rarely. Except, unlike a pure Indigo Bunting, it had a white belly. I think that this indicates that my bird was a hybrid of an Indigo Bunting and a Lazuli Bunting, the common bunting of the west. These two species do hybridize with some regularity, and a quick Google search turned up many examples of birds that were similar to the bird I saw. It would have been nice to see a pure Indigo Bunting, a rare species in the state, but it is some consolation that this hybrid combination is probably even more rare!

06 July 2010

Monterey Slender Salamanders

Slender Salamanders, or Worm Salamanders, are a genus (Batrachoseps) of small, thin salamanders that are found only on the west coast of North America, from Oregon to Mexico. In recent years, the use of genetics has greatly enhanced our understanding of this genus. The more we study them, the more diverse they seem to be.

There are now about 20 species known in the genus, and most of them have very small ranges. While I was in Monterey last month, I took the opportunity to find two of these narrow endemics.

The Gabilan Mountains Slender Salamander, above, was described as a species in 2001. It is found in only a small part of California. Like all members of the genus, this species captures small insect prey with a projectile tongue. The last photo above shows the habitat where these individuals were found.

The Santa Lucia Mountains Slender Salamander is closely related, and although it is said to be slightly more robust, it may be impossible to distinguish it reliably except by genetics. Fortunately, its range does not overlap with the Gabilan Mountains Slender Salamander, so the species can be identified safely by location. This species is even more narrowly distributed, being found over only about 50 miles of the California coast.