My first encounter with a Newfoundland Veery (Catharus fuscescens fuliginosus)


In 1900, a young ornithologist from Massachusetts named Reginald Heber Howe, Jr., then just 25 years of age, described a new subspecies of the Veery (Catharus fuscescens) from the mountains of southwestern Newfoundland. He named it fuliginosa, meaning “sooty”, which was later gender-corrected to fuliginosus when the species was moved from Hylocichla to Catharus. Howe (1900) wrote:

“Subspecific characters.—Size slightly larger. Upper parts especially on the head, distinctly brownish, much darker and not of the tawny shade of typical fuscescens, and lacking the greenish tinge of salicicola. Throat, lores, and upper breast suffused with buff, though perhaps less so than in fuscescens (in salicicola buff is practically absent), the upper breast and usually also the throat spotted heavily with broad arrow-shaped brown markings suggesting very strongly the throat and breast of H. u. swainsonii. The breast markings of both fuscescens and salicicola are narrow and more penciled and lighter in shade. Bill darker and heavier.”

I encountered the Newfoundland Veery in the Table Mountains of southwest Newfoundland, during a 2015 expedition to study its close relative, the Gray-cheeked Thrush (C. minimus)(see previous posts). We found C. fuscescens singing along the starlight trail, in a mixed deciduous/coniferous habitat that was also utilized by another close relative Swainson’s Thrush (C. ustulatus swainsoni). In the video above, notice the Swainson’s Thrush singing in the background of the video!  We captured both species in our mist nets, including three Newfoundland Veeries. One of the females we captured had an egg developing inside of her, confirming breeding of this species at the site. I also made audio recordings of two males at this site, and uploaded them to xeno-canto (http://www.xeno-canto.org/298771; http://www.xeno-canto.org/325285), where they represent the first recordings of C. fuscescens from Newfoundland in that archive.

StarlightTrail_Newfoundland

Forest habitat in the Table Mountains where C. ustulatus swainsoni and C. fuscescens fuliginosus breed syntopically. We did not detect C. minimus at this site, but they may have been breeding at slightly higher elevation than our nets (see Marshall 2000).

Remarkably, almost nothing has been published about this race of the Veery since Howe (1900) first described it. All specimens from Newfoundland are typically labeled fuliginosus by collectors, although the characters noted by Howe (e.g., brownish coloration of the dorsal plumage) may be prone to foxing and other post-mortem color change. Indeed, it remains to be seen whether fuliginosus is actually a diagnosable race, since its description more than a century ago was based on largely subjective evaluations of color that would be insufficient to justify a new taxon today. More research will be needed to determine the evolutionary history of this interesting brownish race, including the location and connectivity of its wintering area(s).

Literature Cited

Howe, R. H. 1900. A new subspecies of the genus Hylocichla. Auk 17, 270–271.

Marshall, J. T. 2000. The Gray-Cheeked Thrush, Catharus minimus and its New England Subspecies, Bicknell’s Thrush, Catharus minimus bicknelli. Nuttall Ornithological Club, pp. 136.

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Categories: Exploration, Natural History, OrnithologyTags: , , ,

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