Foam Lake Birding No. 106

No. 106
Hello from southern Texas. Fortunately our trip down was uneventful and we even saw a few lifers along the way. We left on January 10th just escaping the storm back home, but at the same time not driving into the blizzard that was raging in South Dakota and Nebraska at the time. By the time we had to drive through that region the storm had passed. Talk about snow and snowplows. Thankfully, the roads were not icy so traveling was good, although, the quite heavy ground level drifting was mesmerizing at times.
We did see some birds along the way that we found interesting. From southern Saskatchewan to Kansas there were pheasants everywhere. We also saw three birds that breed in the high Arctic in the summer and spend winters south of the tree line well onto the prairies. The first were the ever present Snow Buntings that are common in the Foam Lake area. The second were lifers for my wife and me. At first we thought they were off-colour Snow buntings, but a quick check with our birdbook showed them to be Lapland Longspurs, cousins of the Horned Larks. Because Lapland Longspurs do not winter in the parkland region of the prairies only on the open short grass prairie, I had never seen them during my younger years. In the years that we have been there we have simply overlooked them. Finally, my wife noticed a hawk floating over the freeway in North Dakota directly in front of us. When we got close it flared clearly showing the distinctive markings on its underwings identifying it as the Rough Legged Hawk. I had seen them before but my wife had not so she got a second lifer and near home.
When we arrived in Texas the birding community was abuzz about the sighting of a White Throated Thrush (formerly White Throated Robin). We have not seen it yet, but hope to soon. As compensation, we did see our first Fulvous Whistling Ducks.
Since we have been coming here we have seen another quite rare tropical robin (now thrush) that is the national bird of Costa Rica, the Clay Coloured Thrush. They have actually started nesting here in the Rio Grand Valley, but are not common by any means.
In the last year or so ornithologists have done some renaming in the thrush family. Through years of common usage members of the thrush family that had spotted or striped abdomens were called thrushes; those that were blue were called bluebirds; the rest were called robins. As always, there were a few exceptions. Now, with the changes, bluebirds are still the same, but all robins without red breasts are now thrushes. Therefore, our robin is still the American Robin as is the much rarer Rufous Backed Robin – both have red breasts.
This week’s photo of the Clay Coloured Thrush was taken several years ago in McCallum when it was still known as a robin. In a colour photo it looks like a washed out American Robin with a light tan coloured breast and no white throat; in black and white it looks just like the American Robin.