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Tim Melling – White-rumped Snowfinch

Tim writes: White-rumped Snowfinch (Onychostruthus taczanowskii) is only found at high altitude meadows and steppes in the Himalayas.  They are usually associated with Pika colonies as they nest, shelter and roost in Pika burrows.  Though the relationship with Pikas seems rather one-sided as I noticed aggression between resident Pikas and Snowfinches with an eye to moving into their burrow.  They are about the size of a sparrow and the generic name Onychostruthus translates as clawed sparrow.  The specific name commemorates a nineteenth century Polish naturalist Wladyslaw Taczanowski and was named by Nikolay Przewalski in 1876.  They were recently taken out of the typical Snowfinch genus Montifringilla and are now the only species in the genus Onychostruthus.  I notice that some of my books call it Mandelli’s Snowfinch, after a nineteenth century Italian tea-planter and naturalist in Darjeeling.  I photographed this individual in a colony of Plateau Pikas (Ochothona curzoniae) at an altitude above 3500m in freezing conditions in Sichuan, China.  They are not especially approachable and are surprisingly difficult to isolate in flat plateau habitat.

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