Ian’s Bird of the Moment – Isla de la Plata

If you remember that far back, the last Irregular Bird was on the birds of Christmas Island. Here is another tropical island, Isla de la Plata (Silver Island) in the eastern Pacific just off the coast of Ecuador. Unlike Christmas Island, it isn’t remote, just a 40km/25mile boat trip from Puerto Lopez. So it doesn’t have any endemic birds, but it does have nesting colonies of interesting seabirds. I visited it in October 2005 with Jo Wieneke. She was on her way to the Galapagos, while I was on my way back to Australia on a round the world fare.

Isla de la Plata, Ecuador

It’s relatively small, about 5km/3miles long from northwest to southeast, uninhabited, with the only building – at Drake Bay, above – being the information centre of the national park (Machalilla) of which it is part. Like Christmas Island, it is surrounded by cliffs and the only beach of note is at Drake Bay, the landing place for visitors and the start of a network of walking tracks around the island.

Isla de la Plata, Ecuador Shore

The Bay is named after Sir Francis Drake who, as captain of the Golden Hind, was here in 1579, plundering Spanish ships carrying plundered native treasure. There is debate over whether the name ‘Plata’ refers to silver in Drake’s possession or the white, guano-covered cliffs and if you are interested you can check up on the history of Drake’s adventures around Isla de la Plata here.
Brown/Peruvian Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis/thagus) by Ian
Anyway, back to birds. Puerto Lopez, the departure port for day trips to the island is a fishing village and is notable for plenty of Pelicans, lounging around on the colourful fishing boats waiting for a free feed. This part of the coast of Ecuador marks the transition from the northern Brown Pelican (Birdway) to the southern Peruvian Pelican (Birdway). The latter has been treated in the past as a subspecies of the Brown but the two are now regarded as different species. These ones look intermediate to me and I’ve given up trying to pin them down to one species or the other. In any case, it was lovely to get a close-up view of these spectacular birds.
SUL-Suli Blue-footed Booby (Sula nebouxii) by Ian
Isla de la Plata is often referred to as the Poor Man’s Galapagos as it costs only about 40USD to visit it and shares some of the iconic species of the Galapagos such as the Blue-footed Booby. These were to be found nesting on the walking tracks and appeared quite undisturbed by human visitors. The male in the first photo is displaying to the stationary female by walking around her and showing off his blue feet. Foot colour is very important to boobies. She looks completely unimpressed, perhaps because he is too young and his feet aren’t blue enough yet.
Blue-footed Booby (Sula nebouxii) by Ian4
The next pair clearly have what it takes and the male on the left has blue enough feet to melt the heart of any prospective mate. The sexes look similar but females are generally bigger and the irises of males appear whiter as female irises have a dark inner ring around the pupil. I tend to think of the Blue-footed Booby as mainly a Galapagos specialty but in fact it’s breeding range includes Baja California in Mexico and along the coast from Panama to northern Peru.
SUL-Suli Nazca Booby (Sula granti) Portrait by Ian
Like Christmas Island, Isla de la Plata has three species of nesting boobies. The second is the Nazca Booby, a black and and white booby with orange bill and eyes. It bears more than a striking resemblance to its close relative the Masked Booby (Birdway), which it replaces in the eastern Pacific where its main population centre is also the Galapagos Archipelago. The Nazca used to be treated as a subspecies of the Masked, which occurs in tropical and subtropical water around the world including offshore islands around Australia. The main field mark distinguishing the Nazca is the coral pink, rather than yellow, bill but there are also morphological differences including smaller size and longer wings and tail.
SUL-Suli Nazca Booby (Sula granti) by Ian
Bill colour differs between the sexes: the bird in the background in the second photo has a pinker bill and is female. Nazca Boobies have khaki feet, hardly something to get excited about, but there’s no accounting for differences in taste.
SUL-Suli Red-footed Booby (Sula sula) by Ian
The third species of Booby is the Red-footed, another species with a pantropical distribution and which we encountered on Christmas Island. There, the birds were of the white morph; here they are of the brown morph. The one in the photo is an adult bird (juveniles don’t, of course, have red feet) at its nest.
One might wonder ecologically why various species of booby have such overlapping distributions. It seems that they differ in the feeding habits. Blue-footed Boobies feed mainly on schooling sardines, anchovies and mackerel and feed gregariously, often diving in unison, and also feed on flying-fish. The diet of Nazca Boobies varies by location but includes larger schooling fish and flying-fish. Red-footed Boobies feed mainly on flying-fish and squid and often feed at night when squid come to the surface.
Male Magnificent Frigatebird by Ian
Christmas Island boasts three of the five species of Frigatebird, including the endemic Christmas (Island) Frigatebird, the Lesser and the Great. Isla de la Plata has only one, the Magnificent, but this is the largest of the five species by way of compensation. Adult males have entirely black plumage making them difficult to distinguish in the field from the Great. Males of the latter have a brown wing-bar, but so do a few male Magnificent. Female Magnificent Frigatebirds are similar to female Great but are larger and have a white nucal collar (below).
Magnificent Frigatebird Family by Ian
The Magnificent Frigatebird is closely related to the Great and both it and the fifth species, the Ascencion Island Frigatebird, used to be treated as races of the Great. The Great also occurs in the eastern Pacific but it is mainly an offshore species and does not breed on Isla de la Plata, though both breed in the Galapagos so their ranges are not exclusive. The distribution of the Magnificent is mainly the tropical and subtropical eastern and western coasts of the Americas, with a relict population on Cape Verde Island off the west coast of Africa.
Red-billed Tropicbird by Ian
Christmas Island has two of the three global species of Tropicbird: the Red-tailed and the golden morph of the White-tailed. Isla de la Plata has the third: the Red-billed Tropicbird. This is probably the least numerous of the three species with three subspecies in the northwestern Indian Ocean; the Atlantic south of the equator; and, the most common and widespread subspecies off Cape Verde, in the Caribbean and the eastern Pacific. Adult birds retain the barred plumage on the back and wings that is otherwise characteristic of juvenile birds. With a wingspan to 106cm/42in and length, including tail streamers, to 105cm/41in , this is the largest of the three species. It feeds mainly on flying fish, usually by diving but will also take them in flight.
Isla de la Plata has a very small population, less than 20 pairs, of the only tropical Albatross, the Waved Albatross, but unfortunately we didn’t see any. It breeds mainly on Hood Island in the Galapagos with a population of less than 20,000 pairs. The population has declined in recent decades owing to mortality as bycatch by fishing vessels and is classified as critically endangered.
Croaking Ground-dove by Ian
The island is rather arid with scrubby vegetation and didn’t seem to support many species of terrestrial birds. We did however see White-tipped Doves (Birdway) and Croaking Ground-Doves. I photographed the Croaking Ground-Dove above when we were having breakfast in Puerto Lopez a couple of days after our visit to Isla de la Plata.
Long-tailed Mockingbird by Ian
The only passerines we saw were Long-tailed Mockingbird and Collared Warbling-Finch. The Long-tailed Mockingbird has a mainly coastal distribution in Ecuador and Peru and is a close relative of the Chilean Mockingbird (Birdway).
Collard Warbling-Finch by Ian
The Collared Warbling-Finch isn’t a finch but a member of the Thraupidae family (Birdway) which comprises a rather heterogeneous collection of birds including most, but not all, of the Tanagers. It has a similar distribution to the Long-tailed Mockingbird along the coast of Ecuador and Peru. The bird in the photo is a male; females have streaked, brownish plumage without the black breast-band or black markings on the head.
I hope you’ve enjoyed our virtual tours of two tropical islands. I have a couple of very cold islands, one in the northern hemisphere and one in the southern, in mind as candidates for the next two Irregular Birds.
Greetings
Ian


Ian Montgomery,
454 Forestry Road, Bluewater, Qld 4818
Phone: 0411 602 737 +61-411 602 737
Preferred Email: ian@birdway.com.au

Recorder Society http://www.nqrs.org.au

Lee’s Addition:

I am always amazed and tickled by these Blue-footed and Red-footed Boobies. Along with all the many critters and birds the Lord created, it sometimes shows his sense of humor.
“So God created great sea creatures and every living thing that moves, with which the waters abounded, according to their kind, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” So the evening and the morning were the fifth day.” (Genesis 1:21-23 NKJV)

Ian’s Bird of the Moment – Christmas Island Birds

Ian’s Bird of the Incident he’s called it this time in his newsletter. By Ian Montgomery
Well, I’ve finally emerged from various Christmas Island induced rabbit holes and we can have our virtual trip to look at some of the special birds of this remote island. There aren’t any feral rabbits on Christmas Island, so Red Crab burrows might be a better metaphor.
Christmas Island is both remote and very old, making it an interesting place in terms of both biogeography and avian evolution. It is about 350km/220 miles south of the western tip of Java and 1,550km/960 miles northwest of Exmouth in Western Australia. There are no nearby islands – the Cocos Keeling Islands are 980km/610 miles to its west. It first appeared about 60 million years ago as a 5,000m/ high volcanic seamount which then underwent several geological uplifts over the following 10 million years giving it a layered structure with cliffs, both coastal and farther inland, formed by coastal erosion. Coral reefs deposited limestone over the basalt core.
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60 million years ago was shortly, geologically speaking, after the extinction event, thought to be a global collision with a large object, about 66 million years ago that marked the end of the Cretaceous period. This caused the extinction of many plants and animals, notably the dinosaurs, and resulted in rapid adaptive radiation of many surviving groups, particularly birds and mammals. At the time Australia was still attached to Antarctica and the other tectonic plates of the former Gondwana were still drifting to their current locations and resulting land masses: South America, Africa, Madagascar and India.
The island has an area of 135 sq km/52 sq mi and the coast is an almost continuous cliff with few bays or beaches, as shown in the photo of the east coast. Although known to European sailors from the 17th century, the cliffs made landing, exploration and settlement difficult and it remained uninhabited and consequently undisturbed until the late 19th Century. The largest bay is Flyingfish Cove near the north of the island where the Settlement is located. The photo below shows a typical stretch of coast looking south from Margaret’s Knoll on the eastern side of the island.
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You’ll probably know from previous posts that I’m particularly interested in the evolution and ecology of birds, and by extension their taxonomy and biogeography. Isolated islands both provide fascinating insights into and pose intriguing questions about both evolution and biogeography and I’m going to look at the species on Christmas Island from these angles. We’ll start with the taxonomically most unusual, Abbott’s Booby, which belongs to a monotypic endemic genus, then look at other interesting seabirds and finish with land birds.
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Three of the seven global species of Booby breed on Christmas Island: Abbott’s, Brown and Red-footed. Both the Brown and Red-footed are widespread, found throughout tropical waters around the world and members of the genus Sula which comprises all the species of Booby except Abbott’s.  Abbott’s, however, breeds only on Christmas Island and is the only member of the genus Papasula. It was originally included in Sula but structural differences between it and both Gannets and other Boobies led Olson and Warheit 1988 to move it to a new more primitive genus of its own. Subsequent DNA studies have confirmed this and Papasula is thought to have branched off the early Gannet-Booby lineage about 22 million years ago.
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We can’t, however, conclude that it evolved in isolation on Christmas Island. The species was first described from a specimen collected by the American naturalist William Louis Abbott in 1892 on an island near Madagascar in the western Indian Ocean, either Assumption Island or the nearby Glorioso Island. Fossil evidence indicates that it was quite widespread in the Indian and Pacific Oceans and there are eyewitness reports of it breeding in the Mascarene Islands near Mauritius (as described in Wikipedia). So its endemic status on Christmas Island is a result of its extinction elsewhere. On Christmas Island the population, currently estimated at about 2,000 pairs, has declined owing to habitat clearance and the species is classified as endangered.
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Here, by way of comparison, is the white morph of the Red-footed Booby. There is also a widespread brown morph of this species but all, or almost all of the ones on Christmas Island are of the white morph. You can see photos of the brown or dark morph here: Birdway Red-footed Booby.
Frigatebirds are very well represented on Christmas Island. Three of the five global species nest on the island: Lesser, Great and the endemic Christmas (Island) Frigatebird. The other two species are the Magnificent (Birdway: Magnificent Frigatebird) of Atlantic and eastern Pacific Oceans and the Ascension, endemic to Ascension Island in the Atlantic. The Lesser (Birdway: Lesser Frigatebird) has colonised Christmas Island in small numbers relatively recently while the Great (Birdway: Great Frigatebird) is an endemic subspecies (listeri) with a population of about 3,300 pairs.. The Christmas Frigatebird is globally the rarest with a population of about 1,200 pairs. The population has declined since human settlement and the species is now classified as critically endangered, both because of its small, declining population and the fact that its breeding range is limited to a single location.
Unlike Abbott’s Booby, it’s probably fairly safe to assume that it evolved on the island and differs from the other species of Frigatebird mainly in the patterning of the plumage. The male has a diagnostic white belly, while the female has a white breast and belly extending further down the belly than in other species.
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Frigatebirds feed both by snatching prey such as squid and flying fish from on or near the surface of the water and by harrying Boobies, Tropicbirds and Terns until they drop their food. In the photo above, this female has just regurgitated a no doubt tasty mixture for its chick including a flying fish, the “wings” of which you can see sticking out on both sides of the chick’s mouth.
While we’re on the subject of tropical seabirds, Christmas Island has two of the three global species of Tropicbirds: the White-tailed and Red-tailed Tropicbird. Most of the local White-tailed Tropicbird population has black and apricot rather than the typical black and white plumage and has been ascribed to a separate subspecies fulvus. It is known locally as the Golden Bosunbird. However, 7% of the local population has the normal black and white plumage and apricot coloured birds occur in small numbers elsewhere, so it may be better to consider the differences just as colour morphs.
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For me, the Golden Bosunbird was the most beautiful bird on the island and I spent hours watching them in flight from this lookout near the settlement overlooking Tai Jin House, below, the former resident of the governor in more colonial times.
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The Red-tailed Tropicbird, or locally Silver Bosunbird, is quite beautiful too. In pristine condition, the birds have long red tail streamers, but these frequently get broken off when the birds are nesting. They do a spectacular fluttering display flight travelling downwards and often slightly backwards near the cliffs where they nest.
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Both of these Tropicbirds are quite widespread. The White-tailed occurs in tropical parts of the Indian, Pacific and Atlantic Oceans while the Red-tailed ranges from the western Indian Ocean to the central Pacific.
Special birds on Christmas Island are not restricted to sea birds: it has some unusual land birds as well. Here is the splendid and abundant Christmas Island Imperial Pigeon.
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The dorsal plumage is this lustrous green which reminds me of Connemara marble. The breast is plum-coloured, the vent rufous and the eyes are a spectacular golden. It’s endemic to the island and its closest relative is the Pink-headed Imperial Pigeon (D. rosacea), widespread in the Indonesian islands of the Java Sea.
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A much more elusive member of this family is endemic race natalis of the Common or Asian Emerald Dove. This used to be treated as the same species as the Emerald Dove that occurs in Australia but the latter has been split into two species: the Common or Asian and the Pacific. As a result, Christmas Island is the only place in Australia where the Common or Asian species occurs.
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Also elusive is the only resident owl, the endemic Christmas Island Boobook. With a length of 26-29cm/10-11.4in, it is generally smaller than the rather variable Australian Bookbook of the mainland: 27-36cm/10.6-13.8in. We went out one night near the golf course with David James, one of the leaders of the first Christmas Island Bird Week, who was armed with a recording of the call. The recording was of poor quality but to our delight and surprise we got a response and a family of three appeared at close quarters. The species is regarded as vulnerable with a population of maybe 500 pairs and there are concerns that the introduction of yellow crazy ants is affecting the availability of the invertebrate prey that is its main source of food.
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Christmas Island also has an endemic diurnal predator, the Christmas Island Goshawk. Its taxonomy has proved a challenge for various taxonomists and it has generally been treated as a race of the Brown Goshawk (Accipiter fasciatus). In fact there are significant differences in structure, appearance and behaviour, so there is probably justification for treating it as a separate species. It is the rarest of the endemic birds with a population of probably less than 250 individuals. Unlike the Brown Goshawk, the birds are relatively tame and approachable.
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Christmas Island has only two endemic Passerines, the endemic race of the Island Thrush that was the subject of the last Irregular Bird and the Christmas Island White-eye. White-eyes are famous for finding their way to and settling on remote islands so there are nearly one hundred species ranging from Africa through the warmer parts of Asia to Australasia and the islands of the Pacific. This one is posing on a coral tree near Tai Jin House.
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So, there you are. Plenty of rabbit or red crab burrows to be explored by budding taxonomists and biogeographers. Talking about Red Crabs, itt wasn’t the right time of the year for the Red Crab spawning event and I don’t remember seeing any as they keep out of sight at other times of the year. We did encounter some Robber or Coconut Crabs, however. This species  is the largest terrestrial arthropod, weighing up to 4kg/8.8lbs and measuring up to 1m/39in in span from leg tip to leg tip. Their range comprises islands of the Indian Ocean and parts of the Pacific.
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Greetings and stay safe,
Ian

Lee’s Addition:

“Thus the heavens and the earth were completed, and all their hosts. By the seventh day God completed His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done.” (Genesis 2:1-2 NASB)

Very interesting how these birds have developed and interbred over the centuries. With isolation, much interbreeding within the species has helped influence these varieties within the families and orders.

See More of Ian’s posts at:

Ian’s Bird of the Week

Who Paints the Leaves?

Ian’s Bird of the Moment – Island Thrush

When preparing editions of the Irregular Bird, I enjoy researching the natural history of the species in question. However, as anyone who goes on such a quest on the internet would know, this often proves to be a bit of a rabbit hole leading in unpredictable directions and taking up lots of time.

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Such was the case this time round as I had decided, given our current travel-free situation, to take us on a trip to Christmas Island with photos of about ten of the most interesting species. This led me down endless rabbit holes and the weeks ticked by. One of these that I found particularly interesting, biogeographically and taxonomically, was the Island Thrush and, unlike most of the others, it hasn’t featured previously as an Irregular Bird, or Bird of the Week as it was in 2006.
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This rather smart thrush is one of the typical thrushes comprising the genus Turdus, the members of which are widespread throughout Eurasia, Africa and the Americas and includes such well-known species as the Common Blackbird, the Song and Mistle Thrushes of Eurasia and the American Robin. The Island Thrush is about the same size as the Common Blackbird, to which it is closely related and is also a fine songster with a similar flutey song (listen to it here https://www.xeno-canto.org/204160).
island_thrush_39675_pp.jpg
This particular subspecies erythropleurus (meaning red-sided, or literally red-ribbed) is endemic to Christmas Island and was originally described as a full species Turdus erythropleurus by Sharpe in 1887. Subsequently it was found to be a race of the Island Thrush which is widespread but local through Southeast Asia from Sumatra and the Philippines and tropical Australasia and Oceania as far east as Samoa. Christmas Island is indicated by the brown arrow on the map below.
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The first race of the species was described by Latham in 1801. He called it the Grey-headed Blackbird, Turdus poliocephalus (polios is Greek for grey). It occurred only on Norfolk Island (horizontal black arrow on the map) and is now extinct, while another ‘species’ the Vinous-tinted Blackbird Turdus vinitinctus, also now extinct, was described on Lord Howe Island (vertical black arrow). The Christmas Island race is the sole surviving one on Australia territory.
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You may be struck by the different plumages of the various races, so it isn’t surprising that they were originally treated as different species. The colour plate above was created by the Danish artist Henrik Gronvold, and published in this book, below, an appendix to the Birds of Australia, by Gregory Mathews in 1928. 
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In fact, all the various populations of the Island Thrush differ greatly from each other in appearance. Below, stolen from Guy Dutson’s Birds of Melanesia, are two other races, one completely black (efatensis on Efate, an island of Vanuatu) and the other with a white head (albifrons on Erromango, another island of Vanuatu). In some race, the sexes are similar, in others they are different and the plumages of the juveniles are quite variable too. In fact the Island Thrush’s main claim to fame is that it is globally the most variable species of bird with nearly 50 subspecies. DNA studies show that the subspecies  appear to be all closely related with one exception: the northernmost one on Taiwan, niveiceps, is considered a candidate for elevation to species rank.
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The variability and wide range of the Island Thrush is paradoxical from the point of view of biogeography. On the one hand, varability and divergent subspecies indicates isolation with a lack of genetic flow among populations, i.e. the birds don’t move between islands. On the other hand, the wide range suggests that the Island Thrush is or was very good at getting from one place to another. This apparent contradiction is another mystery waiting to be solved.
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John Gould also illustrated the Vinous-tinted Blackbird on Lord Howe. Like the Grey-headed nominate race of Norfolk Island, the sexes were similar so the browner bird in the plate presumably represents a juvenile. In the background are the two high mountains on Lord Howe, Mount LIdgbird (left) and the flat-topped Mount Gower. This species was quite common until a shipwreck introduced rats to the island in 1918 with fatal consequences for this ground-nesting bird.
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Here are the two mountains on Lord Howe in 2013, photographed from the other side of the island from the John Gould illustration. So, we did sort of do a trip even if we ended up on Lord Howe instead of Christmas Island. I will prepare the rest of the photos for a trip to Christmas Island and try not to get too diverted by avian rabbit holes.
 
Spending a lot of time in isolation has given me the opportunity to work on the website not only adding birds and mammals from the trip to Brazil and Chile last year (about 120 species at last count), but also digging up neglected photos of other wildlife from earlier trips. If you are interested in checking these out, you can do so via the thumbnails on the Recently Added Photos page: http://www.birdway.com.au/recent_additions.php.
 
Greetings and stay safe,
Ian

Ian Montgomery,
454 Forestry Road, Bluewater, Qld 4818
Phone: 0411 602 737 +61-411 602 737
Preferred Email: ian@birdway.com.au

Recorder Society http://www.nqrs.org.au

 

Lee’s Addition:

I am always grateful when I get the surprise Birds of the “Moment” from Ian. When he used to do the Bird of the Week, they were very regular. Now, I love being surprised by Ian. [He is becoming almost as “off-schedule” as I am.] At any rate, what a beautiful and neat looking Thrush. Thanks, Ian for sharing another avian wonder with us.

“Even the stork in the sky Knows her seasons; And the turtledove and the swift and the thrush Observe the time of their migration; But My people do not know The ordinance of the LORD.” (Jeremiah 8:7 NASB)

Birds of the Bible – Thrushes

Ian’s Birds of the Week/Moment

Ian’s Bird of the Moment – Spangled Drongo

For the New Year we had the hopeful Wise Owls. Well 2020 is less than three weeks old and it’s been a bumpy ride already in various parts of the world such as Australia and Iran. So the current bird of the moment is the Australian (Spangled) Drongo. Anyone familiar with Australian slang will know that Drongo is used in Australian English as a mild form of insult meaning “idiot” or “stupid fellow” (“stupid eejit” in Irish English). Very unfair to the birds you might think – Drongos are far from stupid – but in fact it is derived from an eponymous racehorse in the 1920s that never won a single race out of the 37 in which it ran. I’ll finish this post by nominating my human New Year Drongo.
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We’ll start with the birds. The Drongo family (Dicruridae Birdway) consist of single genus with 26 species in Africa south of the Sahara, tropical and sub-tropical Asia and Australasia. The Spangled Drongo is the only one occurring in Australia and its range includes New Guinea and the Moluccas of eastern Indonesia. In Australia it occurs mainly in coastal tropical and sub-tropical regions from the Kimberley in Western Australia, through the Top End of the Northern Territory to Queensland and eastern NSW. It is summer visitor in the southeastern Australia as far as Victoria and eastern South Australia, but breeds mainly north of 31ºS (Port Macquarie, NSW).
It is a fairly typical Drongo species, 30cm/12in long, with black plumage, an evil-looking red eye, a predatory beak, and a forked tail. Exceptions to the black plumage rule are the Ashy (Birdway) and White-bellied Drongo. The forked tail is mainly used for acrobatic flight – like Kites – in pursuit of aerial prey. Sex, of course, intervenes, and some species have evolved decorative tails for display such as the Racquet- and Ribbon-tailed ones.
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The “Spangled” refers to highly reflective pale spots on the breast but, rather like sparkling hummingbirds, are visible only when the light is at the right angle (e.g first photo) so birds often appear just black (second photo) with a greenish or bluish iridescence. Juvenile birds (third photo) have white patches on the breast and on the vent. This one is quite young and has a short tail and a “what am I supposed to do now?” expression.
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They’re loud and assertive birds, perching on prominent sites on the lookout for large insects which they pursue with great agility. From a birdwatcher’s point of view, they have a dark side appropriate to their appearance, and will feed on nestlings, like the unfortunate one in the fourth photo. There are a couple in my garden that regularly visit the birdbath and, although I admire their survival skills, I have mixed feelings about them.
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Their assertiveness extends to breeding and they’ll readily place their nests in obvious places such as this one on the separation bar of powerlines in a suburban street.  This one is grandly called Park Lane between Bayswater Road and Oxford Street in West End, a Townsville suburb named, I assume, using the London version of the Monopoly board. (I was brought up on the Dublin version and the equivalent of Park Lane was, I think, Shrewsbury Road at the dark blue most expensive end. The nest-building skills of Drongos are impressive.
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Anyway, enough about mere birds. My Drongo nomination reflects my frustration with the Australian Government’s refusal to do anything of substance about climate change not just in Madrid, but especially in the light – or heat – of the catastrophic bushfires in Australia. For once it seems that the media have not over-dramatised the situation, if anything they have failed to communicate adequately the true horror of what is happening. My award goes to Government back-bencher Craig Kelly for this extraordinary interview on Good Morning Britain on British TV. If you haven’t already watched it, please do; if it weren’t so serious it would be funny.
To end on a more positive note, after the Australian election last May, I made a moral rather than economic decision to install solar panels, on the basis that if the Government wasn’t going to do anything then it was up to individuals. The bushfires spurred me into action and I have just signed a contract for installation of a 6.6Kw system. It seemed pity to have a suitable, naked roof going to waste in one of the hottest and sunniest parts of Australia. This is what it’s supposed to look like, good Spangled Drongo habitat.
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The projections are that the system will generate 11MWh of electricity annually, replacing the equivalent of 3.4 tonnes of coal (allowing for the averages percentages of electricity generated by coal and natural gas in Australia, 73% and 13% respectively) which in turn is equivalent to saving the emission of between 9 and 10 tonnes of carbon dioxide. That’s nearly half the average per capital Australian annual emissions, an embarrassing 22-25 tonnes, so I should have done it ages ago.
Meanwhile, under that roof I’ve been steadily add photos of new species from the South American trip, more than 120 to date and you find links to most of them here: Birdway Additions. I’ve finished adding new bird species and am adding photos to ones that I’ve photographed elsewhere and other wildlife such as mammals: Birdway Wildlife. Needless to say the Jaguar is the star of the Mammalian show and I like this one of a female having a drink.
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I had a lovely New Year greeting from a recipient in Taiwan, and he, Li-Yi Chen, readily agree to my request to share it with you so here is a reduced version of it.
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You did of course recognise it immediately as a Black-faced Spoonbill, a rare species that winters in Taiwan. It’s the only one of the six species of Spoonbill (Birdway) that I haven’t photographed and he’s offered to show me them there so I’ve put Taiwan on my bucket list.
Enjoy the Drongo Photos and feel free to nominate your own New Year Drongo.
Ian

Lee’s Addition:

Ian seems quite concerned about several things, especially those fires down there in Australia. They brought many Koalas to Zoo Miami here in Florida.
We know that these fires and other disasters are terrible, but we also know that the Lord is in control and our world will continue.
“While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease.” (Genesis 8:22 KJV)
See more of Ian’s Articles
Also visit his site at Birdway

Ian’s Bird of the Moment – Great Horned and Ferruginous Pygmy Owls

There weren’t any owls on our must-see lists for Brazil and Chile because we weren’t particularly expecting to see any. However, we ended up seeing two species at opposite ends of the size scale: the largest Brazilian owl, Great Horned Owl, and one of the smallest, the Ferruginous Pygmy Owl.

The Great Horned Owl – splendidly named the Grand-duc d’Amérique in French – is seriously big, with females, larger than males, being up to 60cm/24in in length, 1.5kg/53oz in weight, with a wing span of up to 1.5m/5ft. The Ferruginous Pygmy Owl, by comparison tiny with the (smaller) males being as short as 15cm/6in, as light as 46g/1.6oz with an average wing span of 38cm/15in.

STI-Strg Great Horned Owl by Ian

Great Horned Owls feed mainly on mammals but are versatile and will take birds from small passerines up to geese and Great Blue Herons. Ferruginous Pygmy Owls are also versatile, make up for their small size by being quite aggressive and taking anything from insects to birds much bigger than themselves.

STI-Strg Ferruginous Pygmy Owl (Glaucidium brasilianum) by Ian

Their versatile diets mean both species are very adaptable and have huge ranges in the Americas. The range of the Great Horned Owl extends from Alaska and northern Canada through Central and South America as far as northern Argentina, though it sizes restricts it to hunting in open areas and it avoids rainforests such as the Amazon Basin.

The Ferruginous Pygmy Owl ranges from southern Arizona through Central America and most of South America east of the Andes (including the Amazon Basin), also as far as northern Argentina. Both incidentally illustrate the taxonomic folly of using geographical areas in names, the specific name of one referring to the American state of Virginia, and the other to Brazil.

PEL-Pele Peruvian Pelican (Pelecanus thagus) by Ian

You probably know by now that I’m attracted to symbols, hence the owls. I couldn’t resist using avian symbols of wisdom as we celebrate the beginning of a new year and a new decade. The last decade seems to have been singularly lacking in wisdom in politics and leadership, and I hope for better in the twenties. At the same time we need to be optimistic and not lose our sense of fun, so I’m sharing the experience Trish and I enjoyed of watching Peruvian Pelicans on the coast of Chile – another lesson in names – apparently enjoying skimming over the waves in the late afternoon.

On the subject of wisdom, I read an article on the (Australian) ABC website today on whether the decade actually starts on the first of January 2020 or 2021. At the start of the millennium I was one of the pedants who felt it started in 2001, but I’ve shifted my ground. I like this quote from a comment on the article by Professor Hans Noel:

“Knowledge is knowing that there was no year 0 so technically the new decade begins Jan 1 2021, not 2020.

“Wisdom is knowing that we started this system in the middle, it’s socially constructed anyway, and it feels right to treat ‘1 to 10’ as a decade, so that’s what we do.”

The ABC Language researcher Tiger Webb had the final word:

“What’s often missing from this discussion is that all calendrical systems are abstractions of human arrogance in the face of an indifferent universe.”

So have a wisdom- and fun-filled 2020 and decade!

Ian


Lee’s Addition:

Well, now there is an interesting take on this new year.

I do know that according to the Bible, there was a year zero (0):

“For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.”
(Exodus 20:11 KJV)

That was when TIME as we know it began.

“Go to now, ye that say, To day or to morrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain: Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that.” (James 4:13-15 KJV)

Like Ian, Happy New Year.

Ian’s Bird of the Week – Moments

Ian’s Bird of the Moment – Long-tailed Meadowlark

Well the moment is almost Christmas, so an iconic bird, or at least an iconic looking bird, is obligatory. Traditional Christmas icons such as european robins and snow flakes stubbornly persist in Australia despite the summer heat, but I have managed to find a red-breasted bird with a little real snow in the southern hemisphere. Those little white flecks in this photo are tiny snow flakes.

PAS-Icte Long-tailed Meadowlark (Leistes loyca) by Ian

We spent out last full – and coldest – day in Chile at a place called Baños Morales at an altitude of 2,000m/6,500ft in the Andes about 100km southeast of Santiago. The intended destination was a location about a kilometre along a walking track past the end of a sealed road up a steep-sided valley where there was supposed to be Grey-breasted Seedsnipe, one of four species that make up the South American Seedsnipe family (Thinocoridae), odd dove-shaped birds related to waders.

banos_morales_7013_pp by Ian

 

A bitterly cold wind funnelled up the valley from the south and we found that, despite five layers of clothes, we couldn’t manage being out of the car for too long. We abandoned plans to go to the seedsnipe location and concentrated our efforts on a promising looking swampy area near the road. We didn’t find any seedsnipes but we did find various interesting, hardy birds including some Long-tailed Meadowlarks that stood out dramatically in the bleak landscape. Meadowlarks belong to the Icteridae (Birdway), a widespread American family that includes a variety of colourful birds including Caciques, Oropendolas, New World Orioles and Blackbirds – unrelated to the Eurasian Blackbird of the thrush family, Turdidae (Birdway).

Anyway this is a roundabout way of wishing you Season’s Greetings: may it be safe and enjoyable. I have another iconic bird in mind to welcome in the new decade so I’ll leave New Year Greetings until then.

Kind regards
Ian


Lee’s Addition:

Merry Christmas to you, Ian. Thanks for sharing a “Christmas iconic bird” with us. The snow makes it even more “Christmassy.” Ian, you are on a roll. Your birds of the “moment” are coming more frequently. Before long, you will have to start doing your “Bird of the Week” articles again.

Ian’s Bird of the Week

Icteridae Family

“Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.” (Matthew 2:1-2 KJV)

What will you do with Jesus?

Ian’s Bird of the Moment – Jabiru

Storks (Ciconiidae on Birdway) are a small, varied, global family of 19 or 20 species depending on whether the African and Asian Woolly-necked Storks are split. Some like the Black-necked Stork of Australasia and Asia are striking in appearance while others such as the Marabou Stork of Africa perhaps qualify as the ugliest birds in existence.
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This Marabou Stork, photo scanned from film, is hanging around near a buffalo carcass, killed by lions, waiting for its turn after the vultures have left some scraps it can pick up. Stork bills are designed for fishing, not dismembering carcasses. They also frequent rubbish dumps; no doubt they play an important role as garbage collectors but it doesn’t add to their appeal.
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The Jabiru of South America was on the must-see list for the Pantanal and is, I think, bizarre rather than plain ugly, with its naked, swollen, black and red neck. It’s also impressive with its huge size, not quite as big as the Marabou but the tallest flying land-bird of the Americas (only the flightless Greater Rhea is marginally taller) and massive black bill. They pay a price for their bare skin. It may be good for personal hygiene but we often noticed that they were bothered by small brown biting flies like the bird below, and often swirled their heads in the water in an apparent attempt to get rid of them.
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This one we saw on our first boat trip on the Rio Claro. We try to convince our boatman that we just have to find a Sunbittern (Birdway) but he has other tricks up his sleeve and we have to wait until the following day before he gets serious about the Sunbittern. This particular Jabiru is accustomed to being fed on frozen piranhas and makes sure we take notice by gliding low over our heads and landing in the water nearby.
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Before swallowing the fish, the bird washes it thoroughly in the water, or so I assume: maybe it is thawing it. I don’t suppose swallowing a frozen fish is very pleasant but birds aren’t famous for savouring their food and usually just try to swallow it before anyone else gets it or it escapes.
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Later in the day we are to enjoy a similar fish-feeding spectacle with well-trained Black-collared Hawk (Birdway) and Great Black Hawks (Birdway), so we are well compensated for the boatman’s initial reluctance to satisfy our lust for the Sunbittern.
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Jabirus are strong flyers even if taking off requires a bit of effort. They are widespread through Central and South America, make local movements in response to the availability of water and food, and are known to cross the Andes in Peru. They are up to 1.4m/4ft 7in in length, with a wingspan to 2.6m/8.5ft and weight up to 8kg/18lbs. Greater Rheas (Birdway) have a similar length but can weigh more than 25kg/55lbs.
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They build huge nests at the top of trees including palms. The same site may be used repeatedly and the tree, particularly if is a palm, may die. In this nest the two juveniles are nearly fledged though not yet as big as their parents. The adult on the left has a red patch on back of the head: the amount of red on the head and neck is quite variable. I can’t find any explanation for the function of the swollen neck, except perhaps for signalling, as the red gets more intense when a bird is “excited”.
The name Jabiru comes from the South American Tupi-Guraní languages and means “swollen neck” and it is used in the scientific name (Jabiru mycteria). “Jabiru” is also used as a common name for the Black-necked Stork (Birdway), the only Stork occurring in Australia. It would seem that the unrelated South American species has a stronger claim to the use of the name, making it preferable to use the alternative name of Black-necked Stork. I don’t suppose, however, that the town of Jabiru in Kakadu in the Northern Territory is going to be renamed any time soon.
Greetings
Ian

We have not seen these Jabirus in a zoo, but we get to enjoy them through Ian’s lens in the wild. Ian’s trip to the Pantana has been providing many interesting avian wonders for us to enjoy. Also, he has been writing more often. Yeah.
Jabiru (Jabiru mycteria) by Ian

Jabiru (Jabiru mycteria) by Ian

“Then I raised my eyes and looked, and there were two women, coming with the wind in their wings; for they had wings like the wings of a stork, and they lifted up the basket between earth and heaven.” (Zechariah 5:9 NKJV)
“Yea, the stork in the heaven knoweth her appointed times; and the turtle and the crane and the swallow observe the time of their coming; but my people know not the judgment of the LORD.” (Jeremiah 8:7 KJV)

Ian’s Bird of the Moment – Hyacinth Macaw

The Pantanal has two iconic species that all wildlife tourists want to see: the Hyacinth Macaw and the Jaguar. Both are spectacular in quite different ways and the Pantanal is the best place to see them. The Pantanal has many wonderful species of birds, but the Macaw is noteworthy as being perhaps the rarest and being now largely restricted in range to this area. Current population estimates are about 6,500 individual wild birds of which perhaps 5,000 are in the Pantanal.
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Like the Sunbittern, the Macaw was a must-see bird for us. In fact, it is no shrinking violet, if you’ll excuse the pun, being both the largest flying parrot and incredibly noisy. We saw our first ones on the first day, perched on the fence beside the road (the Transpantaneira) and they were present, with breeding sites, at all three lodges where we stayed. They’re up to a metre/39 inches in length and weight up to 1,700gms/60oz. Only the enigmatic Kakapo of New Zealand is heavier (up to 3,000g) but is, not surprisingly, flightless.
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Handbook of Birds of the World describes their voice as “Very loud croaking and screeching sounds including ‘kraaa’ and screeching ‘trara’ warning cry”: something of an understatement. The first four photos here were of a pair near Rio Claro lodge which first attracted my attention by the noise they were making, which reminded me of a very loud, traditional wooden football rattle. They clearly weren’t pleased to see me near what I assumed was their nesting tree, but the shape of their bills gives them a happy, welcoming appearance even if the calls and body language suggest otherwise.
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The Hyacinth Macaw lived up to its reputation. It’s a beautiful and fascinating bird. The plumage is a striking cobalt blue blending to more indigo on the upper surface of the wings, with the undersides of the flight feathers being dark grey.  The plumage contrasts wonderfully with the complementary chrome yellow bare skin on the head, an artistic touch suggestive of intelligent design. Unfortunately, its beauty makes it a popular cage bird which almost led to its demise, more about that shortly.
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They’re monogamous, normally maintaining the pair bond until the death of one partner, so they are often seen in pairs (second and fourth photos). They do not breed until they are about seven years old and have a life-span of perhaps thirty years. In the Pantanal they nest in hollows in trees, usually the Panama Tree (Sterculia apetala).  This is a soft-timbered member of the Mallow family (Malvaceae) prone to the formation of hollows from termites, fungi and woodpeckers. The Macaws don’t initiate but enlarge existing hollows as nesting sites, and often use the same site in consecutive years. They will also use the stumps of palm trees and in northeastern Brazil they also nest on cliffs.
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Typically they lay two eggs, but usually at most one young survives to fledging. The eggs and young are particularly vulnerable to predation by reptiles, birds and mammals because of the large size of the hollow and its entrance. Hyacinth Macaws are difficult to breed and rear in captivity for a variety of reasons including the specialised dietary requirements of both young and adult birds.
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In the Pantanal, the birds feed mainly on the nuts of two species of palm tree, the Acuri Palm (Scheelea phalerata) above and the Bocaiúva (Acrocomia aculeata). The Acuri fruits all year long and is the main source of food, while the Bocaiúva nuts ripen between September and December, coinciding with the peak period of hatching of the chicks.
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The nutcracker bill of Macaws are similar to those of Cockatoos, with a strong slender upper mandible aligning with a groove in the lower mandible and both can crack hard nuts with ease. The two groups are not closely related so the structures have evolved [were created] independently. Cockatoos are a purely Australasian family (Cacatuidae) while the Macaws belong to several, genera of South American Parrots (family Psittacidae, sensu stricto, or sub-family Arinae, depending on the taxonomic authority).
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The popularity of Hyacinth Macaws as cage birds almost led to their extinction in the wild in the 1980s. In this decade, perhaps 10,000 birds were trapped leaving only about 3,000 in total. The population also suffered from habitat destruction and removal of the trees on which they depend. Happily in 1990, the Hyacinth Macaw Project was started by the biologist Neives Guedes and has resulted in a tripling of the population to 5,000 in the Pantanal. You can read about it here World Wildlife Fund Brazil or download this pdf Hyacinth Macaw Project. There are, however, other populations in Brazil which have declined from a total of 1,500 birds to 1,000 in the same period, so the species is still listed as Vulnerable (2014), an improvement on its Endangered status in 2000.
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Ecotourism in the Pantanal has played its part too because of its economic importance and the other major icon, the Jaguar, has benefitted also. Boat trips from Porto Jofre in search of Jaguars is big business these days and some of the local jaguars have become quite habituated to throngs of boats and allow approach to within ten metres or so. We saw our first Jaguar crossing the road at Pixaim on our way to the Jaguar Lodge and subsequently spent two full days on boat trips when we saw another four, some of which we watched for long periods at close quarters. The one in the photo is a female which has  just emerged from hunting in the river and her fur is still wet. She is lactating, so we can suppose that she has some cubs hidden in the forest.
I’ve been steadily adding Brazilian and Chilean bird photos to the website at the rate of about one per day. If your interested in viewing them, start at the Recent Additions page which has thumbnail links to each of the species.
Greetings
Ian

Lee’s Addition:

Ian’s comment, “Current population estimates are about 6,500 individual wild birds of which perhaps 5,000 are in the Pantanal.” makes one want to hop on a plane and visit that area. Wow. Your “Bird List” would grow immensely.I am alway glad when Ian stops by to show some more of his birdwatching adventures. Those Hyacinth Macaws are so neat to see. We have only seen them in Zoos, but always thankful to see more of the Creator’s magnificent birds.

“And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.” (Genesis 1:31 KJV)
“For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind:” (James 3:7 KJV)
Macaws are definitely “tameable.”
Hyacinth Macaw (Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus) Cincinnati Zoo 9-5-13 by Lee

Hyacinth Macaw (Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus) by Lee

Ian’s Bird of the Week

In Our Place

Ian’s Bird of the Moment – Sunbittern

Ian’s Bird of the Moment – Sunbittern

by Ian Montgomery

I’ve recently returned from a three week trip to South America with Trish, a close, birding friend of mine from Townsville. Our main destination was the Pantanal in western Brazil, a wetland famous for birds and jaguars, where we spent two weeks. On the way back to Australia we had a five day stopover in Santiago, Chile, fortunately before the recent unrest started. The red marker on the map below indicates the city of Cuiabá in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso. This is the usual gateway to the Pantanal and is serviced by regular, direct flights from São Paulo on the east coast.
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The Pantanal floods an area of perhaps 150,000 square kilometres southwest of Cuiabá during the wet season, November to March, and then gradually drains south during the dry season via the Paraguay River. As it does so, the wildlife becomes increasingly concentrated in the remaining water, providing the best opportunities for viewing wildlife from about July until October. Road access is provided by the Transpantaneira, a 150 km gravel road which runs through the northern Pantanal from Poconé, 100km south of Cuiabá, to Porto Jofre as on the map below.
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The Transpantaneira was planned as an overland route to Bolivia, but only got as far as the rather wide Rio São Laurenço at Porto Jofre. The road has about 150 bridges of variable quality. These are steadily being upgraded to cater for the tourist traffic but some of the remaining wooden bridges – the one below is one of the worst – aren’t for the faint-hearted. Rather than take an expensive guided tour, we made our own arrangements, renting an SUV in Cuiabá, booking accommodation at three wildlife lodges via the internet and acquiring a working knowledge of Brazilian Portuguese.
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Two of these lodges, or Pousadas in Portuguese, were in the northern part south of Poconé and were primarily birding lodges, while the third, the Jaguar Lodge, about 40 km north of Porto Jofre, provided opportunities for boat trips from Porto Jofre to view Jaguars in the area named the Parque Estadual Encontro das Aguas on the second map (“Meeting of the Waters State Park”).
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Trish and I had overlapping priorities: top of her list was perhaps the Jaguar as some years ago she had done field work on Lions and Leopards in Africa; my list had about twelve species of birds selected on various criteria including beauty, strangeness and taxonomic uniqueness. Right at the top of my list was the Sunbittern which qualified on all criteria. I’ll say a bit more about its taxonomy later but it first attracted my attention in 2015 when I found out that the only (and rather distant) relative of the Kagu of New Caledonia is the Central and South American Sunbittern.
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Our first lodge was the Pousada Rio Claro, named after the river on which it was situated. The lodge offered two-hour boat trips on the river and for a relatively modest extra fee, private boat trips were available so we did two of those. We had the same boatman on both but it wasn’t until the second one that we managed to convince him that our main target was the Sunbittern. After one and a half hours of diligent searching in riverside vegetation, sharp-eyed Trish spotted one (first photo) hunting for food in a dense and gloomy swamp beside the river and our skilful boatman managed to approach it silently so that I could get photos. Missão comprida, as they say in Portuguese.
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Later that day, we went for a drive along the Pantaneira and stopped at a muddy pond beside the road to see what was around. To our great surprise, a Sunbittern wandered out of the surrounding vegetation in full sunlight (second photo), proving once again that difficult to find birds have a habit of appearing readily once the spell has been broken by seeing the first.  In size, 43-48 cm/17-19 in long, they were smaller and more delicate-looking than I’d expected. Their intricately patterned plumage is very beautiful and wonderfully cryptic. The vertical bars on the body and the horizontal lines on the head break up its outline in a remarkable way both in the shade of the forest and in bright sunlight.
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They feed on a variety of aquatic prey, both vertebrate and invertebrate. Their technique is stealth (third photo) followed by a lighting strike (fourth photo) which is wonderful to watch.
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The Sunbittern normally appears cryptic but when it spreads its wings, in flight or in display, it reveals the spectacular pattern on the flight feathers that gives it its name. These are like huge eyes – similar to the wings of some butterflies – and are used both as threat display and in courtship. We found that Sunbitterns are reluctant to fly and when disturbed tend to walk away and hide in dense vegetation. The fifth photo shows one in flight and provides a glimpse of the wings, but it wasn’t until towards the end of our stay in the Pantanal that I managed to get a photo of one spreading its wing in preparation for flight (sixth photo).
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The classification of the Sunbittern has historically been a headache for taxonomists. Morphologically, it bears some resemblance to herons and rails (which aren’t related to each other) and has traditionally been placed in the order Gruiformes which includes the Cranes, Rails and Bustards. Recent studies (e.g. Hackett et al. 2008) which combine the fields of evolution and genomics (the study of  genes) have found that the Sunbittern and the Kagu (below) belong to the same ancient lineage which arose during the same epoch as the other major groups of birds. Consequently, a new order has been created, the Eurypygiformes, containing two families each with a single species, the Eurypgidae (Sunbittern) and the Rhynochetidae (the Kagu). The two species don’t look very similar, but the Kagu also has a banded pattern on the wings used in display.
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Unlike the flightless, endangered Kagu, endemic to New Caledonia, the Sunbittern is widespread through Central and South America from Guatemala to Bolivia and Brazil in suitable habitats combining forest and water. The Pantanal, incidentally, is near the southern end of its distribution. How one species ended up in New Caledonia and the other in the Americas is an interesting problem for biogeographers.
Greetings
Ian

Ian’s Birds of the “Moment” always surprise me. When he wrote all the Birds of the Week posts, he was very regular. Now?? Whenever the “moment” arrives, I am delighted. So, here is his latest. The Sunbittern is also a favorite of ours. Especially, when the one at Lowry Park Zoo (Zoo Tampa now) opened its wings up for a good view.

Sunbittern (Eurypyga helias) by Lee at Lowry Park Zoo

Sunbittern (Eurypyga helias) by Lee at Lowry Park Zoo

Splendor and majesty are before Him, Strength and beauty are in His sanctuary.| (Psalms 96:6 NASB)

“How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “HOW BEAUTIFUL ARE THE FEET OF THOSE WHO BRING GOOD NEWS OF GOOD THINGS!” (Romans 10:15 NASB)

More of Ian’s Birds of the Week, Moment

Good News

Ian’s Bird of the Moment – Australian Grebe

Now this really is a bird of the moment given the recent floods in Townsville generally and Bluewater in particular where I live. On Tuesday morning I went down to the area below the flood bank to check out the damage from the third flash flood that had occurred the night before. Compared with neighbours who have had their houses and businesses flooded I have got off very lightly but nonetheless the mess made by the floods is a bit sad: carefully nurtured native trees torn up or flattened and lots of flotsam such as trees, branches, tangled fence wires and other debris.

Townsville flooding by Ian

Between floods there has been a persistent knee-deep pond at the bottom of the flood bank below the house (above) and to my delight I found this Australasian Grebe had taken up residence, a good place to be as small fish normally get trapped in this area after floods. It was still there when I returned from the house with my camera.

Australasian Grebe (Tachybaptus novaehollandiae) by Ian

In the second grebe photo, it has just surfaced after a dive and you can see the way grebe legs are attached at the very rear of the body. Very good for swimming and diving, the original outboard motor, but fairly useless for walking on land. Unsurprisingly grebes stay almost permanently on water and build floating nests.

Australasian Grebe (Tachybaptus novaehollandiae) by Ian

The grebe didn’t seem very pleased to see me, third grebe photo, so I left it in peace and when I went down the back again on Wednesday it had moved on and the water levels were dropping.

Australasian Grebe (Tachybaptus novaehollandiae) by Ian

The colours don’t show very well in the current gloomy overcast weather but my visitor was in breeding plumage: generally dark grey with a rufous patch behind the cheeks extending onto the sides of the neck. The fourth grebe photo shows a different bird in breeding plumage just before sunset which, if anything, exaggerates the colours but we are allowed a little artistic license.

Australasian Grebe (Tachybaptus novaehollandiae) by Ian

The fifth grebe photo show one in non-breeding garb. Not only has the plumage changed but the bill is pale too and the patches on the gape look smaller and have lost their yellowish hue. Both sexes are similar in appearance in breeding and non-breeding plumage.

Australasian Grebe (Tachybaptus novaehollandiae) by Ian

The Australasian Grebe has a prolonged breed season, August to April, and breeds opportunistically in response to good aquatic conditions. In the tropics they may breed at any time of the year. When breeding they prefer wetlands with well vegetated shores for cover. At other times they occur on a wide variety of mainly fresh permanent or semi-permanent wetlands and, as I’ve just discovered, on temporary floodwaters. They have benefitted from the building of small reservoirs and dams on farmland.

Little Grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis) by Ian

 

I haven’t got a photo of a nesting Australasian Grebe but above, sixth grebe photo, is one of the very closely related Little Grebe of Eurasian and Africa, which featured as bird of the moment in 2012.

Australasian Grebe (Tachybaptus novaehollandiae) by Ian

The seventh grebe photo shows a family of Australasian Grebes. The young birds, typically for grebes, are beautifully patterned and in the eighth grebe photo you can see the striped head and neck and red gape patches. Gape patch colours are clearly important in the life of grebes. Presumably red means ‘feed me’ and you can guess what yellow means.

Australasian Grebe (Tachybaptus novaehollandiae) by Ian

Grebes may lose out in the walking stakes and prefer diving to flying when disturbed. They, however, are remarkably strong fliers and can move long distances, usually at night. There is some uncertainty about seasonal movements of the Australasian Grebe in Australia but birds appear to move to the coast from arid regions during drought. It is widespread in Australia, though rare in Tasmania and also occurs in New Guinea, Timor, Java, the Solomons, Vanuatu and New Caledonia. The species colonised New Zealand in the 1970s.

Little Grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis) by Ian

For a long time it was treated as a race of the very similar Little Grebe (above) but the ranges of the two species overlap without interbreeding in New Guinea. The Little Grebe occurs across Eurasia from Ireland through Europe, South and Southeast Asia to Japan and south to Java and Northern New Guinea. It also occurs widely across sub-Saharan Africa to South Africa and east to Madagascar.

We are fortunate to appreciate the gifts that nature gives us. I went into town on the same day my welcome visitor arrived and was treated to the sight of a large flock of Royal Spoonbills feeding in a flooded park at Bushland Beach and a Wedge-tailed Eagle soaring over the highway near Black River on the way home.

Greetings

Ian


Lee’s Addition:

“If a bird’s nest happens to be before you along the way, in any tree or on the ground, with young ones or eggs, with the mother sitting on the young or on the eggs, you shall not take the mother with the young;” (Deuteronomy 22:6 NKJV)

Well this newest addition from Ian surprised me. Maybe he is going to get back into the “Bird of the Week” routine like he used to produce. I have always enjoyed these newsletters from Ian. Very thankful that he gave me permission years ago to re-post them here.

I have always enjoyed Grebes here. Of course, ours do not look like the ones he gets to see. Ian said, “Unsurprisingly grebes stay almost permanently on water and build floating nests.” One would have to wade out to the nest in the verses I chose.

Ian’s Bird of the Week series

Save the Parrots

Ian’s Bird of the Moment – Grey Falcon

Gray Hawk (falcon hypoleucos) Male by Ian

Bird of the Moment – Grey Falcon by Ian Montgomery

Here is a special bird of the moment for the festive season. If you asked Australian birders to nominate the most sought after diurnal raptor, you’d probably get a choice of two: the Red Goshawk of the Hawk and Eagle family (Accipitridae) and the Grey Falcon of the Falconidae. Rex Whitehead, my birding pal in Mount Isa had told me about a nesting pair of Grey Falcons in the Winton district so I came back to Townsville that way at the end of the camping trip in May.

The Falcons were nesting high up on a very tall communications mast. Rex had told me that they were in its vicinity only from before dusk until shortly after dawn and I took his advice and camped near the base of the mastto maximise my chances of seeing them. Sure enough they arrived in the evening but I got only poor shots of them flying in and perched in shadow on the mast.

 Gray Hawk (falcon hypoleucos) Mating by Ian

I got up early and was rewarded three or four minutes after sunrise by the male flying around calling (first photo) in preparation for mating with the female (second photo) who was perched on the mast near the nest.

This behaviour was repeated two more times over the hour or so. The third photo shows the third mating attempt at a different location just over an hour after sunrise and the fourth photo shows the male flying away four seconds later.

Gray Hawk (falcon hypoleucos) Mating by Ian

The sexes are similar, though the females, as is typical for raptors, are larger. The male has a shorter tail which supposedly makes it look longer winged in flight but I didn’t get any photos of the mainly sedentary female for comparison. The fifth photo shows the female in the same position as during the third mating (third photo) but the male is sitting in the nest.

Gray Hawk (falcon hypoleucos) Male by Ian

Grey Falcons are supposed to use the old nests of other raptors or corvids (ravens and crows) preferably high up. In the arid areas where they occur, tall trees are few so in recent years they’ve taken to nesting in communication masts.

About two hours after sunrise, the birds disappeared as quietly as they’d arrived the previous day and I didn’t see them fly away. This pair had just bred successfully with two young fledging, so it was encouraging to see them preparing to do so again.

Gray Hawk (falcon hypoleucos) Pair by Ian

The Grey Falcon is an Australian endemic sparsely scattered over the drier inland areas of mainland Australia except the southwest, eastern and southern coastal areas and the wetter parts of northern Australia. The breeding range has contracted since the mid 20th century to drier areas north of 26º S. It’s population is estimated at less than 1000 mature individuals and it is classified as vulnerable. Threats include habitat clearing, egg collecting and the taking of young for falconry so I’m sure you’ll understand why I’ve been a bit vague about the actual location of the mast.

Christmas seems to be a time for unrestrained gaudiness, dare I say meretriciousness, in decoration so here is my gaudiest photo from 2018 – taken from my back verandah – to get into the spirit of things. I wish you a joyful, safe and happy festive season and a peaceful and fulfilling 2019.

Olive-backed Sunbird (Cinnyris jugularis) Male by Ian

Greetings
Ian


Lee’s Addition:

“I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness.” (John 12:46 KJV)

Thanks, Ian, for showing us one of Australia’s endemic birds. When I first saw the rosy colored Falcon, I thought you had made a mistake. Lighting makes a lot of difference.

I especially love your Christmas addition of that lovely Sunbird.

Merry Christmas, Ian, and all of you that are reading this post.

Ian’s Bird of the Week

Accipitridae – Kites, Hawks and Eagles

Nectariniidae – Sunbirds

Wordless Birds

Ian’s Bird of the Moment – Red-browed Pardalote

McNamara’s Road, Gunpowder, NW Queensland

A long time, as usual these days, since the last Bird of the Moment, but I haven’t been entirely idle in the meantime. I’ve been busy both revising the ebook, Where to Find Birds in North-east Queensland, and compiling a second volume of birds of the week/moment covering 2010 until the present. More about those in a minute, but here is the Red-browed Pardalote, a species I wanted to photograph for Where to Find Birds in North-east Queensland and which I mentioned in the previous two Birds of the Moment, the Masked Finch and the Black-breasted Buzzard.

I finally tracked it down at McNamara’s Road between Mt Isa and Camooweal with the help of my Mt Isa birding pal Rex Whitehead and another Mt Isa birder Karen who took me to a couple of spots on this road where they had found the Pardalote shortly before. McNamara’s Road, about 68km from Mt Isa on the Barkly Highway going towards Camooweal is a famous site for the Carpentarian Grasswren though I have spent many hours there on a number of occasions, including this one, without finding any.

Red-browed Pardalote (Pardalotus rubricatus) by Ian

We had more success with the Red-browed Pardalote helped by the fact that the dominant tree here the Snappy Gum doesn’t get very tall so when you hear the characteristic call of the bird, a mellow rising, accelerating piping of five or six notes, you know that they aren’t too far above the ground.

Red-browed Pardalote (Pardalotus rubricatus) by Ian

It has, for a Pardalote, a large, rather chunky bill, second photo, and the white spots on the black cap distinguish it from the local race of the Striated Pardalote (uropygialis). It has distinctive mustard-coloured wing bars and in flight, third photo, shows a yellowish-green rump.

Red-browed Pardalote (Pardalotus rubricatus) by Ian

Back to ebooks. The second edition of Where to Find Birds in North-east Queensland has gone through a number of iterations and refinements since I first put it up on the website in August of this year, and the latest version went up yesterday both in epub and pdf formats.

Where to Find Birds in NE Qld –

This is a free update to owners of the first edition but to access it you need a Dropbox link to the folder. If you bought it since January 2017, you should receive a separate email with a link to the folder. If you don’t receive this email, perhaps because your email address has changed, let me know: mailto:ian@birdway.com.au.

If you purchased it prior to January 2017, you would have done so through Apple, Google or Kobo and I won’t have your email address. So write to me and I’ll send you the link: mailto:ian@birdway.com.au.

Greetings, Ian


Lee’s Addition:

“So God created great sea creatures and every living thing that moves, with which the waters abounded, according to their kind, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.” (Genesis 1:21 NKJV)

Ian’s Birds of the Moment always come as a surprise. When he was doing them weekly, they were part of the scheduled post here. So, now that he surprises us, and thankfully he does, we will just double them up with what else has posted that day.

Always glad to see what amazing beauties from our Creator he finds. This Red-browed Pardalote is a beauty, at least in my eyes. I love his cap. Reminds me of a pirates bandana. :)