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).
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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)