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 – Andean Condor

When a Bird of the Moment recalls a special day out in the field, I get great pleasure from reliving the experience by preparing and describing the event. Such was our first full day, a Sunday, in Chile on the return journey. The day dawned sunny and unseasonably warm for Santiago in late September, forecast maximum 23ºC/73ºF so we decided to look for Andean Condors, our must-see bird in Chile and we are going to take you along with us.
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Over a leisurely breakfast – tired after the long journey the previous day from Cuiabá in western Brazil via São Paolo on the east coast – we consult our reliable oracle Google to suggest a good place for the search. The one that sounds most promising is near a place not far away called Farellones in the Andes west of the city at an altitude of about 2,400 metres/7,800 feet.. We know that Condors are easiest to find when winds and topography provide suitable updrafts for soaring, so we are a little concerned by the calm conditions as we navigate the steep hairpin bends on the road to our destination. We get there in the early afternoon after a few birding stops along the way.
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Just before arriving we spot a large raptor, which we think is a immature Condor but we can’t stop as we are sharing the road with hundreds of cyclists heading back towards the city and the many vehicles of spectators blocking the down traffic lane waiting to follow the cyclists. We go round another hairpin bend at Mirador Lomas del Viento (“Lookout, Hills of the wind”) where we see several Condors soaring both above and below us. Throwing caution and fear of disapproval to the wind we stop blocking, the remaining free lane, to take the first photos. Then we drive on a bit further, find a parking spot and walk back to a good vantage point overlooking Cordillera Yerba Loca (“Mountain Range Crazy Plant”).
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If you look at Parque Cordillera Yerba Loca on the map and at the photo you can see that the lookout is at the end of a 20km long steeply-sided valley running approximately north-south. On such a warm day the breeze is from the north and we have fortuitously chosen perfect conditions for Condors at this place and time where the “Hills of the Wind” channel the breeze into a steady updraft. Yerba (or Hierba) Loca refers to a high altitude plant called Astragalus looseri, a legume that looks a bit like a purple Lupin in flower, which can tolerate intense sunlight, freezing temperatures and being buried under snow for months on end. It contains an alkaloid, which the literature coyly describe as toxic – supposedly the reason for the name – but we are not convinced. Naturally one, not the plant, would be loco or loca to eat it, but if you Google “Hierba Loca” you’ll find a reference to Dr Stoner’s Hierba Loca Tequila, which Hercule Poirot suspects is closer to the truth.
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Anyway, back to the Condors. The first Condor photo is of an adult male, the second and third of an immature female. Adult Andean Condors have large white panels on the upper surface of the wing (secondary and tertiary flight feathers), a white ermine ruff, and reddish heads, and males of all ages have crests which grow larger with age. Older males, we’ll see shortly also have wattles or flaps on the side of the head. Juveniles and immature birds have entirely brown plumage which changes gradually to the adult plumage at an age of about seven years.
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The Andean Condor is the only New World Vulture, Cathartidae, in which the sexes are different (they’re the same in the California Condor). The males with a wingspan to 320cm/10ft 6in and weighting up to 15kg/33lbs are larger than the females which weigh up to 11kg/24lbs. Of birds that can fly, only the Wandering Albatross has a greater wingspan (to 351cm) and the males of some bustards such as the African Kori Bustard weight more (up to 19kg), but the male Andean Condor is the largest raptor, just slightly bigger than the California. It is also unusual for male raptors to be larger than females; it’s often the other way round. Female Condor must trust their male partners who share in incubation of the single egg and care of the young.
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Some of the Condors land periodically on a rocky outcrop just below us (fourth Condor photo). It looks to us like the adults are training the immature birds in flight manoeuvres. Both the birds in the photo are males, the adult on the left having a long crest and the immature bird on the right having a very short one, so maybe it’s a father and son pair. Most of the birds we see are males and we wonder why that is so. As the lookout faces north we are facing into the sun so the lighting conditions in the early afternoon are not ideal for photography.
Eventually hunger takes over and we end up in the restaurant of a charming, local ski lodge for a late lunch before returning to the lookout. By now all the cyclists, support vehicles and spectators have left and we have the place almost to ourselves. The number of Condors increases and at some points we can count eleven taking part in this wonderful aerial ballet. The birds are so graceful in the air that it’s hard to grasp how large they are until we see close by the passing shadow of a curious bird, flying overhead to check us out like the ones in the fifth and sixth photos.
It’s now about two hours before sunset and the sun is lower in the west with a softer intensity, much better for photography. The photos are numbered in sequence so you can see that I’ve taken more than two hundred in the interval between the one of the two birds on the rock and the female in the fifth photo. She is about six years old and is in transition to adult plumage. She has only a faint white collar and the lack of a crest indicates her gender.
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The bird in the sixth photo, directly overhead is an old male with a reddish head and long wattles on the cheeks. You can see that in adult birds the distal edge of the underneath of the flight feathers of the white wing panel on the upper surface are also white. If you look carefully at the right wing of the female in the previous photo you can see that the bird is moulting and five secondary flight feathers with white edges are just beginning to grow and will replace the corresponding completely dark feathers.
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I’m now satisfied with the quantity of photos I’ve taken so I’m concentrating on trying to get photos of birds with snowy mountains in the background. This isn’t easy as the mountains are quite far away and the birds are a bit distant when they have the mountains in the background. The seventh Condor photo shows an older male while the eighth is of a younger male with a second bird behind it.
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We’ve had a wonderful afternoon with the Condors, just magic. Eventually we continue up the road to the Vale Nevada (“Snowy Valley”) ski resort at about 3,000 metres/10,000 feet. It consists of a number of tall, starkly modern apartment blocks around a largely deserted central car park, the season being over. We park in the visitor parking area – the rest is severely private – and have a wander round. The air is noticeably thin at this altitude. We don’t find the resort picturesque, an understatement, so here is the view enjoyed by the buildings on the southern side. The south facing slope still has quite a lot of snow and the sun is sinking in the west after a cloudless day.
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We don’t see any more Condors along this route, but we do see a few other high altitude raptors like an immature Mountain Caracara beside the road and a pair of Variable Hawks perching on one of the power poles supplying the resort. Caracaras are in the same family as Falcons but scavenge like Crows. Time now to go back to Santiago before it gets dark after a wonderful day. It’s misión cumplida in Chile and we have three full days left for relaxed birding. What would you like to see and where would you like to go? Let’s do some wetlands on the coast near Valparaiso for a change: the trip reports on the internet say they’re good.
Greetings
Ian

Lee’s Addition:

“Is it by your understanding that the hawk soars, Stretching his wings toward the south? “Is it at your command that the eagle mounts up And makes his nest on high? “On the cliff he dwells and lodges, Upon the rocky crag, an inaccessible place. “From there he spies out food; His eyes see it from afar.” (Job 39:26-29 NASB)

Great photos and thanks for sharing your adventure to watch and photograph this interesting birds, Ian. The Lord has created so much variety in His Avian Wonders. The birds just seem to find the niche that they were created for. I trust that we find that spot, or niche that the Lord has for us.

I have got to admit, these Condors are not the prettiest birds we have ever seen, but yet, the Creator, in His wisdom, makes no mistakes.

Andean Condor – Lowry Park Zoo (Zoo Tampa) by Dan

See more of Ian’s Bird of the Week, Moments, or whenever:

Ian’s Bird of the Week

Cathartidae – New World Vultures

Who Paints The Leaves

Bird of the Moment: Satin and Leaden Flycatchers

Satin Flycatcher (Myiagra cyanoleuca) Male ©Ian Montgomery

Bird of the Moment: Satin and Leaden Flycatchers by Ian Montgomery

One day last October, I was doing the dishes in the upstairs kitchen and checking, as one does, bird activity in the two bird baths below when this unusual one arrived. I keep my binoculars on the kitchen window sill for moments like this and I was astonished to see that it was a male Satin Flycatcher, very rare in North Queensland.

Happily it stayed around long enough for me to grab the camera and get a few photo both at the bird bath and, second photo, in a nearby shrub before it flew away. Satin Flycatchers are notoriously difficult to distinguish from their close relatives Leaden Flycatchers but in the right light and at the right angle – i.e. from above – the overall satiny blue sheen is unmistakable.

Leaden Flycatcher last featured as bird of the week/moment in 2003 with this one photo below, so now is a good opportunity to review it and the question of distinguishing the two species. Graeme Chapman wrote an article – ‘Mixed Up Myiagras’ – on identifying Monarch Flycatchers in the June 2003 issue of Wingspan, the Birds Australia magazine and I’m going to quote extensively from that.

The key field mark for distinguishing Leaden and Satin Flycatchers is the shape of the demarcation between the dark throat patch and the white breast and belly. In the male Leaden Flycatcher (above) the line curves upwards where the dark throat patch meets the wing producing a right angle or slightly acute angle in the white part. In the Satin Flycatcher, see the next two photos, the demarcation curves downward at the sides where it disappears below the wing and there is no sharp angle, rather a curve through a decidedly obtuse angle.

This is perhaps easier to see in the photo below, where the bird is obligingly lifting its wing as it preens.

To add to the problem, male Leaden Flycatchers have a bluish sheen on the throat patch and to a lesser extent on the head. Given the refractive, iridescent nature of such colours in feathers (optical structure rather than pigment) the actual colour produced depends on light conditions and angle. The Leaden Flycatcher in the photo below looks quite bluish (thought the back and wings are greyer) and could easily be mistaken for a Satin. Here the angle of the white area comes to the rescue and this bird is definitely a Leaden.

I haven’t mentioned females or juveniles yet: they’re even harder than the males. Females and juveniles of both species have reddish buff breasts but these are very variable in intensity and lack the clear demarcation with the white breast that comes to the aid of identifying males. In general, female Satins are darker overall than Leadens and have a bluish sheen on the head. But be warned, the heads of female Leadens can be slightly bluish too as in the photo below. I regret that I haven’t got a photo of a female Satin.

If all else fails, habitat, location and time of year are important. Satin Flycatchers breed in moist forests; in Tasmania (from which Leadens are absent) and Victoria this includes both inland and coastal forests but in New South Wales the Satin occurs only in damp wooded gullies in the high country along the Great Dividing Range. Given the problems of identification, there is uncertainty whether they breed in Southeast Queensland and Graeme Chapman couldn’t confirm breeding there.

John Young reported finding breeding pairs in Northern Queensland in highland rainforest (two pairs near Paluma, December 1984, and one pair at Wallaman Falls, November 1991) but it isn’t known whether this is part of its normal breeding range or even the same race as he reported the birds as being larger and darker than southern ones and the eggs being 20% larger.

Leaden Flycatchers occur in a wide variety of wooded habitats and may be found breeding in the same areas as Satin Flycatchers.

Leaden Flycatcher (Myiagra rubecula) Female in nest by Ian

Timing is important as the Satin Flycatcher is a migrant and winters mainly in New Guinea. The late Andrée Griffin lived in Paluma, about 40km from my place as the flycatcher flies, for many years and kept careful records of birds. She reported to Graeme Chapman that Satin Flycatchers arrived there each year on their way south at the beginning of October and were seen for about a fortnight. That date coincides well with my record of 12 October and Len Ezzy, a local birder, recorded one a week later at the Townsville Town Common. In 2016, I thought I saw a female Satin Flycatcher having a bathe in my pool on 22 September, but she didn’t hang around while I got the camera.

Flooded Creek by Ian – Townsville, Australia

For those of you who have heard the news about flooding in Townsville in general and Bluewater in particular on Wednesday, I’m happy to report that my house is high up enough above the creek to have been spared so far, unlike some unfortunate residents farther down the creek. Upper Bluewater has had over 900mm of rain in the last three days and it is hard to imagine it ever exceeding that. This is what Bluewater Creek looked like from just outside my house shortly after the flood peaked on Wednesday. The creek is normally invisible from here in a gorge about 200 metres away where the distant trees are.

Greetings – Ian


Ian’s Birds of the Moment come in quite unannounced. Never know when to expect something from “down under.” Yet, everytime, Ian has a very interesting bird/birds to introduce us to. Thank you, Ian for stopping by with another set of beautiful avian wonders.

The verses below remind us that the Lord provides for his critters and birds. In this case, the “hills” might have been a bit over filled.

“By them [streams] the birds of the heavens have their home; They sing among the branches. He waters the hills from His upper chambers; The earth is satisfied with the fruit of Your works.” (Psalms 104:12-13 NKJV)

Ian’s Birds of the Week [Month, Moment]

Hope for Hard Times

Ian’s Bird of the Moment – Night Birds

Ian’s Bird of the Moment – Night Birds by Ian Montgomery

If you can remember that far back, the last bird of the moment was Eastern Grass Owl [http://www.birdway.com.au/botw/botw_584.php] found during a spot-lighting trip to the Townsville Town Common led by local night-bird expert and pillar of BirdLife Townsville Ian Boyd.

At the time, Ian was refusing to be discouraged by pancreatic cancer, an attitude that we all admired until his death on 23rd of February. Typically undaunted he gave a presentation on his favourite topic, Night Birds at the BirdLife Townsville AGM on the 10th of February although he had less than a couple of weeks to live. Isolated by flood waters in Bluewater, I couldn’t attend the funeral on 1st March so here is a photographic tribute to him instead.

I got to know him well during his last year or and am left with some precious memories of searching for night birds with him. So let’s go birding together while I share three special occasions with you.

The first was when a birding friend and photographer from Mt Isa was visiting Townsville and wanted to photograph a Rufous Owl. I contacted Ian Boyd and he took us to an active nesting site on a hot afternoon at the end of October. There he showed us the two adults which we photographed (one of them is in the first photo) and our visitor from Mt Isa returned to the site later and got a photo of a fledgling peering out of the tree hollow.

The second was the occasion when we found the female Eastern Grass Owl at the Townsville Town Common which featured as the last Bird of the Moment. At the time our goal was to search for Spotted Nightjars which are supposed to occur occasionally along the Freshwater Track that goes across the grassy, saltbush flats between Bald Rock and the Freshwater hide (see this map:). We drove across the Town Common arriving at Shelley Beach on the northern side at sunset and then drove slowly back in darkness checking for night birds as we went along.

The first stretch of riverine forest on the Shelley Beach Trail produced a remarkable five Owlet Nightjars (second photo) and a single male Tawny Frogmouth (third photo). Male Tawny Frogmouths have silvery grey, strongly marbled plumage. We had only just started along the Freshwater Track when the cry went up ‘Barn Owl’ but we quickly realised that the Tyto Owl beside the track was a female Eastern Grass Owl (fourth photo).

There was no sign of any Spotted Nightjars – we suspect that they are more like to be found in the dry winter months – but at the start of the Freshwater Lagoon Road south of the Freshwater hide, we found a Large-tailed Nightjar (fifth photo). This species is the commonest Nightjar around Townsville and is well known for its persistent, loud ‘chop chop’ call that gives it the colloquial name of Carpenter or Axe Bird.

Finally, along the track between Payet’s Tower and the Forest Walk, a Barking Owl (sixth photo) represented the only remaining Australian night bird family for the evening – Aegothelidae (Owlet NIghtjars), Podargidae (Frogmouths), Tytonidae (Barn Owls), Caprimulgidae (Nightjars) and Strigidae (Hawk Owls). I’m following the IOC and BirdLife International in lumping the Nightjars and Eared-Nightjars into a single family.

We repeated the spotlighting at the Town Common a week later. This time we found one or two Owlet Nightjars along the Shelley Beach Trail, but Tawny Frogmouths were out in force. The seventh photo shows a female; females are often rufous like this one but always have plainer less marked plumage than the males. The eight photo shows a remarkably approachable male Tawny Frogmouth.

This time there was no sign of the Eastern Grass Owl (or Spotted NIghtjars) and the surprise of the night was a Barn Owl perched in a tree along the stretch where we’d found the Barking Owl the previous week (ninth photo). This bird seemed unbothered by our spot- and flash-lights and when it did leave it did so to plunge into the undergrowth after some prey.
That was the last time I went birding with Ian Boyd. He is greatly missed by his wife Robyn, the rest of his family and all us bird watchers who appreciated his generosity, warmth, leadership and enthusiasm. I’ll treasure these great memories of birding with him during his last few months with us. Thank you, Ian Boyd.
Greetings, Ian


What a nice tribute to a good friend and fellow birder. What courage for Ian Boyd to continue on under very adverse conditions. Thanks Ian for the neat birds and a memorial to one of your friends.

“A friend loves at all times, And a brother is born for adversity.” (Proverbs 17:17 NKJV)

“A man who has friends must himself be friendly, But there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” (Proverbs 18:24 NKJV)

See more of Ian’s Posts:

Ian’s Bird of the Week

Ian’s Bird of the Moment – Brahminy Kite

Brahminy Kite (Haliastur indus) by Ian

Surprise, surprise – another bird of the moment at last. The Brahminy Kite last featured as bird of the week in August 2003. In those days you got a single photo and a short paragraph of text, so here is a more thorough treatment. This is one of my favourite Australian raptors and the adults are striking looking birds with their white and chestnut plumage. They’re a common sight along the coast here in North Queensland, and the bird in the first two photos was photographed at Toomulla Beach, about 40km northwest of Townsville and not far from where I live in Bluewater.

The hooked beak is like that of the White-bellied Sea-Eagle, so it’s no surprise that they are adapted to eating fish, for which they both hunt and scavenge and are usually found near water, mainly coastal but also along larger rivers. They have, however, very broad tastes and will eat any flesh that they can catch or find, both vertebrate and invertebrate. It’s not unusual to see them cruising main roads looking for road-kill. With a length of about 50cm/20in and a wingspan of 1.2m/47in , they’re much smaller than sea-eagles (80cm/31in and 1.8-2.2m/71-87in), but their preferred habitat and diet means that they’re are often called sea-eagles by the general population.

Brahminy Kite (Haliastur indus) by Ian

The names “Brahminy” and Haliastur indus give a clue as to their geographical range, as they were first described in India. Their range extends from Pakistan in the west through south and southwest Asia to eastern China and Taiwan, and south through the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia to New Guinea and Australia. In Australia its range is mainly tropical from Carnarvon in Western Australia across northern Australia and down the east coast as far as about Myall Lakes in New South Wales, though it is uncommon south of Cape Byron. Its population in New South Wales contracted northwards owing to the use of persistent organochloride insecticides in the third quarter of the 20th century, but there is some evidence of recovery since then.

Brahminy Kite (Haliastur indus) by Ian

Immature birds differ greatly in appearance from the adults, third photo, and are easily confused with other raptors such as, in Australia, pale phase Little Eagles or immature Black-breasted Buzzards. Immature birds are also rather similar to their only close relative the Whistling Kite (Haliastur sphenurus), though Brahminy Kites have much shorter, rather eagle-like tails and shorter wings.Brahminy Kite (Haliastur indus) by Ian

You may remember that I visited Slovakia in June 2016 with my sister Gillian. The main birding target was eagles, but despite the best efforts of our guides we had only limited success with such species as Lesser Spotted Eagle Eastern Imperial Eagle and Golden Eagle, and the local raptors didn’t seem at all keen on having their photos taken. So, there was a certain irony when I returned to Bluewater and found that my excellent house minders, Julie and Ed, had discovered a pair of Brahminy Kites nesting in my neighbour’s property, about 100m from my house (fifth photo). The grass is greener, etc. etc.

Brahminy Kite (Haliastur indus) by Ian

The birds attended the nest for about three months but disappointingly without success. The nest was high up, about 25m/80ft from the ground, so it wasn’t possible to see into it, so I don’t know what happened. Anyway, you can understand my delight when the birds returned again this year and restored the nest, sixth photo.

Brahminy Kite (Haliastur indus) by Ian

At the beginning of last week I finally spotted a healthy looking chick. It survived the unseasonable heavy rain we had last week (150mm/6in in five days) so I set up the camera and tripod, table, chair and coffee near the house and watched them in comfort at an unobtrusive distance for most of Friday afternoon. Sure enough, both adults arrived with food. The first, seventh photo, produced a flying fox (fruit bat), a Black Flying-fox I think, and spent an hour carefully tearing off tiny strips of muscle and feeding to the chick.

Brahminy Kite (Haliastur indus) by Ian

I was impressed with the gentle way the parent fed the youngster and itself. Eventually, the chick seemed satisfied, and lost interest in the meal. The adult bird slipped away as quietly as it had arrived – I didn’t see it leave – and I presume it took the remains of the fruit bat with it.

Brahminy Kite (Haliastur indus) by Ian

Within half an hour, the other adult arrived with a frog, I think a Green Tree Frog (ninth photo). This adult has whiter plumage and a longer beak than its partner, so they are not hard to distinguish.

Brahminy Kite (Haliastur indus) by Ian

The chick seemed satiated and not very interested, so the adult hungrily ate some of the frog itself and after a little while flew off taking the frog with it and went down to nearby Bluewater Creek.

Brahminy Kite (Haliastur indus) by Ian

Brahminy Kites usually lay 2 or 3 eggs, and often only one chick survives to fledging. Incubation takes about 35 days, and fledging 7 to 8 weeks. The young birds remain dependent on the adults for a further two months. This chick is about half the length of the adults and is beginning to grow proper feathers, including flight feathers on the wings, though these currently appear as just short quills.

Brahminy Kite (Haliastur indus) by Ian

I can see the nest through the trees from my back verandah, so it is easy to check on it. I plan to photograph progress over the coming weeks. A furry mammal, probably road-kill, was on the menu today.

Greetings
Ian


Fantastic photos of the Brahminy Kite. It sure has been a while since Ian had a “Moment” to share another of his interesting post with us. Thanks, Ian. We always enjoy seeing and learning about your birds.

For more of Ian’s Bird of the Week – Moments

“And the vulture, and the kite after his kind;” (Leviticus 11:14 KJV)
“Then God said, “Let the waters abound with an abundance of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the face of the firmament of the heavens.” (Genesis 1:20 NKJV)

Accipitridae – Kites, Hawks & Eagles Family

Birds of the Bible – Gledes and Kites

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