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.

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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.

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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 – 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

Formed By Him – Birds of Peru and Chile – I

Blackburnian Warbler (Dendroica fusca) by J Fenton

Blackburnian Warbler (Dendroica fusca) by J Fenton

Beside them the birds of the heavens dwell; they sing among the branches. (Psalms 104:12 ESV)

Two of our church members, a pastor and his helper, have gone on a two week trip to assist and train preachers down there. So, here is a survey of some of the birds in those countries that they might encounter. Just the trip on the Amazon should give them some interesting views of our feathered friends. Let’s see what we can discover:

Great Potoo (Nyctibius grandis) by Ian's Birdway

Great Potoo (Nyctibius grandis) by Ian’s Birdway

Since there are so many to consider, see the numbers below, I have picked out some of the most interesting (at least to me) that you might enjoy seeing God’s Designing Hand at work. To start off, there is the Potoo – Nyctibiidae Family, which is related to nightjars and frogmouths (Whip-poor-will or Chuck-will’s-widow). They are nocturnal and hunt insects, but lack the bristles around the mouth. What is so neat about these is how they appear in the daytime. They sit on branches and look like the bark or a stump. Peru has the Great, Long-tailed, Common, Andean, White-winged and Rufous Potoo. See an article about them and their Family page.

Blue-footed Booby (Sula nebouxii) by Ian

Blue-footed Booby (Sula nebouxii) by Ian

Another interesting set of birds they could encounter would be ones from the Sulidae Family which Peru has; the Blue-footed, Peruvian, Masked, Nazca, Red-footed and Brown Booby. Chile has those minus the Red-footed Booby. The family also include the Cape Gannet found in Peru. We did an article about the Blue-footed Booby.

Sunbittern (Eurypyga helias) by Dan

Sunbittern (Eurypyga helias) by Dan at LP Zoo

Our team may also get a chance to spot the beautiful Sunbittern while in Peru. See Birds of the Bible – Sunbittern. They could also see the “The Stinker” or Hoatzin  and the Oilbird also in Peru.

Rufous Motmot (Baryphthengus martii) ©WikiC

Rufous Motmot (Baryphthengus martii) ©WikiC

Of the 14 Motmots in the Momotidae Family, 5 of them can be found in Peru, but none in Chile. The Whooping, Amazonian, Andean, Rufous and the Broad-billed Motmots live in Peru.

Screaming Piha (Lipaugus vociferans) ©AGrosset

Screaming Piha (Lipaugus vociferans) ©AGrosset

The Cotingas – Cotingidae Family has 30 species in Peru and 1 in Chile. Some articles about them are:
The Pompadour Cotinga – Concealed incubators…

Andean Cock-of-the-rock – The Changer… Both by a j mithra

The Cotingas in Peru are the Red-crested, Chestnut-crested, White-cheeked, Bay-vented, Black-necked Red, Plum-throated, Purple-breasted, Spangled, Black-faced, Purple-throated, Pompadour. Chile only has the Rufous-tailed Plantcutter and Peru has the Peruvian Plantcutter. Peru also has 8 Fruiteaters, 2 Fruitcrows, 4 Pihas and the Andean Cock-of-the-rock.

Peru has 1782 species, with 110 only found in that area, 89 species are globally threatened. Peru List of Birds
Chile has 485 species, with 14 only found in that area, 35 species are globally threatened. Chile List of Birds

See – Formed By Him – Birds of Peru and Chile – II
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Those Ugly Shirts

I don’t know if you were glued to your TV when the miners in Chile were taken up from their 69 day entrapment, but I was. I prayed for them that nothing would go wrong as they brought each one up and for them personally to know the Lord.

Today I received an email with a YouTube about the shirts that many were wearing. I too was curious as to what they said. Here is a great video that tells about those “ugly shirts.”

Video by iranmojdeh.

Wordless Birds