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.

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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 – Jabiru

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

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

Jabiru (Jabiru mycteria) by Ian

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

Ian’s Bird of the Moment – 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

Ian’s Bird of the Moment – Hyacinth Macaw

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

Lee’s Addition:

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

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

Hyacinth Macaw (Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus) by Lee

Ian’s Bird of the Week

In Our Place

Wow!! Two Million And Counting!!

Snowy Egret Viera Wetlands – 12-31-2018 by Lee

“Therefore I will give thanks to You among the nations, O LORD, And I will sing praises to Your name.” (Psalms 18:49 NASB)

Thank You!!, Thank You!! again for all visits and views of this blog. Last night (Oct 31, 2019) sometime the counter flipped over the Two Million mark on the visitor counter on the left side of the blog.

2 Million Views

2 Million Views

Here’s a closer view:

Close-up of Two Million Views

Close-up of Two Million Views

On October 20th in 2013, we hit the One Million Mark. See:

Thank You – One Million And Counting!

Now, here we are just a tad over 6 years to the two million mark. Who ever thought that we would still be blogging after all these years. We have now been using WordPress for over 11 years, and the blog is almost 12 years old. It was begun in February 2008, but when it was moved to WordPress the counter was reset.

I am so thankful to the Lord for letting this blog be used to present His beautifully Created birds. Also, without you readers, it would not have been successful. Thank You for every visit, pages viewed, and the many comments. Those comments have come many times when I was thinking of quitting and giving up. But, just when I needed a little extra encouragement, along came a comment that was perfectly timed to keep me going.

Red-crested Turaco at Brevard Zoo by Lee

After these many years, we have met so many people from around the world, and many have become personal friends. [At least I consider you personal friends.]

Also, those that write for the blog have made great contributions: James J.S. Johnson. or Dr. Jim, as I call him; Emma Foster and her Emma’s Stories, have been two of the newest writers used during this six year span. Also, Golden Eagle drops by occasionally. Our Ian Montgomery has provide numerous post from his birding adventures.

“God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarmed after their kind, and every winged bird after its kind; and God saw that it was good. God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” (Genesis 1:21-22 NASB)

Thank you, Lord, for giving us so many birds to learn and write about. Thank you, readers, for every visit to this blog. I trust that the Lord will allow me the wisdom, strength, and curiosity about the Avian Wonders from His Hand to keep writing about them.

Stay Tuned!

Feeding White Ibises at Lake Morton, by Lee [Dr. J.J.S. Johnson, Baron, and Dan]

Ian’s Bird of the Moment – Sunbittern

Ian’s Bird of the Moment – Sunbittern

by Ian Montgomery

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

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

Sunbittern (Eurypyga helias) by Lee at Lowry Park Zoo

Sunbittern (Eurypyga helias) by Lee at Lowry Park Zoo

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

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

More of Ian’s Birds of the Week, Moment

Good News

Ian’s Bird of the Moment – White-tailed (Sea) Eagles

It’s been a long time since the last bird of the moment, so here is a special one to make amends. Furthermore, at a time of increasingly depressing stories about the state of the planet, it comes with a great conservation story.
I’ve recently returned from a short visit to Europe. The purpose of the trip was to catch up with family in France and Ireland. The temptation to do a bit of bird photography as well was too great to resist so I went from Paris to Dublin via the Isle of Mull in Scotland (above) in search of White-tailed (Sea) Eagles. My nephew Ian joined me from Dublin so the detour naturally still qualified as family business.
We chose the Isle of Mull because of its reputation of being one of the best places in Europe to see White-tailed Eagles following their successful reintroduction to Scotland over the last 45 years. On our third and last day, having had little success finding any eagles on our own, we went out with Mull Charters on their Sea Eagle Adventure trip, during which I took all of these photos. The red arrow in the map above shows the approximate location in a beautiful bay with high mountains forming a spectacular backdrop.
The sea eagles in this region on the west of the island have become accustomed to being fed on frozen mackerel, providing spectacular views of these huge birds in action and providing wonderful photo opportunities. The above photo shows an eagle banking to get into position to come in for a fish and the next four photos shows the results of this foray.
The eagles come in very fast. Three seconds elapsed between the banking photo 201182 and the next one 201188 showing the bird just about to grab the fish, visible floating on the surface in front of the eagle. This photo and the next three, 201189, 201190 and 201191 were all taken in the space of one second so there is little margin for error on the part of either the eagle or the photographer.
In 201189, you can see that the bird has caught the fish with only one talon. As a result, 201190 and 201191, the fish falls off and drops back into the water. Maybe it’s just my imagination but it seems to me that the look of intense concentration in 201188 changes to frustration or disappointment in 201190.
A little over 20 seconds after the abortive attempt, another bird, photo 201208, has swept in and successfully scooped up a fish. As soon as a bird had captured a fish, it left the vicinity.
These eagles were very vocal, often making a repeated klee, klee, klee call which sounded gull-like to me and rather undignified for such a large raptor. The captain on the boat said that the most vocal bird was a female objecting to the presence of other eagles in her territory.
Until the eighteenth century, White-tailed Eagles were widespread throughout Eurasia from Ireland to Siberia. In the nineteenth century, increasing persecution by farmers, gamekeepers, shepherds and fishermen and the spread of firearms led to population declines in Europe and ultimately to extinction in Ireland (last known nesting attempt in 1898) and Britain (last breeding attempt in 1916).
Like its close relative the Bald Eagle of North America, the remaining populations of White-tailed Eagles suffered badly from the use of persistent organochloride insecticides such as DDT after the second world war. The banning or phasing out of such insecticides and more enlightened attitudes to conservation led to increases in eagle populations in Europe and North America in the final quarter of the twentieth century, making possible their reintroduction to places where they had become extinct.
Reintroductions of White-tailed Eagles are done using young birds taken from nest at the age of about six weeks. White-tailed Eagles rear one or two chicks per year, so the birds chosen for reintroduction are taken from nest with two chicks. The birds take five or six years to mature so, for a reintroduction to succeed, the population needs to reach a critical mass to become self-sustaining.
The Scottish reintroduction started in earnest in 1975 with Norwegian birds being introduced to the Isle of Rum, shown by the green arrow on the map (the Isle of Mull is indicated by the red arrow). Later introductions were done to the mainland near the Isle of Rum (Wester Ross) in the 1990s. There are now about 130 breeding pairs in Scotland, mainly in the west and there are 22 pairs on the Isle of Mull.
Reintroductions to eastern Scotland were done between 2007 and 2012. In August 2019, six Scottish-bred young eagles were released on the Isle of Wight as the first stage of reintroducing them to southern England. Meanwhile, in Ireland a parallel reintroduction of Norwegian birds started in 2007 with the first successful nesting in 2012. Now there are about eight breeding pairs (and a few more holding territories) but the population is not yet large enough to be self-sustaining.
So, there you have it. A good news story and, for nephew Ian and I, a memorable day with these magnificent birds of prey in Scotland.
Greetings, Ian

“… as the eagle swoops down… (Deuteronomy 28:49b NASB)

“… Like an eagle that swoops on its prey.” (Job 9:26b NASB)

“… The way of an eagle in the sky,…” (Proverbs 30:19a NASB)

“… Behold, He will mount up and swoop like an eagle and spread out His wings against Bozrah…” (Jeremiah 49:22a NASB)

Thanks, Ian. Was beginning to wonder if you had given up on birdwatching. Our adventures may become less regular, but there is always another birding adventure to inspire us. Thanks for sharing.

What a beautiful Eagle! Reminds me of our Bald Eagle with that white tail, but also of the Steller’s Sea Eagle we saw in a zoo. Fantastic avian wonders from the Creator.

Bird of the Moment – White-eared Monarch

White-eared Monarch (Carterornis leucotis) © Ian

In February we had the Satin Flycatcher as bird of the moment. This is a generally uncommon member of the Monarch Flycatcher (Monarchidae) that I’d had trouble photographing until one obligingly turned up at my bird bath last October. Here is another member of the family that is also elusive, the White-eared Monarch. It’s generally rather uncommon and it tends to stay out of sight in the foliage of tall trees so spotting it is hard and photographing it is more so.

Its movements are not well understood but it tends to move from the highlands to coastal areas in winter and is mainly a winter visitor in the Townsville region. In Where to Find Birds in North-east Queensland Jo Wieneke particularly recommends the Nelly Bay end of the Nelly Bay to Arcadia walking track along Gustav Creek on Magnetic Island, where the trees are not very tall, for this and other Monarchs and Fantails.

White-eared Monarch (Carterornis leucotis) © Ian

It so happened that we were staying on Mandalay Avenue within walking distance of the start of the track last July for the weekend workshop of the North Queensland Recorder Society so I checked out the walking track before the workshop began. Sure enough, I found all the species listed in the the ebook including a couple of pairs of White-eared Monarchs so the photographic drought was at an end.

White-eared Monarch (Carterornis leucotis) © Ian

The birds I saw on that occasion were all adults. The juveniles look confusingly different with plumage in varying shades of grey rather than black and white so I’ve included a distant photo of a juvenile taken from a boat on the Daintree River north of Cairns. If nothing else it illustrates the difficulty of finding these birds in thick foliage.

White-eared Monarch (Carterornis leucotis) Juvenile © Ian

It’s geographical range comprises the ranges and coasts of eastern Queensland from Cape York to just south of the New South Wales border north of the Tweed River. It’s rarer in the southern part of the range so North-eastern Queensland is the best place to look for it.

For the taxonomists, it is the only Australian member of a small genus whose other members are the striking Golden Monarch (C. chrysomela) of New Guinea, which is orange-yellow and black, and the White-naped and Tanimbar Monarchs (C. pileatus and C. castus, sometimes treated as a single species) of the Moluccas and Lesser Sundas east of New Guinea. These latter two look much more like the White-eared Monarch than the Golden Monarch both in colour and patterning, posing an interest problem for the bio-geographers.

Since publishing Diary of a Bird Photographer Volume 2 I’ve merged Volumes 1 and 2 and plan to publish the combined work at the end of this year, including all the 2019 Birds of the Moment. My more immediate aim was to produced a combined taxonomic index making it easy for me to see which species have been covered since 2002 and which are candidates for future BIrds of the Moment. This combined volume will be a free update to purchasers of Volume 2. Sales so far have been slow so if you want to encourage me with the Bird of the Moment, I’d encourage you to show your interest and take advantage of this offer.

Ian’s Birding Ebook

Birdway Store on Payhip

A couple of purchasers have expressed a preference for the earlier bank transfer and Dropbox download, so if you rather do that too, just let me know Ian@birdway.com.au or ianbirdway@gmail.com and I can also arrange download through the website as an alternative to Dropbox. I’ve had inquiries about giving the ebooks as gifts: contact me if you wish to do so.

Greetings,
Ian


Lee’s Addition:

Ian’s comment, in the first paragraph, caught my interest. “It’s generally rather uncommon and it tends to stay out of sight in the foliage of tall trees so spotting it is hard and photographing it is more so.” It brought to mind the verses of trusting in the shadow of God’s protection.

“How precious is Your lovingkindness, O God! Therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of Your wings.” (Psalms 36:7 NKJV)

“He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.” (Psalms 91:1 NKJV)

Ian’s “Moment” wasn’t so long this time. Thanks, Ian, for another interesting article about a beautiful bird.

Ian’s last Bird of the Moment was about the Gentoo Penguin.

Ian’s Bird of the Week Articles

Ian’s Bird of the Moment – Gentoo Penguin

As I’ve finally published Volume 2 of the ebook Diary of a Bird Photographer, please bear with me as I begin with a commercial. It is a compilation of the more than 240 Bird of the Week/Moment episodes sent out in the period 2010 to 2018. As these episodes grew in contents over the years, the ebook ended up as a hefty tome of 130,000 words and more than a thousand photos,with the fixed format pdf version running to more than 1,100 pages.

Like its popular predecessor Volume 1 it is designed for ease of use with many internal links, external links to relevant websites particularly additional photos on the Birdway website, and a comprehensive alphabetical index to bird species. Volume 2 contains a new taxonomic index in case for browsing the episodes by members of particular families such as Barn Owls or Honeyeaters. Read more about it by clicking on the image below or its caption to take you to page on the Birdway website.

Diary of a Bird Photographer, Vol 2 by Ian Montgomery

Diary of a Bird Photographer Volume 2

When I retired and wrapped up the Birdway company, I could no longer sell ebooks through the Apple or Google book stores and I started selling them by gettiing intending buyers to contact me for bank account details. This was inconvenient for everyone concerned – particularly for payments in other than Australian dollars – so I have now started selling them through the Payhip website. Payhip takes payment by credit card or PayPal so you can pay and download the books immediately. The new Diary Volume 2 is priced at six Australian dollars. You can visit the Payhip Birdway Store by clicking on the image or caption below.

Ian’s Birding Ebook

The Birdway eBook Store on Payhip

The cover photo of me on the ship the Spirit of Enderby on the trip to the Sub-Antarctic Islands in 2011 brings back great recollections of a memorable voyage, the highlight of which for many of us was the visit to Macquarie Island and its four species of penguins. Two of these, King Penguin and Royal Penguin feature as birds of the week in Volume 2, but here is one, the Gentoo Penguin, which hasn’t been honoured in these pages with its fifteen minutes of fame, to quote Andy Warhol.

Gentoo Penguin (Pygoscelis papua) by Ian

On the morning of our day on the island, the King and Royal Penguins provide us with endless amusement on the main beach on the sheltered eastern size of the island, number 3 on the Google Earth screen capture below. At lunch time we went to the Research Station, number 1, at lunchtime to meet the personnel and we find the Gentoos in reasonable numbers in their preferred breeding habitat, the tussocky grass just south of the station.

Northern Tip of Macuarie Island from Google Earth by Ian

Gentoos look to me quite small and dumpy in illustrations and photos, but they are fairly large, with a length up to 80cm/32in and weighting between 4.5-8.5kg/10-19lbs. Unlike the curious King and Royal Penguins they don’t take much notice of us and stand or lie around looking rather bored. Adult Gentoos, first two Gentoo photos, have a white eye ring, a white patch over each eye and a white line joining the two patches across the top of the head. Their plumage is blackish and the bill and legs are brightly coloured, red or orange.

Gentoo Penguin (Pygoscelis papua) by Ian

Most of the Gentoos have finished breeding bur their are still a few juveniles in the breeding area, like this rather woolly individual on the left below below. Unlike other Penguin species, Gentoos will relay if the first clutch is lost, so maybe this has happened here. Gentoos are unusual in that the parents continue feeding the young for up to two months after they have fledged.

Gentoo Penguin (Pygoscelis papua) by Ian

Unlike the Royal and King Penuins on the sheltered eastern beach, the non-breeding Gentoos show a preference for the exposed beach on the western side of the island. The beach in this photo faces northwest and is shown and number 2 in the Google Earth image above. This beach is also popular with the Macquarie (Imperial) Shags which are busy ferrying seaweed as building material for nests on a rocky headland. The thick-skinned Elephant Seals are also at home on this beach and you can see their prostrate forms in the photo below.

Western Side of Macuarie Island by Ian

Immature Gentoos are to be seen wandering around on this beach either full of the joys of Spring (next photo) or pretending to be Elephant Seas (following photo). You can see that their plumage is browner than that of the adults, the white supra-orbital patches and eye-rings are incompletely developed and their bills and feet are less brightly coloured. Gentoos take two years to reach sexual maturity but I suppose, given their proximity to the nesting colony, that these ones are older juveniles from the current breeding.

Gentoo Penguin (Pygoscelis papua) Juvenile by Ian

The Gentoo is the most northerly of the three species in the genus Pygoscelis and its circumpolar range is mainly north of Antarctica, breeding on Sub-Antarctic islands in the southern Indian and Atlantic Oceans. The only place it breeds on Antarctica itself is on the Antarctic Peninsula south of South America. The other two members of the genus, the Chinstrap and Adelie Penguins, have more southerly ranges particularly the Adelie. The specific name papua, odd for a Sub-Antartic species, does in fact refer to the natives of New Guinea as J.R. Forster, who named it in 1781, as he thought erroneously that they had curly feathers.

Gentoo Penguin (Pygoscelis papua) Juvenile by Ian

The fourth species of Penguin on Macquarie is the Southern Rockhopper Rockhoppers indeed, they are not to be found on the easily accessible part of the island where we spend the day. In the afternoon we return to the ship in the Zodiacs and do a detour via the rocky headland shown as number 4 on the Google Earth image to have a look at them.

I’ve been leading a fairly sedentary existence since my last visit to Europe three years ago. Editing Volume 2 of the Diary has given me itchy feet, so a visit to South America this coming October is being planned.

Greetings

Ian Montgomery


“All flesh is not the same flesh: but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of beasts, another of fishes, and another of birds.: (1 Corinthians 15:39 KJV)

They may swim in the sea, but those Gentoo Penguins are still birds.

Thanks again, Ian, for another Bird of the Moment. They are always a welcome surprise when they arrive. Glad you were able to complete your second volume of the Bird Photographer Diary. We have produced many of those Bird of the Week articles here over the years. We have been enjoying your adventures around the world as you seek our Avian Wonders.

See Ian’s Birds of the Week

*

Ian’s Bird of the Moment – Australian Grebe

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

Townsville flooding by Ian

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

Australasian Grebe (Tachybaptus novaehollandiae) by Ian

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

Australasian Grebe (Tachybaptus novaehollandiae) by Ian

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

Australasian Grebe (Tachybaptus novaehollandiae) by Ian

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

Australasian Grebe (Tachybaptus novaehollandiae) by Ian

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

Australasian Grebe (Tachybaptus novaehollandiae) by Ian

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

Little Grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis) by Ian

 

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

Australasian Grebe (Tachybaptus novaehollandiae) by Ian

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

Australasian Grebe (Tachybaptus novaehollandiae) by Ian

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

Little Grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis) by Ian

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

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

Greetings

Ian


Lee’s Addition:

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

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

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

Ian’s Bird of the Week series

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