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 Whatever – Bare-faced Curassow

The Irregular Bird, formerly Bird of the Moment, formerly Bird of the Week, #600: Bare-faced Curassow
[This is how Ian titled his email. He is celebrating his 600 article. That is quite a milestone. Congratulations, Ian, Keep them coming. They are always so interesting.]
Bird number 600 after 18 years is a bit of a landmark, so here is something suitably celebratory: the best dressed award for the South American trip: the Bare-faced Curassow. They also win the worst named award as I have to think every time I write it so I don’t say ‘assed’ but that’s probably a reflection on me, not the species.
The most beautiful bird award went to the Hyacinth Macaw#592; the most interesting went to the Sunbittern#591; the most spectacular went to the Andean Condor#593; the most beautiful mammal award went predictably to the Jaguar which also featured briefly in #592; the most unusual mammal to the Armadillo;  the least elegant went to the Collared Peccary; the most amusing and ugliest went to the Capybara, and the most delightful to the Giant Otter; the most beautiful lizard went to the Green Iguana; and the most beautiful snake went to the Yellow Anaconda.
If you can think of any categories I’ve left out let me know and I’ll see what I can do in the next Irregular Bird. A former colleague of mine, the world expert on the different pelagic behaviour of right- and left-footed thongs/jandals/flipflops recently called it Bird of the Undefined Time, which I like very much and set me thinking, but I’m going to settle on The Irregular Bird.
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The Curassows also won the best hairstyle award so I’ll deal with that first. The male’s is all black, quite original in a dapper and restrained sort of way, very suitable for evening dress/tuxedo. The female couldn’t resist a two-tone look, also restrained and very dignified. I think the black curly tip on a white base is gorgeous and the little black fringe/bang is the perfect finishing touch. Both have the suitably haughty look of famous models and you might be surprised to find that this male is married to this female: it could be an interesting household with two prima donnas, even before any kids come along.
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Here’s the male in his dinner jacket/tuxedo on the way to the Rio Claro masked ball. He’s wearing a special yellow face mask which doesn’t cover his eyes. It’s partially for epidemiological reasons but fame is important to him and he wants everyone to recognised him and know that he too was invited to this special event. Very suave and practising his red carpet walk, but he doesn’t really need to as he naturally has the sort of elegant, pouty walk that is widely admired by on the cat-walk.
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The female is wearing a tan-coloured silk ball gown with a brownish black cape and train. Both of these are hand embroidered with stripes consisting of thousands of large pearls and diamonds. Consequently they’re rather heavy and she hopes she doesn’t trip or fall on the way and is secretly looking forward to discarding them with a flourish in front of the cameras of the paparazzi. She’s walking past the resort swimming pool on the way to the ballroom. Those of you familiar with Australian flora will recognised the trunk of the tree and the leaves on the ground as belonging to a rare species of Eucaplyptus specially imported at great expense from a boutique nursery in Humpty Doo, 40km from Darwin in the Northern Territory, a small town better known by ordinary folk for its barramundi (an over-rated freshwater fish with a wonderful name). The climate there is similar to that in the Pantanal, hot and dry for much of the year with a very wet wet season.
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Masked balls can lead to unexpected results and this mother Curassow is paying the price. She sadly remembers the party times well, don’t we all, but is quite fond of her two chicks. She’s pleased to have both a daughter (centre foreground) and a son, trying to hide under mother’s skirts in the background on the left. He is already sporting a yellow face mask like his dad, is developing a precocious crest and wearing a black waistcoat, unbuttoned to show off his tan. Curassows are vegans naturally, and these ones are looking for the seeds of some super-food they’ve been told about. They also visit salt-licks as they believe that it’s makes their plumage very lustrous. It also leads to high blood pressure but they are young and don’t worry about such matters.
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Bare-faced Curassows range through central Brazil, eastern Bolivia, most of Paraguay and northern Argentina. Like the rest of us they are regarded as Vulnerable, suffering from hunting by left-wing elements, and are extinct in Rio de Janeiro as they found the Carnival much too vulgar and moved to the provinces particularly the Pantanal in Mato Grosso, a well-known retreat for the rich and famous.
Like all news now whether official or on social media, subject this article to the scrutiny of your b*llsh*t meter.
Stay safe, practise acceptance (very difficult I know) and keep cheerful,
Ian
PS Here is the only prize winner that hasn’t yet made it to the website. I must rectify that today. They’re king of the Iguanas, very large to 2 metres long, perfect for social distancing, with a noble heritage having been described by Carl Linnaeus in 1758 during the reign of Louis XV and when the United States were still British colonies. Like Louis XIV and Bare-faced Curassows, they’re into extravagant balls. This one is lounging on a freshwater beach on a sunny day near the fashionable resort of Porto Jofre in the Southern Pantanal, improving its green tan.
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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:

See my comments above, plus we have posted quite a few of those 600 articles here. Ian gave me permission years ago to use these newsletters. Thank, Ian. And for the great photos of birds you have shared with us.
“Bring out with you every living thing of all flesh that is with you: birds and cattle and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth, so that they may abound on the earth, and be fruitful and multiply on the earth.” (Genesis 8:17 NKJV)
“I know all the birds of the mountains, And the wild beasts of the field are Mine.” (Psalms 50:11 NKJV)

Ian’s Bird of the Week, Moment, Whenever

Ian Montgomery Offers Free eBooks During Pandemic

Diary of a Bird Photographer, Vol 2 by Ian Montgomery

Just received an email from Ian Montgomery, Ian’s Bird of the Week, who is offering free downloads of his three eBooks. This is only being offered for a short time.

Here is his email:

Given the strange times we live in now, I’m thinking of all the other people isolated at home and looking for things to do. I’ve decided to make all my eBooks free for the time being.
Two of these are Diary of a Bird Photographer, Volumes 1 and 2, which are compilations of the Bird of the Week/Moment from #1 to #341, and #342 to #585, respectively, i.e. from 2002 to 2009 and 2010 to 2018.
The third is guide Where to Find Birds in North-east Queensland. This is a guide to the more than 400 species of birds that occur in this region and the 200 or so locations in which to look for them, and there are about 700 bird photos, and 200 of locations.
All the books is comprehensively indexed so you can jump around all over the place. If your stuck at home, and even if you’re not, you can take a virtual bird tour of NE Queensland at zero cost in Where to Find Birds in North-east Queensland – much better than having to worry about to getting home after your trip. Maybe you could use it to teach your kids about the joys of bird watching.
Given the current pandemic, Ian has decided to give his ebooks free to anyone interested in nature. If you already now about ebook formats such as pdfs, epub and mobi, then go straight to the Birdway Store on the Payhip website where I’ve made the books available for download.
If you’re a bit vague about ebook formats, go first to the Quick Guide to eBooks, check it out to see which one is best or you and then got to the Birdway Store on the Payhip website which you can do from that page.
None of the books is copyright protected, so you can distribute them as you wish.
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Happy reading and happy virtual travelling,
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 followed his links and was able to download all three ebooks.
Thanks, Ian, for giving us something to do while we are staying close/in our homes.
“Who has put wisdom in the mind? Or who has given understanding to the heart?” (Job 38:36 NKJV)

Bird of the Moment – Red-legged Seriema

Of the birds that we wanted to see in Brazil, this one, the Red-legged Seriema proved the most difficult. Like the Greater Rhea (#598), this is mainly a bird of dry, grassy habitats such as the Cerrado rather than the flood-prone Pantanal. So we hoped to find it at our last lodge, Piuval Lodge in the northern end of the Pantanal just south of Poconé. Even there, we resorted to the help of a local guide, attached to the Lodge, who found one within five minutes of departing from the Lodge. This was the only one we saw, despite further trips through the reserve there.
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Seriemas are unusual birds. There are only two remaining species, this one and the Black-legged Seriema (Chunga burmeisteri) South American, remnants apparently of a much larger clan known from a few fossils. The Red-legged has quite a wide range through Brazil south of the Amazon basin, Paraguay, eastern Bolivia, eastern Uruguay and north-eastern Argentina. The range of the Black-legged partially overlaps that of the Red-legged but maiinly farther west, still east of the Andes, from southern Bolivia through western Paraguay to central northern Argentina. Despite their remnant status, both are reasonably common in suitable open habitat and classified as of ‘Least Concern’.
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The Red-legged is the larger species, with a length of 75-90cm and weighing 1.5-2.3kg. Both are mainly terrestrial, though they are capable of short bursts of flight, and will often perch in bushes and small trees, where they build their nests. Both species are predatory, feeding on small reptiles such as snakes and lizards, and large insects, but will also feed on seeds. Both are very vocal and join in the morning chorus, though we had listened in vain for the distinctive song of the Red-legged. This is a ‘calm series of nasal, well-separated, and accentuated “hah-hah” notes, lilting up and then down again’, according to Ber van Perlo in his Birds of Brazil, though the recording in his app sounds like a very distressed and lonely puppy, and ‘calm’ is not an adjective I’d have chosen.
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Naturally, as you’ve guessed by now, one of the reasons I was keen to see and photograph it was to fill a taxonomic hole in the species on the Birdway website. Until the advent of DNA analysis, the correct placement of the Seriemas was put in the too-hard basket, which in those days for land birds was in its own family, Cariamidae, in the Crane order, Gruiformes. Cranes were known to be of an ancient lineage, so Gruiformes was a bit of a taxonomic dumping ground for such problem groups, ‘GRU’ in the diagram above. That all changed in 2008 with this landmark DNA study by Hackett et al. which revolutionised the understanding of the relationships among major groups of birds.
Perhaps most strikingly, the Parrots were shown to be a sister clade to the Passerines, or perching birds, and the Falcons and Caracaras were separated from the other diurnal predators, such as Hawks, Eagles and Vultures. I’ve highlighted the relevant relationships in the diagram above. Interestingly the Seriemas were an early offshoot of the group that gave rise to the Falcons, Parrots and Passerines. Other studies since have supported these findings and the Seriemas have been elevated to their own order the Cariamiformes. The Passerine order contains half of all extant bird species, 5,000 or so out of 10,000, so the Seriemas have great status in the overall scheme of things with an order to themselves.
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I couldn’t help to see a certain resemblance to Bustards in size, form and habit, but perhaps the Secretarybird of Africa is the closest analogue. I’ve seen this species in pre-digital days in Zimbabwe but I haven’t photographed it, so I’ve taken the liberty of including this splendid photo by Janelle Morano which is published in the Cornell online Birds of the World and the related Macaulay Library: Secretarybird.
If you return to the Hackett diagram you’ll see that the Secretarybird is a relative of the hawks and eagles: it is the sole member of one family – Sagitariidae – of the four that make up the order Accipitriformes, the others being the Cathartidae (new world vultures) the Pandionidae (ospreys) and Accipitridae (all the other hawks and eagles). Given the similarities and the relationships to different groups of diurnal predators, the Seriemas and Secretarybird would seem to be a very elegant example of convergent evolution.
So far, I’ve resisted the temptation of mentioning IT, the current crisis. I will however say that I wasn’t intending to be prophetic when I said that the New Year had got off to a bumpy start with the Australian bushfires, and later that the taxonomic puzzle of the Ratites was Gaia’s revenge on Homo not so sapiens. Maybe Gaia has turned to self-defence in the way she knows best. I’m largely isolating at home, given the warnings to older people, so I hope to do more work on the website and have more birds of the moment.
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:

Ian has shared one of the birds we have seen at the Lowry Park Zoo many times. Always enjoy seeing them.
And, Ian like many of us around the world, is sticking close to home. Maybe it will be a good time to clean up some of our photos, and write about them, just as he is doing.
Stay tuned!
“I know all the birds of the mountains, And the wild beasts of the field are Mine.” (Psalms 50:11 NKJV)

Anniversary Number 12

Hooded Merganser Diving Duck, Georgia, by William Wise

Here we go again with another anniversary of the blog. Around February 13th or so, was the 12 anniversary of Lee’s Birdwatching Adventures Plus. During this year, we hit the two million visitor mark. Wow!

Eastern Phoebe on Beautyberry

Eastern Phoebe on Beautyberry 12-19-19

Looking at all the articles written about the 11th anniversary, I’ll let this one be simple. I just reread all the comments and encouragement that you sent last year. Those were and are again so appreciated. Now, the blog has slowed down some, but we are still blogging. Because of health and our new house, most of my birding adventures seem to be out my back door. I love the avian visitors!

This year, William Wise has joined us with some very interesting articles and photos. Welcome Aboard, William!! Dr. Jim has continued to contribute articles, which are always enjoyable. Ian Montgomery is still sending posts, and Emma Forster continues to enlighten us with her stories. Me, I’ve written less, but we are still at it.

Raven in Pumpkin by Linda Marcille

The Lord is always faithful and keeps us interested in His Creation.

Stay tuned to see what this new year of blogging will discover about our Avian Wonders from the Lord.

(9)  For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.
(10)  And in this I give advice: It is to your advantage not only to be doing what you began and were desiring to do a year ago;
(11)  but now you also must complete the doing of it; that as there was a readiness to desire it, so there also may be a completion out of what you have.
(12)  For if there is first a willing mind, it is accepted according to what one has, and not according to what he does not have. (2 Corinthians 8:9-12 NKJV)

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