In July I went on an overland bird-watching trip organised by a friend of mine in Melbourne. The main goal was finding arid country birds for two English birders. I tagged along to take some photos. We met up in Melbourne. Then we drove through Western Victoria to the Eyre Peninsula in South Australia, along the Birdsville Track and through Western Queensland to Mt Isa. I flew home from there, while the others continued to the Gulf of Carpentaria and finally to Cairns, so that the English pair could fly back to London.
Australia has four species of bird called “Painted”, and we saw three of these on the trip, so I thought I’d do a Painted edition of the Irregular Bird. The first that we saw, and perhaps the one best deserving the moniker, is the Painted Buttonquail. It’s quite a work of art, meticulously and delicately decorated with a grey, rufous and black background highlighted with white streaks and spots. The result is both strikingly beautiful and brilliantly camouflaged against the woodland leaf litter where it occurs.
Buttonquails are strange quail-like birds related to waders rather than game birds. They are well represented in Australia with seven of the seventeen global species, the others being distributed throughout Asia, Africa and Southern Europe. They’re cryptic and hard to see, though the feeding habits of the Painted make it easier to find than the others. They search for food by rotating in a tight circle in leaf litter, like the pair in the second photo, leaving circular bare patches called “platelets”. Fresh platelets in an area known for them are a good indication that careful searching for them is justified.
Buttonquails are one of the groups of birds where there is a gender reversal in display, incubating the eggs and rearing the young. So the females are more brightly coloured. Note that the female on the right of this pair has brighter rufous plumage on the shoulders, and she is larger than her male partner.
The next painted species we encountered was this Painted Honeyeater in central Western Queensland. This is an inland species breeding mainly in Victoria and New South Wales. In winter it migrates north and can be found sparsely distributed through southern and Western Queensland and the eastern part of the Northern Territory. It’s paint job isn’t as carefully executed as in some of the other painted birds, though it has bold yellow stripes on the wings. delicate black streaks on the flanks and a pink bill.
Species number three was the Painted Finch, a striking bird of arid country such as spinifex with a wide mainly tropical distribution from Western Queensland through the Northern Territory to Western Australia. Both sexes are red and brown with black heavily daubed with white spots. The male, in front in the first photo, has more red than the female behind him. The bird in the second photo is also a female.
I’ve included the only other painted Australia bird, the Australian Painted-snipe, a bird of grassy wetlands. It’s rare and endangered owing to habitat loss and hard to find, though it turns up unexpectedly in different places.
The one in this photo is a male. Females are larger and more colourful, and you’re right: there’s a swapping of gender roles here too. It seems to be a habit among painted bird species, artistic license I suppose. Painted-snipes form their own family but they are thought to be related to Jacanas, which also swap roles. Maybe I should do an Irregular Bird on Australian Rainbow birds, though the sexes in these are almost identical and their preferences may be gender fluid for all we know.
Thanks, Ian for another irregular birding report. Looks like your birding trips are as irregular as ours are. (We have not been birding in months.)
What beautiful birds with designs and colors from their Creator. It is amazing that these colors also help protect them by blending them in with their surroundings. Thanks again for sharing your latest adventure with us.
“That they may see, and know, and consider, and understand together, that the hand of the LORD hath done this, and the Holy One of Israel hath created it.” (Isaiah 41:20 KJV)
The Bank Swallow, the Kingfisher and the Sparrow Hawk.
The Burgess Bird Book For Children
CHAPTER XXII. Some Feathered Diggers.
Peter Rabbit scampered along down one bank of the Laughing Brook,
eagerly watching for a high, gravelly bank such as Grandfather Frog had
said that Rattles the Kingfisher likes to make his home in. If Peter had
stopped to do a little thinking, he would have known that he was simply
wasting time. You see, the Laughing Brook was flowing through the Green
Meadows, so of course there would be no high, gravelly bank, because the
Green Meadows are low. But Peter Rabbit, in his usual heedless way, did
no thinking. He had seen Rattles fly down the Laughing Brook, and so he
had just taken it for granted that the home of Rattles must be somewhere
At last Peter reached the place where the Laughing Brook entered the
Big River. Of course, he hadn’t found the home of Rattles. But now he did
find something that for the time being made him quite forget Rattles and
his home. Just before it reached the Big River the Laughing Brook wound
through a swamp in which were many tall trees and a great number of
young trees. A great many big ferns grew there and were splendid to hide
under. Peter always did like that swamp.
Great Blue Herons. American Expedition
He had stopped to rest in a clump of ferns when he was startled by
seeing a great bird alight in a tree just a little way from him. His
first thought was that it was a Hawk, so you can imagine how surprised
and pleased he was to discover that it was Mrs. Longlegs. Somehow
Peter had always thought of Longlegs the Blue Heron as never alighting
anywhere except on the ground. But here was Mrs. Longlegs in a tree.
Having nothing to fear, Peter crept out from his hiding place that he
might see better.
In the tree in which Mrs. Longlegs was perched and just below her he
saw a little platform of sticks. He didn’t suspect that it was a nest,
because it looked too rough and loosely put together to be a nest.
Probably he wouldn’t have thought about it at all had not Mrs. Longlegs
settled herself on it right while Peter was watching. It didn’t seem big
enough or strong enough to hold her, but it did.
Great Blue Heron-nest. Naturally-Curious Mary Holland
“As I live,” thought Peter, “I’ve found the nest of Longlegs! He and
Mrs. Longlegs may be good fishermen, but they certainly are mighty poor
nest-builders. I don’t see how under the sun Mrs. Longlegs ever gets on
and off that nest without kicking the eggs out.”
Peter sat around for a while, but as he didn’t care to let his presence
be known, and as there was no one to talk to, he presently made up his
mind that being so near the Big River he would go over there to see if
Plunger the Osprey was fishing again on this day.
When he reached the Big River, Plunger was not in sight. Peter was
disappointed. He had just about made up his mind to return the way he
had come, when from beyond the swamp, farther up the Big River, he heard
the harsh, rattling cry of Rattles the Kingfisher. It reminded him of
what he had come for, and he at once began to hurry in that direction.
Belted Kingfisher at 11:24 am on 11/25/20 by Lee
Peter came out of the swamp on a little sandy beach. There he squatted
for a moment, blinking his eyes, for out there the sun was very bright.
Then a little way beyond him he discovered something that in his eager
curiosity made him quite forget that he was out in the open where it was
anything but safe for a Rabbit to be. What he saw was a high sandy bank.
With a hasty glance this way and that way to make sure that no enemy was
in sight, Peter scampered along the edge of the water till he was right
at the foot of that sandy bank. Then he squatted down and looked eagerly
for a hole such as he imagined Rattles the Kingfisher might make.
Instead of one hole he saw a lot of holes, but they were very small
holes. He knew right away that Rattles couldn’t possibly get in or out
of a single one of those holes. In fact, those holes in the bank were
no bigger than the holes Downy the Woodpecker makes in trees. Peter
couldn’t imagine who or what had made them.
Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens) by Raymond Barlow
As Peter sat there staring and wondering a trim little head appeared
at the entrance to one of those holes. It was a trim little head with a
very small bill and a snowy white throat. At first glance Peter thought
it was his old friend, Skimmer the Tree Swallow, and he was just on the
point of asking what under the sun Skimmer was doing in such a place as
that, when with a lively twitter of greeting the owner of that little
hole in the bank flew out and circled over Peter’s head. It wasn’t
Skimmer at all. It was Banker the Bank Swallow, own cousin to Skimmer
the Tree Swallow. Peter recognized him the instant he got a full view of
In the first place Banker was a little smaller than Skimmer. Then too,
he was not nearly so handsome. His back, instead of being that
beautiful rich steel-blue which makes Skimmer so handsome, was a sober
grayish-brown. He was a little darker on his wings and tail. His breast,
instead of being all snowy white, was crossed with a brownish band. His
tail was more nearly square across the end than is the case with other
members of the Swallow family.
“Wha–wha–what were you doing there?” stuttered Peter, his eyes popping
right out with curiosity and excitement.
“Why, that’s my home,” twittered Banker.
“Do–do–do you mean to say that you live in a hole in the ground?”
“Certainly; why not?” twittered Banker as he snapped up a fly just over
“I don’t know any reason why you shouldn’t,” confessed Peter. “But
somehow it is hard for me to think of birds as living in holes in the
ground. I’ve only just found out that Rattles the Kingfisher does. But
I didn’t suppose there were any others. Did you make that hole yourself,
“Of course,” replied Banker. “That is, I helped make it. Mrs. Banker did
her share. ‘Way in at the end of it we’ve got the nicest little nest of
straw and feathers. What is more, we’ve got four white eggs in there,
and Mrs. Banker is sitting on them now.”
Swallow Friends – Burgess Book (Can be colored)
By this time the air seemed to be full of Banker’s friends, skimming and
circling this way and that, and going in and out of the little holes in
“I am like my big cousin, Twitter the Purple Martin, fond of society,”
explained Banker. “We Bank Swallows like our homes close together. You
said that you had just learned that Rattles the Kingfisher has his home
in a bank. Do you know where it is?”
“No,” replied Peter. “I was looking for it when I discovered your home.
Can you tell me where it is?”
“I’ll do better than that;” replied Banker. “I’ll show you where it is.”
He darted some distance up along the bank and hovered for an instant
close to the top. Peter scampered over there and looked up. There, just
a few inches below the top, was another hole, a very much larger hole
than those he had just left. As he was staring up at it a head with a
long sharp bill and a crest which looked as if all the feathers on the
top of his head had been brushed the wrong way, was thrust out. It was
Rattles himself. He didn’t seem at all glad to see Peter. In fact, he
came out and darted at Peter angrily. Peter didn’t wait to feel that
sharp dagger-like bill. He took to his heels. He had seen what he
started out to find and he was quite content to go home.
Peter took a short cut across the Green Meadows. It took him past a
certain tall, dead tree. A sharp cry of “Kill-ee, kill-ee, kill-ee!”
caused Peter to look up just in time to see a trim, handsome bird whose
body was about the size of Sammy Jay’s but whose longer wings and longer
tail made him look bigger. One glance was enough to tell Peter that
this was a member of the Hawk family, the smallest of the family. It was
Killy the Sparrow Hawk. He is too small for Peter to fear him, so now
Peter was possessed of nothing more than a very lively curiosity, and
sat up to watch.
Out over the meadow grass Killy sailed. Suddenly, with beating wings,
he kept himself in one place in the air and then dropped down into the
grass. He was up again in an instant, and Peter could see that he had a
fat grasshopper in his claws. Back to the top of the tall, dead tree
he flew and there ate the grasshopper. When it was finished, he sat up
straight and still, so still that he seemed a part of the tree itself.
With those wonderful eyes of his he was watching for another grasshopper
or for a careless Meadow Mouse.
Very trim and handsome was Killy. His back was reddish-brown crossed by
bars of black. His tail was reddish-brown with a band of black near
its end and a white tip. His wings were slaty-blue with little bars
of black, the longest feathers leaving white bars. Underneath he was a
beautiful buff, spotted with black. His head was bluish with a reddish
patch right on top. Before and behind each ear was a black mark. His
rather short bill, like the bills of all the rest of his family, was
As Peter sat there admiring Killy, for he was handsome enough for any
one to admire, he noticed for the first time a hole high up in the trunk
of the tree, such a hole as Yellow Wing the Flicker might have made and
probably did make. Right away Peter remembered what Jenny Wren had
told him about Killy’s making his nest in just such a hole. “I wonder,”
thought Peter, “if that is Killy’s home.”
Just then Killy flew over and dropped in the grass just in front of
Peter, where he caught another fat grasshopper. “Is that your home up
there?” asked Peter hastily.
“It certainly is, Peter,” replied Killy. “This is the third summer Mrs.
Killy and I have had our home there.”
“You seem to be very fond of grasshoppers,” Peter ventured.
“I am,” replied Killy. “They are very fine eating when one can get
enough of them.”
“Are they the only kind of food you eat?” ventured Peter.
Killy laughed. It was a shrill laugh. “I should say not,” said he. “I
eat spiders and worms and all sorts of insects big enough to give a
fellow a decent bite. But for real good eating give me a fat Meadow
Mouse. I don’t object to a Sparrow or some other small bird now and
then, especially when I have a family of hungry youngsters to feed. But
take it the season through, I live mostly on grasshoppers and insects
and Meadow Mice. I do a lot of good in this world, I’d have you know.”
Peter said that he supposed that this was so, but all the time he
kept thinking what a pity it was that Killy ever killed his feathered
neighbors. As soon as he conveniently could he politely bade Killy
good-by and hurried home to the dear Old Briar-patch, there to think
over how queer it seemed that a member of the hawk family should nest
in a hollow tree and a member of the Swallow family should dig a hole in
*** Bold points for questions at the bottom or for Christian traits.
A man who has friends must himself be friendly, But there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.
(Proverbs 18:24 NKJV)
So God created great sea creatures and every living thing that moves, with which the waters abounded, according to their kind, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.
(Genesis 1:21 NKJV)
“And every living substance was destroyed which was upon the face of the ground, both man, and cattle, and the creeping things, and the fowl of the heaven;.” Genesis 7:23a
According to evolution theory, birds should not have been around at the time of the dinosaurs. This is especially true of the parrot, which is supposed, by those who believe in evolution, to be a more highly-evolved bird.
A fossilized parrot’s beak was dug up 40 years ago, but ignored. It was recently rediscovered at the University of California, Berkeley, by a graduate student. The problem, for evolutionists, is that they date the rock in which the beak was found as coming from the Cretaceous period when the dinosaurs lived and birds had not yet evolved. X‑ray study of the fossilized beak shows that the beak has the same blood vessel and nerve channels as a modern parrot. But it is not just one parrot’s beak that has been found in rocks from the age of dinosaurs. Loons, frigate‑birds and other shore bird fossils have also been found in rock that was supposedly laid down during the time of the dinosaurs!
Fossils are remains of living things rapidly buried, we believe, at the time of the Genesis Flood. However, it is perhaps not too surprising that bird fossils and dinosaur fossils are generally not found together; indeed, bird fossils in any part of the earth’s strata are extremely rare. This is because while dinosaur bones are very robust, bird bones and beaks are extremely fragile and would not have survived the turmoil of the Genesis Flood. The very few that have been fossilized tell us of very rapid and deep burial that would be expected during the Biblical Flood.
Prayer: I thank You, Lord, for making Your Word trustworthy in everything. Amen.
Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon) by Lee Circle B
A Fishing Party
The Great Blue Heron and the Kingfisher.
The Burgess Bird Book For Children
Listen to the story read.
A Fishing Party.
Peter Rabbit sat on the edge of the Old Briar-patch trying to make up
his mind whether to stay at home, which was the wise and proper thing
to do, or to go call on some of the friends he had not yet visited. A
sharp, harsh rattle caused him to look up to see a bird about a third
larger than Welcome Robin, and with a head out of all proportion to
the size of his body. He was flying straight towards the Smiling Pool,
rattling harshly as he flew. The mere sound of his voice settled the
matter for Peter. “It’s Rattles the Kingfisher,” he cried. “I think I’ll
run over to the Smiling Pool and pay him my respects.”
Belted Kingfisher on 11/25/20 by Lee
So Peter started for the Smiling Pool as fast as his long legs could
take him, lipperty-lipperty-lip. He had lost sight of Rattles the
Kingfisher, and when he reached the back of the Smiling Pool he was in
doubt which way to turn. It was very early in the morning and there was
not so much as a ripple on the surface of the Smiling Pool. As Peter sat
there trying to make up his mind which way to go, he saw coming from the
direction of the Big River a great, broad-winged bird, flying slowly. He
seemed to have no neck at all, but carried straight out behind him were
two long legs.
Great Blue Heron; Walton County, Georgia birding photogaphy blog by williamwisephoto.com
“Longlegs the Great Blue Heron! I wonder if he is coming here,”
exclaimed Peter. “I do hope so.”
Peter stayed right where he was and waited. Nearer and nearer came
Longlegs. When he was right opposite Peter he suddenly dropped his long
legs, folded his great wings, and alighted right on the edge of the
Smiling Pool across from where Peter was sitting. If he seemed to have
no neck at all when he was flying, now he seemed to be all neck as he
stretched it to its full length. The fact is, his neck was so long that
when he was flying he carried it folded back on his shoulders. Never
before had Peter had such an opportunity to see Longlegs.
He stood quite four feet high. The top of his head and throat were
white. From the base of his great bill and over his eye was a black
stripe which ended in two long, slender, black feathers hanging from
the back of his head. His bill was longer than his head, stout and
sharp like a spear and yellow in color. His long neck was a light
brownish-gray. His back and wings were of a bluish color. The bend of
each wing and the feathered parts of his legs were a rusty-red. The
remainder of his legs and his feet were black. Hanging down over his
breast were beautiful long pearly-gray feathers quite unlike any Peter
had seen on any of his other feathered friends. In spite of the
length of his legs and the length of his neck he was both graceful and
Great Blue Heron Lake Morton by Dan
“I wonder what has brought him over to the Smiling Pool,” thought Peter.
He didn’t have to wait long to find out. After standing perfectly still
with his neck stretched to its full height until he was sure that no
danger was near, Longlegs waded into the water a few steps, folded his
neck back on his shoulders until his long bill seemed to rest on his
breast, and then remained as motionless as if there were no life in him.
Peter also sat perfectly still. By and by he began to wonder if Longlegs
had gone to sleep. His own patience was reaching an end and he was just
about to go on in search of Rattles the Kingfisher when like a flash the
dagger-like bill of Longlegs shot out and down into the water. When he
withdrew it Peter saw that Longlegs had caught a little fish which he at
once proceeded to swallow head-first. Peter almost laughed right out as
he watched the funny efforts of Longlegs to gulp that fish down his long
throat. Then Longlegs resumed his old position as motionless as before.
Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) from Jim JS Johnson
It was no trouble now for Peter to sit still, for he was too interested
in watching this lone fisherman to think of leaving. It wasn’t long
before Longlegs made another catch and this time it was a fat Pollywog.
Peter thought of how he had watched Plunger the Osprey fishing in the
Big River and the difference in the ways of the two fishermen.
“Plunger hunts for his fish while Longlegs waits for his fish to come to him,” thought Peter. “I wonder if Longlegs never goes hunting.”
As if in answer to Peter’s thought Longlegs seemed to conclude that
no more fish were coming his way. He stretched himself up to his full
height, looked sharply this way and that way to make sure that all was
safe, then began to walk along the edge of the Smiling Pool. He put each
foot down slowly and carefully so as to make no noise. He had gone but
a few steps when that great bill darted down like a flash, and Peter
saw that he had caught a careless young Frog. A few steps farther on he
caught another Pollywog. Then coming to a spot that suited him, he once
more waded in and began to watch for fish.
Great Blue Heron at Lake Morton watching for fish, by Lee
Peter was suddenly reminded of Rattles the Kingfisher, whom he had quite
forgotten. From the Big Hickory-tree on the bank, Rattles flew out over
the Smiling Pool, hovered for an instant, then plunged down head-first.
There was a splash, and a second later Rattles was in the air again,
shaking the water from him in a silver spray. In his long, stout, black
bill was a little fish. He flew back to a branch of the Big Hickory-tree
that hung out over the water and thumped the fish against the branch
until it was dead. Then he turned it about so he could swallow it
head-first. It was a big fish for the size of the fisherman and he had a
dreadful time getting it down. But at last it was down, and Rattles set
himself to watch for another. The sun shone full on him, and Peter gave
a little gasp of surprise.
“I never knew before how handsome Rattles is,” thought Peter. He was
about the size of Yellow Wing the Flicker, but his head made him look
bigger than he really was. You see, the feathers on top of his head
stood up in a crest, as if they had been brushed the wrong way. His
head, back, wings and tail were a bluish-gray. His throat was white and
he wore a white collar. In front of each eye was a little white spot.
Across his breast was a belt of bluish-gray, and underneath he was
white. There were tiny spots of white on his wings, and his tail was
spotted with white. His bill was black and, like that of Longlegs, was
long, and stout, and sharp. It looked almost too big for his size.
Belted Kingfisher; Walton County Georgia
Presently Rattles flew out and plunged into the Smiling Pool again, this
time, very near to where Longlegs was patiently waiting. He caught a
fish, for it is not often that Rattles misses. It was smaller than the
first one Peter had seen him catch, and this time as soon as he got back
to the Big Hickory-tree, he swallowed it without thumping it against the
branch. As for Longlegs, he looked thoroughly put out. For a moment or
two he stood glaring angrily up at Rattles. You see, when Rattles had
plunged so close to Longlegs he had frightened all the fish. Finally
Longlegs seemed to make up his mind that there was room for but one
fisherman at a time at the Smiling Pool. Spreading his great wings,
folding his long neck back on his shoulders, and dragging his long legs
out behind him, he flew heavily away in the direction of the Big River.
Rattles remained long enough to catch another little fish, and then
with a harsh rattle flew off down the Laughing Brook. “I would know him
anywhere by that rattle,” thought Peter. “There isn’t any one who can
make a noise anything like it. I wonder where he has gone to now. He
must have a nest, but I haven’t the least idea what kind of a nest he
builds. Hello! There’s Grandfather Frog over on his green lily pad.
Perhaps he can tell me.”
So Peter hopped along until he was near enough to talk to Grandfather
Frog. “What kind of a nest does Rattles the Kingfisher build?” repeated
Grandfather Frog. “Chug-arum, Peter Rabbit! I thought everybody knew
that Rattles doesn’t build a nest. At least I wouldn’t call it a nest.
He lives in a hole in the ground.”
“What!” cried Peter, and looked as if he couldn’t believe his own ears.
No Breath, but cute -Frog Playing Violin at Swamp Magnolia Plantation by Lee
Grandfather Frog grinned and his goggly eyes twinkled. “Yes,” said he,
“Rattles lives in a hole in the ground.”
“But–but–but what kind of a hole?” stammered Peter.
“Just plain hole,” retorted Grandfather Frog, grinning more broadly than
ever. Then seeing how perplexed and puzzled Peter looked, he went on to
explain. “He usually picks out a high gravelly bank close to the water
and digs a hole straight in just a little way from the top. He makes
it just big enough for himself and Mrs. Rattles to go in and out of
comfortably, and he digs it straight in for several feet. I’m told that
at the end of it he makes a sort of bedroom, because he usually has a
“Do you mean to say that he digs it himself?” asked Peter.
Grandfather Frog nodded. “If he doesn’t, Mrs. Kingfisher does,” he
replied. “Those big bills of theirs are picks as well as fish spears.
They loosen the sand with those and scoop it out with their feet. I’ve
never seen the inside of their home myself, but I’m told that their
bedroom is lined with fish bones. Perhaps you may call that a nest, but
“I’m going straight down the Laughing Brook to look for that hole,”
declared Peter, and left in such a hurry that he forgot to be polite
enough to say thank you to Grandfather Frog.
What kind of birds is Longlegs?
How does Longlegs fish?
How does Longlegs swallow his fish?
What kind of bird is Rattles?
Do Longlegs and Rattles fish the same way?
How does Rattles fish?
Both Longlegs and Rattles fish differently. The Lord created them differently, but they both like fish.
Do we make fun of someone, or tease them if they do something a little differently than we do?
“And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32 NKJV)
Just out of curiosity, and because he possesses what is called the
wandering foot, which means that he delights to roam about, Peter Rabbit
had run over to the bank of the Big River. There were plenty of bushes,
clumps of tall grass, weeds and tangles of vines along the bank of the
Big River, so that Peter felt quite safe there. He liked to sit gazing
out over the water and wonder where it all came from and where it was
going and what, kept it moving.
He was doing this very thing on this particular morning when he happened
to glance up in the blue, blue sky. There he saw a broad-winged bird
sailing in wide, graceful circles. Instantly Peter crouched a little
lower in his hiding-place, for he knew this for a member of the Hawk
family and Peter has learned by experience that the only way to keep
perfectly safe when one of these hook-clawed, hook-billed birds is about
is to keep out of sight.
So now he crouched very close to the ground and kept his eyes fixed on
the big bird sailing so gracefully high up in the blue, blue sky over
the Big River. Suddenly the stranger paused in his flight and for a
moment appeared to remain in one place, his great wings heating rapidly
to hold him there. Then those wings were closed and with a rush he shot
down straight for the water, disappearing with a great splash. Instantly
Peter sat up to his full height that he might see better.
“It’s Plunger the Osprey fishing, and I’ve nothing to fear from him,” he
Out of the water, his great wings flapping, rose Plunger. Peter looked
eagerly to see if he had caught a fish, but there was nothing in
Plunger’s great, curved claws. Either that fish had been too deep or
had seen Plunger and darted away just in the nick of time. Peter had a
splendid view of Plunger. He was just a little bigger than Redtail the
Hawk. Above he was dark brown, his head and neck marked with white. His
tail was grayish, crossed by several narrow dark bands and tipped with
white. His under parts were white with some light brown spots on his
breast. Peter could see clearly the great, curved claws which are
Eastern Osprey trying to catch fish by Ian
Up, up, up he rose, going round and round in a spiral. When he was well
up in the blue, blue sky, he began to sail again in wide circles as when
Peter had first seen him. It wasn’t long before he again paused and
then shot down towards the water. This time he abruptly spread his great
wings just before reaching the water so that he no more than wet his
feet. Once more a fish had escaped him. But Plunger seemed not in the
least discouraged. He is a true fisherman and every true fisherman
possesses patience. Up again he spiraled until he was so high that Peter
wondered how he could possibly see a fish so far below. You see, Peter
didn’t know that it is easier to see down into the water from high above
it than from close to it. Then, too, there are no more wonderful eyes
than those possessed by the members of the Hawk family. And Plunger the
Osprey is a Hawk, usually called Fish Hawk.
Osprey Catching Fish by Ian
A third time Plunger shot down and this time, as in his first attempt,
he struck the water with a great splash and disappeared. In an instant
he reappeared, shaking the water from him in a silver spray and flapping
heavily. This time Fetes could gee a great shining fish in his claws.
It was heavy, as Peter could tell by the way in which Plunger flew. He
headed towards a tall tree on the other bank of the Big River, there to
enjoy his breakfast. He was not more than halfway there when Peter was
startled by a harsh scream.
He looked up to see a great bird, with wonderful broad wings, swinging
in short circles about Plunger. His body and wings were dark brown, and
his head was snowy white, as was his tail. His great hooked beak was
yellow and his legs were yellow. Peter knew in an instant who it was.
There could be no mistake. It was King Eagle, commonly known as Bald
Head, though his head isn’t bald at all.
Peter’s eyes looked as if they would pop out of his head, for it was
quite plain to him that King Eagle was after Plunger, and Peter didn’t
understand this at all. You see, he didn’t understand what King Eagle
was screaming. But Plunger did. King Eagle was screaming, “Drop that
fish! Drop that fish!”
Plunger didn’t intend to drop that fish if he could help himself. It was
his fish. Hadn’t he caught it himself? He didn’t intend to give it up to
any robber of the air, even though that robber was King Eagle himself,
unless he was actually forced to. So Plunger began to dodge and twist
and turn in the air, all the time mounting higher and higher, and all
the time screaming harshly, “Robber! Thief! I won’t drop this fish! It’s
mine! It’s mine!”
Now the fish was heavy, so of course Plunger couldn’t fly as easily and
swiftly as if he were carrying nothing. Up, up he went, but all the time
King Eagle went up with him, circling round him, screaming harshly, and
threatening to strike him with those great cruel, curved claws. Peter
watched them, so excited that he fairly danced. “O, I do hope Plunger
will get away from that big robber,” cried Peter. “He may be king of the
air, but he is a robber just the same.”
Plunger and King Eagle were now high in the air above the Big River.
Suddenly King Eagle swung above Plunger and for an instant seemed to
hold himself still there, just as Plunger had done before he had shot
down into the water after that fish. There was a still harsher note in
King Eagle’s scream. If Peter had been near enough he would have seen
a look of anger and determination in King Eagle’s fierce, yellow eyes.
Plunger saw it and knew what it meant. He knew that King Eagle would
stand for no more fooling. With a cry of bitter disappointment and anger
he let go of the big fish.
Bald Eagle – San Diego Zoo
Down, down, dropped the fish, shining in the sun like a bar of silver.
King Eagle’s wings half closed and he shot down like a thunderbolt. Just
before the fish reached the water King Eagle struck it with his great
claws, checked himself by spreading his broad wings and tail, and then
in triumph flew over to the very tree towards which Plunger had started
when he had caught the fish. There he leisurely made his breakfast,
apparently enjoying it as much as if he had come by it honestly.
As for poor Plunger, he shook himself, screamed angrily once or twice,
then appeared to think that it was wisest to make the best of a bad
matter and that there were more fish where that one had come from, for
he once more began to sail in circles over the Big River, searching
for a fish near the surface. Peter watched him until he saw him catch
another fish and fly away with it in triumph. King Eagle watched him,
too, but having had a good breakfast he was quite willing to let Plunger
enjoy his catch in peace.
Late that afternoon Peter visited the Old Orchard, for he just had to
tell Jenny Wren all about what he had seen that morning.
“King Eagle is king simply because he is so big and fierce and strong,”
sputtered Jenny. “He isn’t kingly in his habits, not the least bit. He
never hesitates to rob those smaller than himself, just as you saw him
rob Plunger. He is very fond of fish, and once in a while he catches one
for himself when Plunger isn’t around to be robbed, but he isn’t a very
good fisherman, and he isn’t the least bit fussy about his fish. Plunger
eats only fresh fish which he catches himself, but King Eagle will eat
dead fish which he finds on the shore. He doesn’t seem to care how long
they have been dead either.”
“Doesn’t he eat anything but fish?” asked Peter innocently.
“Well,” retorted Jenny Wren, her eyes twinkling, “I wouldn’t advise you
to run across the Green Meadows in sight of King Eagle. I am told he is
very fond of Rabbit. In fact he is very fond of fresh meat of any kind.
He even catches the babies of Lightfoot the Deer when he gets a chance.
He is so swift of wing that even the members of the Duck family fear
him, for he is especially fond of fat Duck. Even Honker the Goose is not
safe from him. King he may he, but he rules only through fear. He is
a white-headed old robber. The best thing I can say of him is that he
takes a mate for life and is loyal and true to her as long as she lives,
and that is a great many years. By the way, Peter, did you know that
she is bigger than he is, and that the young during the first year after
leaving their nest, are bigger than their parents and do not have white
heads? By the time they get white heads they are the same size as their
“That’s odd and its hard to believe,” said Peter.
“It is odd, but it is true just the same, whether you believe it or
not,” retorted Jenny Wren, and whisked out of sight into her home.
What kind of bird is Plunger?
Who was watching Plunger trying to catch a fish?
How many tries did it take to catch a fish?
Do you give up after the first try, or do you keep trying to accomplish (finish) a goal?
What happened to the fish?
Did both birds have a meal?
Is it right to steal?
“You shall not steal, nor deal falsely, nor lie to one another.” (Leviticus 19:11 NKJV)
One of our readers asked if I might continue this Burgess Bird Book for Children Series in the Bird Tales section. [She is reading them to her children.] Since I already have the stories, photos, and recordings on my computer, I agreed. Here is Chapter 19, and there are 45 chapters all total. So, STAY TUNED!
Chapter 19. A Maker of Thunder and a Friend in Black.
Listen to the story read.
Peter Rabbit’s intentions were of the best. Once safely away from that lonesome part of the Green Forest where was the home of Redtail the Hawk, he intended to go straight back to the dear Old Briar-patch. But he was not halfway there when from another direction in the Green Forest there came a sound that caused him to stop short and quite forget all about home. It was a sound very like distant thunder. It began slowly at first and then went faster and faster. Boom–Boom–Boom–Boom-Boom-Boom Boo-Boo-B-B-B-B-b-b-b-b-boom! It was like the long roll on a bass drum.
Peter laughed right out. “That’s Strutter the Stuffed Grouse!” he cried joyously. “I had forgotten all about him. I certainly must go over and pay him a call and find out where Mrs. Grouse is. My, how Strutter can drum!”
Peter promptly headed towards that distant thunder. As he drew nearer to it, it sounded louder and louder. Presently Peter stopped to try to locate exactly the place where that sound, which now was more than ever like thunder, was coming from. Suddenly Peter remembered something. “I know just where he is,” said he to himself. “There’s a big, mossy, hollow log over yonder, and I remember that Mrs. Grouse once told me that that is Strutter’s thunder log.”
Very, very carefully Peter stole forward, making no sound at all. At last he reached a place where he could peep out and see that big, mossy, hollow log. Sure enough, there was Strutter the Ruffed Grouse. When Peter first saw him he was crouched on one end of the log, a fluffy ball of reddish-brown, black and gray feathers. He was resting. Suddenly he straightened up to his full height, raised his tail and spread it until it was like an open fan above his back. The outer edge was gray, then came a broad band of black, followed by bands of gray, brown and black. Around his neck was a wonderful ruff of black. His reddish-brown wings were dropped until the tips nearly touched the log. His full breast rounded out and was buff color with black markings. He was of about the size of the little Bantam hens Peter had seen in Farmer Brown’s henyard.
Ruffed Grouse (Bonasa umbellus) by Raymond Barlow
In the most stately way you can imagine Strutter walked the length of that mossy log. He was a perfect picture of pride as he strutted very much like Tom Gobbler the big Turkey cock. When he reached the end of the log he suddenly dropped his tail, stretched himself to his full height and his wings began to beat, first slowly then faster and faster, until they were just a blur. They seemed to touch above his back but when they came down they didn’t quite strike his sides. It was those fast moving wings that made the thunder. It was so loud that Peter almost wanted to stop his ears. When it ended Strutter settled down to rest and once more appeared like a ball of fluffy feathers. His ruff was laid flat.
Peter watched him thunder several times and then ventured to show himself. “Strutter, you are wonderful! simply wonderful!” cried Peter, and he meant just what he said.
Strutter threw out his chest proudly. “That is just what Mrs. Grouse says,” he replied. “I don’t know of any better thunderer if I do say it myself.”
“Speaking of Mrs. Grouse, where is she?” asked Peter eagerly.
“Attending to her household affairs, as a good housewife should,” retorted Strutter promptly.
“Do you mean she has a nest and eggs?” asked Peter.
Strutter nodded. “She has twelve eggs,” he added proudly.
“I suppose,” said Peter artfully, “her nest is somewhere near here on the ground.”
“It’s on the ground, Peter, but as to where it is I am not saying a word. It may or it may not be near here. Do you want to hear me thunder again?”
Of course Peter said he did, and that was sufficient excuse for Strutter to show off. Peter stayed a while longer to gossip, but finding Strutter more interested in thundering than in talking, he once more started for home.
“I really would like to know where that nest is,” said he to himself as he scampered along. “I suppose Mrs. Grouse has hidden it so cleverly that it is quite useless to look for it.”
On his way he passed a certain big tree. All around the ground was carpeted with brown, dead leaves. There were no bushes or young trees there. Peter never once thought of looking for a nest. It was the last place in the world he would expect to find one. When he was well past the big tree there was a soft chuckle and from among the brown leaves right at the foot of that big tree a head with a pair of the brightest eyes was raised a little. Those eyes twinkled as they watched Peter out of sight.
“He didn’t see me at all,” chuckled Mrs. Grouse, as she settled down once more. “That is what comes of having a cloak so like the color of these nice brown leaves. He isn’t the first one who has passed me without seeing me at all. It is better than trying to hide a nest, and I certainly am thankful to Old Mother Nature for the cloak she gave me. I wonder if every one of these twelve eggs will hatch. If they do, I certainly will have a family to be proud of.”
Meanwhile Peter hurried on in his usual happy-go-lucky fashion until he came to the edge of the Green Forest. Out on the Green Meadows just beyond he caught sight of a black form walking about in a stately way and now and then picking up something. It reminded him of Blacky the Crow, but he knew right away that it wasn’t Blacky, because it was so much smaller, being not more than half as big.
Grackle by Dan
“It’s Creaker the Grackle. He was one of the first to arrive this spring and I’m ashamed of myself for not having called on him,” thought Peter, as he hopped out and started across the Green Meadows towards Creaker. “What a splendid long tail he has. I believe Jenny Wren told me that he belongs to the Blackbird family. He looks so much like Blacky the Crow that I suppose this is why they call him Crow Blackbird.”
Just then Creaker turned in such a way that the sun fell full on his head and back. “Why! Why-ee!” exclaimed Peter, rubbing his eyes with astonishment. “He isn’t just black! He’s beautiful, simply beautiful, and I’ve always supposed he was just plain, homely black.”
It was true. Creaker the Grackle with the sun shining on him was truly beautiful. His head and neck, his throat and upper breast, were a shining blue-black, while his back was a rich, shining brassy-green. His wings and tail were much like his head and neck. As Peter watched it seemed as if the colors were constantly changing. This changing of colors is called iridescence. One other thing Peter noticed and this was that Creaker’s eyes were yellow. Just at the moment Peter couldn’t remember any other bird with yellow eyes.
“Creaker,” cried Peter, “I wonder if you know how handsome you are!”
“I’m glad you think so,” replied Creaker. “I’m not at all vain, but there are mighty few birds I would change coats with.”
“Is–is–Mrs. Creaker dressed as handsomely as you are?” asked Peter rather timidly.
Creaker shook his head. “Not quite,” said he. “She likes plain black better. Some of the feathers on her back shine like mine, but she says that she has no time to show off in the sun and to take care of fine feathers.”
“Where is she now?” asked Peter.
“Over home,” replied Creaker, pulling a white grub out of the roots of the grass. “We’ve got a nest over there in one of those pine-trees on the edge of the Green Forest and I expect any day now we will have four hungry babies to feed. I shall have to get busy then. You know I am one of those who believe that every father should do his full share in taking care of his family.”
“I’m glad to hear you say it,” declared Peter, nodding his head with approval quite as if he was himself the best of fathers, which he isn’t at all.
“May I ask you a very personal question, Creaker?”
“Ask as many questions as you like. I don’t have to answer them unless I want to,” retorted Creaker.
“Is it true that you steal the eggs of other birds?” Peter blurted the question out rather hurriedly.
Creaker’s yellow eyes began to twinkle. “That is a very personal question,” said he. “I won’t go so far as to say I steal eggs, but I’ve found that eggs are very good for my constitution and if I find a nest with nobody around I sometimes help myself to the eggs. You see the owner might not come back and then those eggs would spoil, and that would be a pity.”
“That’s no excuse at all,” declared Peter. “I believe you’re no better than Sammy Jay and Blacky the Crow.”
Creaker chuckled, but he did not seem to be at all offended. Just then he heard Mrs. Creaker calling him and with a hasty farewell he spread his wings and headed for the Green Forest. Once in the air he seemed just plain black. Peter watched him out of sight and then once more headed for the dear Old Briar-patch.
“There are three things which are stately in their march, Even four which are stately when they walk: The lion which is mighty among beasts And does not retreat before any, The strutting rooster, the male goat also, And a king when his army is with him. If you have been foolish in exalting yourself Or if you have plotted evil, put your hand on your mouth.” (Proverbs 30:29-32 NASB)
Who did Peter hear first in the forest?
What did that bird sound like? What kind of instrument?
Are we supposed to act better than others?
Did he find Mrs. Grouse? Why not?
How is the Grackle different from a Crow?
“A friend loveth at all times,…” (Proverbs 17:17a KJV)
Limpkin and Dan at South Lake Howard Reserve – 2017
We believe it is time to rest from our labors at Lee’s Birdwatching Adventures Plus. This blog has attempted over the years to present the Lord’s Avian Wonders from many different perspectives. It has been a delight to present these fantastic birds in such different views, thanks to some very talented photographers. Also, to have different writers adding such information from so many places and ways of thinking about the birds of the world.
Is the blog shutting down? NO! NO! NO!
We have so many informative and useful posts to be explored that are great reading and references. (This is from remarks of our readers over the years.) I, Lee, am working behind the scenes trying to improve the Menu structures that was developed along the way. I’m trying to clean up broken links to sites that are no longer active, and make it easier to find information, photos, videos, and stories about our wonderfully created birds.
Snowy Egret and Lee Gatorland by Dan -2015
Also, Dan and I are getting older, 82 and 78, so we are starting to feel it. Our birdwatching adventures have just about slowed to a crawl. We do move a bit faster than that though. :) It’s time! We have tried to do our best in honoring our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who is our Great Creator.
“I (we) have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith:” (2 Timothy 4:7 KJV)
Thought you might like a look at a bit of the history of Lee’s Birdwatching Adventures. The blog was moved over here to WordPress on July 5. 2008 (almost 14 years ago). It had started a few months earlier on another platform.
Boat-billed Heron over Dan’s Shoulder by Lee at LPZ
As of today, we have had almost 2,292,000 visitors. We have had 8-10 writers, besides myself, writing articles. I am so thankful for all of them, especially the regulars whom you can find in the side menu. Plus, all the photographers who have contributed so many fantastic photos to be used here.
Feeding White Ibises at Lake Morton [Dr. JJS Johnson, Baron (Golden Eagle), and Dan], by Lee – 2016
Here are some more statistics, if you are interested:
Comments – 8,201
Posts – 3945
Pages – 1207 (more to come as I work on the structure to help find information)
10.8 gigabytes of Media (photos, videos, music, etc.)
Branched out to make a Birds of the Bible for Kids blog and have now brought those articles back under this umbrella. (These are helpful for younger readers.)
Lee at Lake Morton by Dan – 2013
As I work through setting our blog up for the future, I trust you will continue to stop by and enjoy these posts, photos, and other blessings. [I used my most favorite picture of Dan for the featured image.]
This is not the last article coming out, but they will be less frequent than previously posted.
The next two birds in the IOC list of Tringas are the two Tattlers, the Wandering and the Grey-tailed, so called one assumes because they are fairly vocal.
I did a comparison between the two species in Irregular Bird #195 in January 2007 (or Bird of the Week as it was called then). Here it is:
This week’s bird – or birds as I’ve included a relative for comparison – the Wandering Tattler is for those who appreciated subtlety, or at least acknowledge the challenge in identifying waders. The Wandering Tattler (Tringa incana) in non-breeding plumage is very similar to its much commoner (in Australia) cousin the Grey-tailed Tattler (Tringa brevipes). I’ve put numbers on the image of the Grey-tailed Tattler to highlight the differences:
Grey-tailed Tattler by Ian
In the Grey-tailed Tattler, the white eyebrow extends behind the eye (1) and forward across the forehead (2); the cheek is whiter (3); the flanks are whiter (4); the bill is longer and more slender (5) and the wing tips, relative to the tail, are shorter (6). The Wandering Tattler is darker overall and particularly on the back and crown and to me looked browner rather than grey-brown. If you think this is all too hard, the calls come to the rescue, being quite different. The Wandering has a trilling call of 6 – 10 accelerating notes, while the Grey-tailed has a drawn out 2 syllable call.
Wandering Tattler (Tringa incana) by Ian
The Grey-tailed Tattler is a (southern-) summer on the coast all round Australia on mudflats and reefs, while the Wandering is an uncommon summer visitor to the east and north coasts, with a preference for wave-washed rocks on the island of the Great Barrier Reef.
Since then I’ve photographed them in breeding plumage, when it’s easier to distinguish the two species. Both are barred on the breast and flanks, but only the Wandering has barring on the belly. The Grey-tailed retains the white belly even in breeding plumage. The one below in the third photo is feeding in a typical habitat in shallow water on a mudflat.
Here’s another Grey-tailed in breeding plumage swallowing a small crab at sunset. This might look more like the habitat of the Wandering Tattler, but it’s actually a stony area on a beach rather than a rocky headland.
This Wandering Tattler, below, is feeding in a typical habitat for this species, on a rocky foreshore with plenty of invertebrate prey on a Pacific Island. The tourist literature about Norfolk Island says that the name Slaughter Bay isn’t as ominous as it sounds, being derived from an “Old English word” meaning “slow-moving water”. Given that strong currents are reported in Slaughter Bay, that I could find no aquatic suggestions for “Slaughter” in dictionaries or online, and that Norfolk Island has a turbulent history as a convict settlement, I suspect that this is an explanation of which the Kremlin could be proud.
Wandering Tattlers in Australia are most likely to be seen on rocky islands, but they do turn up occasionally on the mainland as well, with records all on the east coast from Cape York to eastern Victoria. The one below was one of a pair that spent some time on the Townsville Breakwater in 2008 and there are more recent records there in 2010 and 2022. This photo clearly shows the grey patch on the forehead between the two short white eye-stripes.
The Grey-tailed Tattlers in this photo are also perched on rocks and pretending they’re Wandering Tattlers. In fact they are waiting for the tide to go out so they can feed on the neighbouring mudflats. The one on the left is in transitional plumage with barring developing on the breast.
Grey-tailed Tattler by Ian
Both species are accomplished migrants, breeding in northern latitudes and spending the northern winter in the tropics and southern hemisphere. The Grey-tailed Tattler breeds in inland northeastern Siberia and western Siberia and winters across a wide range from the Bay of Bengal and Taiwan through southeastern Asia to Australia and New Zealand. The Wandering breeds in Alaska and in neighbouring parts of Canada south to northwestern British Columbia. It winters all along the west coast of the Americas from southwestern British Columbia to Chile and across Pacific coast and islands from Japan to New Zealand, through Micronesia, Polynesia to Pitcairn Island and Easter Island.
In terms of conservation, the Wandering Tattler has a status of Least Concern, while the Grey-tailed has been uplisted from Least Concern to Near Threatened in 2014. This reflects some decline in numbers, probably as a result of land reclamation along the migratory stopovers in China.
“So God created great sea creatures and every living thing that moves, with which the waters abounded, according to their kind, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” So the evening and the morning were the fifth day.” (Genesis 1:21-23 NKJV)
You have got to check out this interesting article from Birds & Blooms!!
Still haven’t been doing much birdwatching lately, except through my back door. So, I trust you will enjoy these great photos. We have had some nice photos of hummingbirds here over the years, but these are all right together.
You may remember from the last Irregular Bird (Green Sandpiper) that the plan is to work through all the waders in the genus Tringa, the Shanks and relatives, in the order used by the IOC, below. This is the next one the Solitary Sandpiper.
It’s fairly similar to the Green Sandpiper and they were originally treated as a single species. In fact, they are easy to distinguish in flight as the Green Sandpiper has a white rump and a tail with side to side barring, while the central feathers of the rump and tail of the Solitary Sandpiper are brown creating a longitudinal stripe. These features are visible under the flight feathers in the first photo and shown in a drawing later.
In practice you can also use their ranges as the Green Sandpiper occurs in Eurasia and Africa, while the Solitary Sandpiper is an American species. It nesting range is almost entirely in Canada and Alaska. It migrates through the United States and winters in Mexico, Central America, and in northern, central and eastern South America as far south as Peru in the west and northern Argentina in the east.
I haven’t got photos of either species in flight so here is a crude drawing to illustrate the difference in flight pattern. Don’t take too much notice of anything except the different rumps, tail and length of the legs. The latter are longer and protrude farther beyond the tail in the Solitary Sandpiper. So, if you’re a dedicated twitcher, as I am now, keep a beady eye out for something special if you are in a place where either or both of these birds don’t usually occur. There are a few records of Green Sandpipers in northern Australia and a few records of Solitary Sandpiper in Siberia and Western Europe.
There isn’t much difference among the plumages of breeding adults, non-breeding adults, and juveniles though there is less streaking in juveniles and the spots on breeding adults are whiter, rather than buff and more conspicuous. I think the bird in the second photo in Trinidad is a juvenile, the one in the third photo in Brazil is an adult but I don’t know about the one in the first photo. If you’re an expert on the plumages of Solitary Sandpipers, I’d be happy to get your opinion: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Actually, I misidentified the two in Trinidad as Spotted Sandpipers in non-breeding plumage but maybe I had Spotted Sandpiper on the brain as I’d seen the one in the third photo in Tobago eleven days earlier. Non-breeding Spotted Sandpipers don’t have spots (go figure, as they say), just a little barring on the wings but they have conspicuous long white eyebrow stripes and shorter, much yellower legs, so I lack a reasonable excuse for the confusion.
Like their Eurasian cousins, Solitary Sandpipers breed in trees and shrubs using the old nests of thrushes. It so happens that the range of perhaps the commonest thrush in North America, the American Robin, overlaps the range of the Solitary Sandpiper in Canada and Alaska. The Robin, despite its name which is based on colour not taxonomy, is a Thrush and a close relative of the Eurasian Blackbird and is the most likely candidate as a provider of nests, though not much is known about the breeding behaviour of the Sandpiper.
So how does the Solitary Sandpiper get its name? Amazingly, unlike most waders which believe in safety in numbers, it migrates either alone or in small groups and often appear at stopovers or at the destination in ones or twos. It migrates mostly at night. I don’t know whether juvenile birds instinctively know where to go or whether the adults teach them. The mind boggles at what we don’t know about bird migration.
Jeff Larsen sent me this lovely photo of two birds together in Washington state, so they’re clearly not completely antisocial. He calls them Solitary Chickens, which appeals to me and he gave me permission to share this photo with you.
Solitary Sandpipers are birds of freshwater and are usually found on small ponds or in marshy areas, even in winter. We spotted the one in Brazil in a roadside pond in the Pantanal.
Next time we’ll talk about the Tattlers, two rather similar species that are next on the IOC list.
The last irregular bird, Nordmann’s Greenshank, could have had a sub-heading of The Joys of Twitching. In it, I confessed to being a Twitcher at heart, discarding the respectable facade of “Wildlife Photographer”. Here follows the justifications, or at least illustrations of why it can be enjoyable. The background to this particular obsession/passion was the fact that, worldwide, there are thirteen species of Tringa sandpipers, or Shanks, characterised by different coloured legs. I had reasonable photos of all of them except the rarest, Nordmann’s Greenshank, since 2008 (when I photographed the second last one, the Willet of North America). That is, the seven-year itch twice over.
If you are, or ever were, a stamp collector, you would know the feeling. Suppose the following stamps are from a set of 13 stamps of Queen Victoria, including the first ever stamp, the Penny Black and imagine you have all of them except the rarest, the iconic Two Penny Blue, issued shortly after the first ever stamp, The Penny Black, in May 1840.
Imagine the thrill when you finally lay your hands on one, as I did in the 1960s. This one is a rather daggy example, but it is one from the original two plates issued until February 1841 and lacking white lines under “POSTAGE” and above “TWO PENCE”. The much commoner later series called ‘white lines added issue’ continued until 1858. I’m still a kid at heart, and the subtlety of distinguishing different series of Two Penny Blues has a similar appeal to separating Common and Nordmann’s Greenshank.
Alternatively, maybe you were or are a card player. Suppose you’re playing a game in which you the best hand is an entire suit of cards, say a complete Straight Flush, as opposed to a mere Royal Straight Flush in Poker, but you lack the Queen.
At long last, after fourteen nail-biting years, you finally get the missing card. I’ve chosen the Queen as it’s number twelve (if you have the Ace as the first rather than the last in the suit) and Nordmann’s Greenshank is also the twelfth Tringa if you follow the IOC classification of birds. Continuing the metaphor, I’ve chosen Spades as the Queen of Spades is the most valuable card in the game Hearts. The metaphor fails if you go any further, because in Hearts, a vicious game which we loved as kids, the aim is not to win points and to force your opponents to get a high score, It’s Whist in reverse. Clearly, I also have a passion for Queens.
After that it’s just a question of whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert. An introvert gets a deep personal satisfaction from achieving a complete collection, an extrovert gets a sense of triumph in beating the competition. Of course, you may be a bit of both: I’m mainly an introvert, but publishing all this stuff as the Irregular Bird, showing off obviously, is characteristic of extroverts.
So, back to Tringas. Waders (birdway) are fascinating birds, not least because many of them migrate extraordinary distances. As a consequence, they’re of special interest to twitchers when avian GPSs go awry and they end up in strange places. Many species, however, are hard to distinguish in non-breeding plumages, which is how we usually see them in temperate and tropical latitudes except just before the migration back to the breeding zones. Most, but not all, of the Shanks are fairly easy to identify because of their coloured legs; many of them having corresponding common names as you can see in the IOC table. Four of them, comprising the two Redshanks and the two Tattlers, have featured as Irregular Birds in the past, so I want to do a series on the remaining eight and I’ll do them in the IOC order shown in the table at the beginning of this article. The first is the Green Sandpiper.
The breeding range of the Green Sandpiper stretches right across northern Eurasian from Norway to Siberia and it winters mainly in tropical Africa, South and Southeast Asia, around the Mediterranean and, to a lesser extent in Western Europe. It’s mainly a bird of fresh water marshy areas even in the non-breeding zones. I’ve photographed it only once, in India in 2003, though I had seen it in England in the 1960s before I came to Australia.It’s even rarer in Australia than Nordmann’s Greenshank with only one confirmed record, near Darwin in 1998. There are a few unconfirmed records but care needs to be taken to distinguish it from the closely related Solitary Sandpiper of America and the Wood Sandpiper.
In fact, I mistakenly identified the Indian bird as a Wood Sandpiper, reasonably common in Australia and also a fresh water species, and posted it as such to the website, and only years later did the twitcher in me take a closer look and realise happily that it was actually a Green Sandpiper. Distinguishing features of the Green Sandpiper include larger size, bulkier appearance, short white eye-stripe ending at eye, longer bill, shorter, greenish legs, sharp gradation from streaked breast to white belly and, particularly in breeding plumage like this one, darker, greener rather than brown upper parts.
I mentioned when discussing the unusual arboreal nest building habits of Nordmann’s Greenshank that the Green and Solitary Sandpipers also nest in trees, but use the old nests of thrushes. Coincidentally the name Tringa comes from a description of a thrush-sized waterbird by Aristotle (“trungas”). He didn’t distinguish it further but later authors have suggested it was a sandpiper, a Wagtail Motacilla or a Dipper Cinclus. Thanks very much. While we’re at it, ochropus means pale-yellow footed, while the specific identifier of Normann’s Greenshank, guttifer, means spotted, which isn’t very illuminating either. Aristotle preceded the taxonomic and evolutionary ideas of Linnaeus and Darwin, and “thrush-like waterbird” is a reasonable description, except for the length of the legs. He was interested in biology, classified 500 species of animals in the work later known by philosophers as the Scala Naturae and would have been familiar with the Song Thrush, below, in Greece. The Scala Naturae was approved by the Christian Church (and probably all others) as it is hierarchical in form with man at the top, towering above all the lower species.
On the subject of passion and obsession, I’ve decided that the difference is mainly one of perception. A person might think they (in deference to gender fluidity) have a passion for another person and, if not reciprocated, the other party might regard it as an obsession. My cousin in Ireland suggests that obsessions have a negative effect, so maybe it’s more than just perception. Either way, I’ll continue the passion for Tringas next time with the closely related but geographically distinct (“allopatric”), thrush-nest-using, Solitary Sandpiper of America.
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Because it’s so long since the last irregular bird, here is a special one of a very rare wader that has become something of a celebrity, perhaps the most photographed individual bird in Australian history. So you may already have superb photos of it, and I apologize in advance if you find this boring. Nordmann’s Greenshank is, sadly, one of the rarest waders in the world with a population of probably less than 2,000 individuals and a red book status of endangered as its population is declining.
Nordmann’s Greenshank (Tringa guttifer) by Ian
Its breeding range is along the coast of the Sea of Okhotsk in Siberia and is subject to disturbance from oil and gas extraction. It normally winters in southeast Asia and, very occasionally, birds end up in Australia. There are three records from wader counts along 80 Mile Beach near Broome in NW Western Australia, and this one. It first appeared in Cairns in the (northern) winter of 2021 and stayed around long enough for anyone able to navigate covid restrictions and see it. I couldn’t drive to Cairns then and resigned myself to the prospect of missing out on it. To everyone’s surprise, it reappeared this year and the scramble to see it started again.
Nordmann’s Greenshank (Tringa guttifer) by Ian
I drove the 340km/210 miles to Cairns at the end of January to catch up with some good friends of long standing from Victoria. They were on the hunt for it, in airline transit from a boat trip to Torres Strait islands to Iron Range National Park on Cape York. We spent four days checking every wader along the Cairns Esplanade at suitable and sometimes unsuitable tides without success. It definitely wasn’t there, but reappeared when they had gone to Cape York and I had returned to Townsville. I rejoined them in Cairns for two days, when it did its disappearing act again, only to reappear for them after I’d returned to Townsville for a meeting that, in hindsight, I deeply regretted attending. so I dropped everything again and returned to Cairns, determined to see and photograph it.
On the second morning of my third visit, the bird relented and I spent an exciting two hours as the incoming tide slowly coaxed it closer and closer. Ultimately, I ended up sitting a mere 6m/20ft from it on the sandy edge of the mudflat, second photo, having taken more than 400 photos. I’ll talk about obsession later. Then I rang Trish, the friend with whom I went to Brazil pre-Covid, who was flying from Brisbane to Townsville that afternoon and suggested she fly to Cairns instead. Which she did, changing her flight at the airport, and we got lovely views of it the following day. We also visited the wonderful Bill Cooper exhibition of tropical bird and fruit paintings at the Cairns Gallery.
Nordmann’s Greenshank (Tringa guttifer) by Ian
Trish suggested bringing our painter/birder friend Marjory and a botanist friend Chrissa to Cairns to see the bird and the exhibition before the latter finished on the 13 February. So we came up again at the weekend, this time in her larger, more comfortable car and saw both the exhibition and the bird yet again. What fun.
Nordmann’s Greenshank (Tringa guttifer) by Ian
Time to mention the bird itself. It looks quite similar to the Common Greenshank and, slightly less so, to the Terek Sandpiper, both of which were present along the Esplanade. The first photo shows some of the diagnostic features: shorter, yellowish rather than greenish legs, the more robust bi-coloured bill (paler at the base) and shorter legs and bigger head (‘bull-headed’) which give it a rather stocky appearance. It’s behaviour when feeding is different too, and when one becomes accustomed to it, this is a good distinction at a distance, with poor light or muddy legs and bill. In the third and fourth photos it is feeding actively in shallow water, attempting to catch prey with a stabbing motion. It also uses its slightly upcurved bill to sieve the water surface by sweeping it back and forth, in a similar way to other waders with such bills such as the Terek Sandpiper and the Avocets. The fifth photo shows its size relative to a Bar-tailed Godwit, left, and a Great Knot, right.
Nordmann’s Greenshank (Tringa guttifer) by Ian
The second photo shows it standing on one leg, a pose it adopted often using one or the other leg, when resting or roosting (second and fifth photos) and when forced by the tide to move, it often hopped quite long distances to do so, sixth photo. In flight, last photo, the shorter legs protrude less beyond the tail than those of the Common Greenshank, it has less barring on the tail, whiter underwing coverts contrasting with dark flight feathers and it look stockier. Not much is known about its breeding habits, though it’s the only shorebird known to often build its own nest in trees. unlike its tree nesting relatives the Green and Solitary Sandpipers which use old nests of thrushes.
Nordmann’s Greenshank (Tringa guttifer) by Ian
This whole saga has revived my interest in bird photography, which rather flagged during Covid, when I took up other interests less dependent on mobility. It was also a time for personal honesty and admitting my twitching tendencies to myself rather than hiding behind the more dignified facade of a wildlife photographer. Next time, I’ll talk a bit more about the joy of twitching and explain why getting photos of this particular species was so important for me. I’m still pondering the difference between a passion and an obsession.