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Sunday, November 27, 2016

Birding the Tiger's Kingdom Part II: Indian Vulture, Jacobin Cuckoo and Indian Stone-curlew

[Outskirts of RNP. June 2016]

Not all the birds in the Tiger's Kingdom necessitate a journey into the heart of the jungle -- indeed, many can be found within the buffer zone and in the outskirts of Ranthambhore National Park itself. Species such as:

  • Indian Vulture
  • Jacobin Cuckoo
  • Indian Stone-curlew
  • Common Babbler
  • Chestnut-shouldered Petronia
  • Red collared Dove
  • Brown Crake
  • Ashy-crowned sparrow-lark
  • Indian Pond Heron
  • Brahminy Starling
  • Southern Grey Shrike
  • Baya Weaver
  • Indian Paradise Flycatcher
  • Hoopoe
  • Rufous tailed Lark
  • Rufous Treepie 
We start with the Indian Vulture:

This is a Critically Endangered species, and its horrific flirtation with extinction is a well documented example of the law of unintended consequences. Not dissimilar to the DDT-precipitated catastrophe of raptors here in the US in the 70's, the vultures in India are now down to an alarming 5% of their prior numbers due to the veterinary drug diclofenac. Like the "Midas Touch" in reverse, it seems that everything we touch is ecologically cursed.

Jacobin Cuckoo is found in both Africa and India. And, while Southern populations in either location are year-round residents, the East African population of this cuckoo migrates over Arabia and into North-Central India in the summer to breed. This is a a rare example of West-to-East migration as most migrations run South to North.

This handsome bird is also known as the Pied crested Cuckoo and is a vocal songster in the monsoon season.

Our next species is a shorebird --Indian Stone-curlew:

Earlier considered conspecific with Eurasian Thick-knee, this Stone-curlew is now a species in its own right and is endemic to the Subcontinent.

Next,  Common Babbler is a laughingthrush whose nest is often brood parasitized by the Jacobin Cuckoo.

From laughingthrushes, we change gears to sparrows; and, Chestnut-shouldered Petronia, while drab, is famously recognized as the "spark bird" for India's foremost ornithologist -- Dr. Salim Ali.

The monsoon unleashes a wave of fecundity and seemingly everywhere, cuckoos and pitta's are singing and even this Red Turtle Dove is carrying nesting material:

This is also known as the Red collared dove and indeed looks like a colorful version of Eurasian collared dove.

Less conspicuous was this Brown Crake -- and like most rails, it is shy and skittish:

Next, Ashy-crowned Sparrow-Lark is known for assuming a crouching position in order to blend in with its surroundings:

This lark is almost invisible save for its bold facial markings.

Anoher master of the disappearing act is the Indian Pond Heron which can fool its prey by remaining completely motionless:

Other species included Brahminy Starling:

Southern Grey Shrike:

and Mrs and Mr Baya Weaver:

And, the fantastically flamboyant Indian Paradise Flycatcher -- here seen in the splendid white morph version:

The Hoopoe is the national bird of Israel. It is wonderfully unique -- so unique that no other species is housed in the same family.

This bird feeds on the ground like a shorebird with its large, down-curved bill, nests in tree cavities like a woodpecker, and sports a showy crest like a cockatoo

Also seen were two "Rufous" monikered species:

Rufous-tailed Lark:

And, Rufous Treepie:

Like other Jays, these colorful corvids are comfortable around humans, endlessly curious and noisy in equal measure.

Finally, some bonus critters:  
  • Indian Mongoose
  • Jackal 
  • Monitor

Indian Mongoose:

In an intriguing example of convergent evolution, the mongoose occupies the same ecological niche as weasels and stoats.
Indian Jackal:

And, Monitor Lizard:

The treasures of wildlife can be found in the lush jungles of the Indian plains; yet, they also eke out an existence wherever human activity affords them a toehold such as in the rural areas of Sawai Madhopur where they await discovery from the intrepid birder.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Welcome California Scrub-Jay plus Nuttall's Woodpecker and Western Meadowlark

[California. March 2016]

It is indeed a special moment to be witness to the introduction of a brand new species into the ABA area; yet that is exactly the good fortune that has befallen collectively on all birders in 2016 with the historic splitting of Western Scrub-Jay into California Scrub-Jay and Woodhouse's Scrub-Jay (see article here).

It is not often that we see the making of taxonomic history right in front of our eyes; and thus in euphoric celebration of this glorious occasion, we profile the California Scrub-Jay -- a delightful corvid that was observed earlier this year together with some other species typical of the area:
  • California Scrub-Jay
  • Nuttall's Woodpecker
  • Icterids: Western Meadowlark, Brewer's Blackbird, Tricolored Blackbird and Red-winged Blackbird 
  • Small songbirds: Audbon's Warbler, Ruby-crowned Kinglet
We start by welcoming California Scrub-Jay as a new species to the US:

California Scrub-Jay is a bright blue jay with a black mask, a faint blue necklace and pale undersides.

California Scrub-Jay is primarily coastal (here observed at Los Pensaquitos, San Diego) and ranges from Baja California to Washington State.

Woodhouse's Scrub-Jay, on the other hand, is found in the interior West -- from Nevada to Texas:

Here seen at Tres Pistolas (New Mexico), it is a duller blue, with a duller mask and greyer undersides. The faint necklace is also largely absent. In addition to the plumage, differences also exist in vocalization and bill shape.

Next, Nutall's Woodpecker is a virtual endemic to the state of California:

Here seen at Ramona Grasslands, this small woodpecker favors oak habitat.

Over to Icterids, we start with Western Meadowlark:

Also seen at Ramona Grasslands, this beautiful songster is virtually indistinguishable from its Eastern namesake and best separated by vocalization and range.

Farther north, Brewer's Blackbird was observed in Coyote Valley:

More common is Red-winged Blackbird:

But, perhaps the most notable Icterid observed was Tricolored Blackbird:

A female observed in the same area -- this species is listed as "Endangered" and has suffered a catastrophic decline in numbers thanks to the twin evils of over-development and destructive agricultural practices.

On the small songbird front:

Audubon's Warbler was observed (at Los Pensaquitos) and Ruby-crowned Kinglet at Ramona Grasslands:

Splits and lumps are a fact of life for birders; yet each such event affords an opportunity to reacquaint and rediscover; and, the spectacular California Scrub-Jay is a prime example of a species that invites our attention to renew our relationship with what once was known to us simply as "Western Scrub-Jay".

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Madera Canyon Delights: Elegant Trogon, Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher and Blue Grosbeak

[Madera Canyon, SEAZ. August 2016]

Just as Black-whiskered Vireo, Snail Kite and Mangrove Cuckoo are synonymous with South Florida, so is SE Arizona the best venue in the country for Elegant Trogon, Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher and Broad-billed Hummingbird -- all species that we shall savor in this post thanks to a late summer trip to the Tucson area.

South of Tucson, the fabled hotspot that is Madera Canyon, serves as a veritable avian pilgrimage site for birders and nature-lovers alike. And here, this blogger (armed with his travel camera kit) was able to observe the following delightful species which in many respects typify SEAZ: 

  • Elegant Trogon
  • Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher
  • Blue Grosbeak
  • Broad-billed Hummingbird
  • Black-chinned Hummingbird
  • Mexican Jay
  • Bridled Titmouse
  • Painted Redstart
  • Montezuma Quail
  • Acorn Woodpecker
  • Red-tailed Hawk 
We start with the Trogon:

This stunning female was seen in the upper reaches of the canyon; a little lower on the trail where a resplendent male was seen two years ago.
A characteristic "squeaky toy" call betrays the presence of an imposing flycatcher:

This large, noisy and flamboyant tyrant flycatcher is a specialty species of the area.

Further down toward the Proctor Rd area, grasslands and shrubs about abound and this is perfect habitat for sparrows as well as Blue Grosbeak:

Blue Grosbeak is a widespread species -- breeding as far north as Ohio; however, the next species is exclusive to Arizona:

The peacock-hued Broad-billed Hummingbird:

Much more widespread is Black-chinned Hummingbird:

Raucous Mexican Jays are also ubiquitous at this venue:

Of all American titmice, the Bridled Titmouse has the most distinctive facial markings and is unique to SEAZ in the country:

Painted Redstart is a resident breeder in this area:

After a serendipitous encounter with Montezuma Quail in Spring, this blogger was not expecting to run into it again; but, an obscured yet certain sighting did indeed occur:

Other species included Acorn Woodpecker:

Red-tailed Hawk:

And, a Yellow-billed Cuckoo (in a frightfully poor image):

Birders may scour the length and breadth of this country furiously checking off species after species but to see Elegant Trogon, Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher and other specialty species, the intrepid birder will discover that there is no place better than Madera Canyon in SE Arizona.