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Thursday, August 25, 2016

Avian Joy from Jaipur: Greater Painted Snipe, Oriental White-eye and Greater Flamingo

[Hotpspots in the Jaipur Area. June 2016]

Rajasthan is the Arizona of India -- an arid state in the Western part of the country that, like Arizona, has some remarkable birdlife. In this post, we explore some of the species that can be seen within the vicinity of the state capital of Rajasthan -- namely, the city of Jaipur (named for Maharaja Jaisingh).

While none of the species presented here are either uncommon or unusual, they nevertheless represent an eclectic mix of passerines, shorebirds and waterfowl that can be found in a suburban (in Jaipur) or countryside setting (in Chandlai; about 45 minutes from Jaipur):

  • Oriental White-eye
  • Purple Sunbird
  • Common Tailorbird
  • Ashy Prinia
  • Rose-ringed Parakeet
  • Bank Myna
  • Crested Lark
  • Greater Painted Snipe
  • Black-winged Stilt
  • Common Sandpiper
  • Little Ringed Plover
  • Greater Flamingo
  • Little Grebe
  • Spot-billed Duck
  • Lesser Whistling Duck
We start with the White-eye that was observed in Jaipur:

"The eyes have it!" -- one look at this striking songbird and it is clear that this species deserves no other name.

This tiny, beautiful bird has one of the most distinctive eyerings of any bird on this planet and ranges from South to Southeast Asia. We would be hard pressed to think of any species in the US that has as bold a look. Note that our White-eye is the White-eyed Vireo -- named for the color of its iris not its eyering.

Sunbirds are the Old World equivalents of Hummingbirds. They are tiny, iridescent, and subsist on nectar and insects. Unlike hummers, they can be vocal and accomplished songsters. The Purple Sunbird is a common sight in Northern India:

The female is, predictably, duller:

The Sunbird was observed in both Jaipur and Chandlai.

Over to warblers -- two Cisticola warblers were observed: Common Tailorbird and Ashy Prinia:

Like our Ovenbird, the Tailorbird is named on account of its nest -- in this case, how it is put (or "sewn") together vs. what it resembles (an "oven").  

While the Ashy Prinia is not as colorful, it is an equally loud songster:

Rose-ringed Parakeet are an introduced species in the US and other parts of the world -- they are, however, native to Asia and Africa:

Bank Myna, like Ashy Prinia, is endemic to the subcontinent:

It is named for the "banks" in which it digs nesting cavities for breeding -- in addition to river banks, they will also use holes in brick walls for nesting.
Crested Lark:

Befitting  a species that ranges in Europe, Africa and Asia, the Crested Lark is known to consist of 37 subspecies. It is a ground nester and was seen in Chandlai.

Over to shorebirds (all observed at Chandlai), the star species here was Greater Painted Snipe:

Despite its name, Greater Painted Snipe is not a true snipe. Looking at the pair above, the observer would not be faulted for assuming the male is the bird on the right given the brighter colors and bolder patterns. But the Greater Painted Snipe is full of surprises -- the sex roles are reversed in this species (like Phalaropes) -- the female is larger, more colorful and mates with many males.

The female will court males and the latter are responsible for incubation and raising the young. A resounding (yet rare) example of female dominance in the Avian world.

Resembling our Black-necked Stilt is the Black-winged Stilt:

And, Common Sandpiper is a bit larger but otherwise doesn't seem to be too different from Spotted Sandpiper:

They smallest shorebird, however, was Little Ringed Plover:

This tiny shorebird is less than 6inches -- a veritable dwarf compared to Greater Flamingo:

We conclude with a few waterfowl:
Little Grebe:

Spot-billed Duck:

and, Lesser Whistling Duck:

The Old World opens up new avian vistas for the intrepid birder -- from striking White-eyes to shiny Sunbirds and the unique Greater Painted Snipe. And in Rajasthan, India's Arizona, a wealth of species is on-hand and easily accessible from in and around the capital city of Jaipur.


Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Warbling Vireo, Swainson's Thrush and Tree Swallow at Lake St. Clair

[Lake St. Clair Metropark. May 2016]

Warble Me Your Song Sublime
Warble loud and warble long
Warble me your unending song 
Warble sweet notes that ward off sorrow 
Warble sublime like there is no tomorrow!

This poem may appear, at first, to be a North American Wood Warbler's credo but it is equally, if not more, applicable to a very special Vireo -- specifically, the Warbling Vireo. 

With melodic indefatigability that would put any tenor's operatic stamina to shame, the Warbling Vireo belts out long, complex musical notes with such energy and gusto that no other songbird perhaps quite possesses more warbling decibels per ounce!

A Spring visit to the fabled hotspot that is Lake St. Clair offered unprecedented views of Warbling Vireo as well as other species such as:
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Tree Swallow
  • Swainson's Thrush
  • American Redstart
  • Sora
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Song Sparrow
We start with the vireo:

Vireo's generally display some green but Warbling Vireo is fairly subdued when it comes to color; eking out at most some yellow and buffy smudges on a mostly pale and grey body. 

However, this drab vireo is an extremely accomplished songster and is capable of transfixing the observer with its spell-binding musical cascades.

Red-winged Blackbird, in comparison, is not as vocally gifted -- and, it would be cruel but not dishonest to label its "song" as nothing short of a series of cacophonous croaks.

Tree Swallow is probably the only species of swallow that this blogger has managed to regularly capture whilst perched:

The only other perched swallow in this blog is probably Violet-Green Swallow seen in Oregon.

Swainson's Thrush can be distinguished from Hermit Thrush by its buffy spectacles and lack of rusty tail:

While not comparable to the legendary Magee Marsh migration hotspot, nevertheless, Lake St. Clair is a respectable migrant trap as this American Redstart proved:

Other species observed included Sora:

Great Blue Heron:

And, Song Sparrow:

"Bird Watching" is a term that is both inaccurate and anachronistic -- it is a multi-sensory activity that involves hearing as much as seeing -- i.e., involving both aural and visual observation. And, when it comes to visual observation, more and more birders are replacing or complementing their binoculars with digital cameras for photo-documentation and for post-observance id confirmation.

Thus, "Birding" as a pursuit, rewards the participant at many levels with the gifts of avian observation -- and, the species profiled here, especially the Warbling Vireo, are a testament to this truth.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Remarkable Little Brown Jobs of Southeastern Arizona

[SEAZ. August 2016]

LBJ's (Little Brown Jobs) connote exactly what their acronym implies -- nondescript, plain looking passerines that invite, at most, apathy from the observer, and, in the rare event of the contrary, they manage only to stir just enough interest so as to cause confusion in identification. The perils of observing LBJ's are indeed legendary!

Yet, not all LBJ's are created equal -- some of these oft overlooked species -- especially those found in Southeastern Arizona -- can hide some interesting facts behind their plain exterior.

A flash excursion to Madera Canyon resulted in the observation of the following species:

The LBJ's:
  • Cassin's Sparrow
  • Botteri's Sparrow
  • Rufous-crowned Sparrow
  • Black-throated Sparrow
  • Spotted Towhee 
Other Species:
  • Curve-billed Thrasher
  • Phainopepla
  • Pyrrhuloxia
  • Cactus Wren
  • Gambel's Quail
 We start with our sparrows (in increasing order of visual features):

Looking at the above, which marking could any birder possibly find diagnostic?

Indeed, the absence of any conspicuous visible markings is itself a hint that this LBJ is Cassin's Sparrow. Found from Nebraska to Mexico, this sparrow shows a buff supercilium, dark markings on the back, and a pale throat. 

The best clue, however, is through song and not sight. Behavioral markers are also important -- Cassin's Sparrow is renowned for its dramatic skylarking behavior -- the males fly up and then float straight down on wings affixed while engaged in gravity-defying song. A sight that shall be treasured by all those who are fortunate enough to witness it!

Our next sparrow shall perhaps prove to be equally unknown to most readers of this blog:

Greyer than Cassin's, this is Botteri's Sparrow which, like Cassin's, was observed in the grasslands leading up to Madera Canyon.

Formerly extirpated from Arizona, this LBJ has made a comeback to the US where it can be seen in a very restricted range in SEAZ and in the RGV region of Texas.

More familiar, perhaps, is Rufous-crowned Sparrow:

Coincidentally, there is an oblique relationship between this sparrow and Cassin's Sparrow -- the latter's namesake (John Cassin) is the former's discoverer! 

The preceding LBJ's are relatively plain, but our next sparrow -- the Black-throated Sparrow -- is the LBJ that's barely qualifies as such -- it is quite unmistakable:

Unlike the Black-throated Sparrow, but like the Rufous-crowned, the Spotted Towhee is a sparrow that is seen in SEAZ in hilly habitat:

That concludes the LBJ's -- other species seen in SEAZ were:

Curve-billed Thrasher:



Cactus Wren -- this is a yard bird in SEAZ!

Finally, Gambel's Quail:

LBJ's can visit a storm of identification uncertainty upon unsuspecting birders -- yet, the intrepid birder will not see these as storm clouds of confusion but of opportunity

And, iconic LBJ's such as Botteri's Sparrow and Cassin's Sparrow, once mastered, are verily stripes of achievement in the school of birding in the field.