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Sunday, November 22, 2020

Magee in 2020: Plan B

[Magee Marsh. September 2020]

What would one do if Magee Marsh, the warbler capital of the US, should remain closed in Spring due to the Pandemic? If Plan A for the intrepid birder be thwarted, surely Plan B would demand a visit to Magee in the Fall. And so in this spirit we explore Fall songbird migration at this iconic venue.

Fall migration is at its peak in the first two weeks of September and warbler diversity and numbers are fairly good yet the crowds are absent. Yet risks abound: excepting a few species, birders are forced to re-learn their warbler plumages. For example, Chestnut-sided Warbler, does not show chestnut sides: 

The fog of identification confusion continues with the all-too-similar Bay-breasted and Blackpoll warblers:

The Bay-breasted above only betrays a hint of bay on the flanks. Blackpoll Warbler's plumage is no better:

Gone is the striking black cap and white undersides with bold streaking. Next, Cape May which usually radiates maroon accents on bright yellow, is now a dull yellow-grey:

Farther down the boardwalk, movement in the trees above afforded a fleeting look at Canada Warbler -- still mercifully recognizable due to its prominent eyering and blue-grey upperparts:

Ovenbird, however, stayed mostly true to its Spring look:

American Redstart:

... and Blackburnian were a shadow of their breeding brilliance:

Black-and-white has no colors to speak of that fade: 

Black-and-white loses its black chin in the Fall; however this Black-throated Green still sported most of its diagnostic marks:

Northern Parula:


With fewer people, the birds did not hesitate to enjoy the boardwalk:

And, there were variations between individual plumages of the same species, such as this Cape May:

Which was mainly grey compared to the following, which showed a fair amount of yellow as it feasted on flower buds:

Other than warblers, there were flycatchers such as this Eastern Phoebe:

Red-breasted Nuthatch:

Red-eyed Vireo:

In September, flowers help fuel Ruby-throated Hummingbird migrations:

Swainsons's Thrush:

While Spring is justifiably glorified in the birding calendar, Fall is the season when we are truly tested. Although the bright colors are gone, the faded glory of autumnal plumages lingers just enough to provide challenge and enjoyment to the intrepid birder.

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Carnal Carnivores: Tigers in Love

[Rajasthan. June 2019] 

The largest cat in the world is Panthera Tigris. Males can weigh over 600 lbs and have canines 3.5" long; to see these magnificent carnivores, one has to travel to Asia. And in Asia, India's vast jungles hold about 70% of the global population of this endangered species at places like Ranthambhore National Park (Rajasthan state). A summer vacation to this venue afforded this blogger an opportunity to observe both mammalian and avian s eirpecies with the famed tiger being the star attraction.

The breeding season for the striped carnivore is timed to coincide with the fecundity that the monsoon season brings to the subcontinent every summer. A safari through the Ranthambhore jungle in late June (just before the park closes for a 3-month period) brought upon a surprise observation of two tigers in an amorous yet fierce encounter -- equal parts aggression and love.

These fearful beasts had used a clearing in the jungle as their love nest. Although generally solitary, at this time, the tigers were inseparable. The cycle of love consisted of the male circling the female, approaching her cautiously, followed by a bout of vigorous sex. 

Post the session, the male retreated to his corner to rest and regain strength.

Only to resume his duties again:

The female could be moody:

The jungle primates (Hanuman Langurs) were confused. The tigers were not interested in hunting; and the langurs looked at the sex spectacle with their mounts agape at the marathon carnal antics of the carnivores. 

The following day, visiting the same site showed that the love nest had been vacated. The male was still around, though -- limping and lethargic. The forest ranger surmised that the injured tiger was likely involved in a fight for the female with another male: 

Elsewhere in the jungle, previous year's cubs had already grown up to sub-adulthood and looked formidable:

The tigers here are supported by an abundant prey base of wild boar, deer and antelope:

Antelope (Chinkara or Indian Gazelle):

The jungle itself has pretty diverse habitats -- including dense jungle, grassland, marshes and abandoned structures from the days of the maharajas.

At the entrance of the park:

The age of the maharajas is now over in India; yet, the king of the jungle still rules. And, every monsoon love is in the air as the king and the queen engage with ferocity in the dance of love as they mark the cycle of regeneration for the next generation of tigers.