Friday, November 28, 2008
My favorite of the three was a young Red-shouldered Hawk that came seemingly out of nowhere (the back side of our blind) and was on top of the pigeon before we even realized! I even got to release this bird, which was also a pretty cool experience. In the photo you can see the pale window that is visible on young Red-shouldered's in the outer primaries (right).
The Red-tailed Hawk that we caught was also a young bird and I definitely have a lot of respect for raptor banders because I wasn't interested in tangling with one of these guys as they go onto their back with talons up as you go to extract them from the net... A majestic looking bird (below), I don't appreciate their aesthetic appeal as much as I probably should. The other hawk they caught was a young male Cooper's Hawk that was interestingly missing several of its tail feathers (a close call with a Peregrine Falcon perhaps?). It was a really fun experience that gave me a further appreciation for a side of birding that I don't often see up close. Bonus birds near the blind were a late (wintering possibly?) Yellow-breasted Chat and a young Northern Goshawk that we observed a couple of times from the blind but that we were unable to lure into the nets...
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Yep, it is indeed a small canoe, with a pirate-esque sail rigged up and a lone man piloting it on south. Now I shake my head whenever I see small speedboats going out onto the ocean because I've seen how quickly the temper of the sea can change. A canoe, on the north Atlantic in mid-November!?! This guy makes my daily bird vigil in 24 F blowing snow seem positively enlightened! I really wish that I was able to discuss with this man things like the bermuda triangle and the lost marine city of Atlantis, because I have a sneaking suspicion that he would have been able to shed some very interesting little known facts about these topics if he is out in a a "sail-canoe" (I feel I can coin this term) on the open sea at this time of year...
Also, this is unfortunately the first Thanksgiving that I will not be back home for. It's going to be kind of weird. But I wish you all the best and enjoy a day with family and friends!
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
(And in case you're curious, there are 39 Gannets in the above photo which represented just .002% of the total I saw today...)
Thursday, October 23, 2008
The count started out quite slow in September (less than a thousand migrating birds total each day). The notable highlight though was a close flyby Leach's Storm Petrel that was seen following 4 days of gale-like winds from the NE. This species is normally a pelagic species (open-ocean) that stays far from land. This was a life bird for me, and an unexpected one at that. Jon Kauffman (the naturalist who is at the seawatch on weekends with me) and I had great looks at the bird as it flew right past us and out to sea. This was actually the first time this species has been recorded in fifteen years of this sea watch being conducted, so it truly was a notable bird for this location and season. Other highlights during that period were mostly passerine in nature, with a surprising number of songbirds flying in off the ocean and landing in the four small Black Pines that are in a yard next to the parking lot (the only semblance of natural habitat for birds like this Pine Warbler, in the wall-to-wall 1.2 million dollar+ summer homes that Avalon is made up of). Among these interesting passerine were late Yellow-throated Warbler among 14 species of warblers total, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Pine Siskins, and Dickcissel (just to name a few).
Big days at the count usually have me quickly on the phone to get some help down as the sheer volume of birds flying past is staggering. There have been several such days, where I've counted over 20,000 migrant waterbirds in a single hour! (90% of which were Black and Surf Scoter - linked photo by Tony Leukering who also happens to be pictured above with me)
This is truly a novel experience for me, and I'm grateful for the number of expert birders who are only a call away who can usually drop whatever they are doing to help out (these days typically come less than 4 or 5 times a season).
That's all for now, but I'll try to give you a few more updates as I finish up the last five weeks of the job.
Sunday, September 21, 2008
Sunday, March 30, 2008
Spent the ensuing week readjusting to the US, presenting my internship powerpoint in Grand Rapids, and visiting with friends and family. I'm posting this from a coffee shop in Yuma, AZ. I begin solo point counts in the morning. Lots of really cool birds that I've only seen a handful of times before. Sleeping out in the open without a tent, something that you cannot do in WI or MI in the summer. The stars are incredible. I'll try to get some pix and I'll also try to do a few back entries of Thailand...photos are lacking though.
Thursday, March 13, 2008
Friday, March 07, 2008
During our time there, endemics such as the Black-and-orange Flycatcher, White-bellied Blue Flycatcher, White-bellied Shortwing, and some difficult species like Scaly Thrush, Blue-capped Rock Thrush, and Orange-headed Thrush were all seen well and were all new for me. I also saw many other flycatchers and specialties that I had seen last year, but that are globally quite uncommon; Nilgiri Flycatcher, Indian Swiftlet, Malabar Grey Hornbill, Malabar Whistling Thrush (photo below), and a good raptor in the form of a Common Buzzard (ubiquitous though it may be in the UK and throughout much of northern Eurasia, it’s a rare winter visitor this far south). I also got a nice photo shot with a pair of Greater Flamebacks (left)...unbelievably cooperative!
We spent our two nights in Valparai driving roads through the more rural parts of the area in between coffee and tea plantations and isolated patches of the remnant native evergreen forest looking for owls. It was literally in the 11th hour on our second night that we finally saw our first nocturnal bird, an Oriental Scops Owl, perched on top of a small cement post by a grassy ditch. We saw a nice variety of mammals including Sambar Deer, Barking Deer, Porcupine, Giant Flying Squirrel, Black-naped Hare, and Bandicoot Rat (enormous!).
On our way back down the famous 40 hairpin turn into the lowlands we stopped when we heard birds and located several nice mixed flocks. Most of the species were the same ones we had recorded at higher elevation, but this was the only time we recorded Black-lored Tit, a brightly colored and crested relative to the chickadees and titmouse of North America. We also had the good fortune of simultaneously arriving at the same large snag as a Crested Serpent Eagle, a widespread bird in the hills and mountains of India, but this bird would have definitely flushed if it had already been present and we had then pulled up and stopped. It was extremely cooperative despite the passing buses and trucks that were politely letting us know that they were present by the incessant use of their horns (opening photo).
Monday, March 03, 2008
Later in the day I finally saw a Pied Harrier as well, a species that while not abundant, occurs in small numbers in the more open grasslands and cultivated areas of the subcontinent. Best photo I have to offer is of the much more common Eurasian Marsh Harrier which I typically will see 6-8 of in a morning there (left). A different individual Ruff was present at the other lake, only one prior record excluding my sighting of 24 several days ago. I was able to get some video of the bird as it sat and preened through my scope, but it was beyond the range of still photos.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but this actually was my final day conducting the survey at Karaivetti. Relton and I are going to be going up to Valparai in the Western Ghats tomorrow for three days of birding the humid rainforest (should see some nice endemics and other specialties). I will then be back in Trichy for a single day and leave for Thailand on the 8th. So I spent the afternoon packing up my stuff and getting ready to leave Pullambadi and my gracious hosts and new-found friends.
We actually returned to Trichy via some grasslands and open scrub habitat in an attempt to locate Eurasian Thick-Knee and possibly sandgrouse. We struck out on both counts, but did have some nice looks at Small Minivet, Short-toed Snake Eagle, and White-eyed Buzzard (on right).
I became surprisingly attached to many of these boys during the course of the past month and the look on their faces as I got into the vehicle with Relton and his family on my final afternoon there was rather touching. And that’s as mushy as I’m going to get on that topic. I am going to buy a new bat and send it to the school for them as a final present from their American guest.
The birding was surprisingly slow today after the nice shorebird diversity yesterday. A weather system actually had moved through overnight and I had to dodge a few rain showers during the morning. I suspect this was part of the reason that many of the shorebirds had moved out. In America shorebirds typically move out before a front hits, I don’t see why it would be different here. A Temminck’s Stint was still hanging around, the Baillon’s Crake was seen again, and my first Common Iora of the survey was noted today (on the checklist but had eluded me up until now).
The closing photo depicts a scene seen all too often as the keeper usually wasn't too good and apparently the concept "let nothing get past" hadn't caught on among these fellows (and there were occasional balls that got away from the bowler)... The backside of the schoolyard or boundary as it's called in cricket.
The species total of 20 species is quite good and I can’t think of too many occasions when I have recorded this many species in one day. To put this total in perspective, here are my best recollections of my highest personal single day tallies of shorebird species from each significant birding locale I’ve been to; 17 in coastal Norfolk, UK during March, 20 at Point Calimere, Tamil Nadu (a coastal site so more expected), 21 in coastal Ecuador in January, 24 at the Salton Sea in CA during Aug, ~25 is my highest in WI in mid-May, and ~30 on the upper coast of TX during late April. All of those totals represent solid day’s worth of effort to find that many species and with the exception of Wisconsin, they all involve salt or brackish water.
The rest of the day was fairly uneventful but I relocated the wagtail flock and something flushed the group and they all landed close to each other allowing for 14 of the birds in one frame (below)! Unfortunately, the distance involved with most of these shorebird species prevented me from getting even semi-decent photos, I can offer a shot of the habitat with a flock of Black-headed Ibis probing the deeper water/muck (opening photo). This sort of edge is present around about half of the lake and this is where the majority of the shorebirds are located.
Sunday, March 02, 2008
I actually do not have the guide to wagtails (yes they most definitely merit their own field guide!) and the India and Thai guides I have here really don’t do the various subspecies justice… Here are three different individual Yellows I was able to photograph this morning though. Any thoughts/comments as to the age/gender/subspecies of these birds would be most welcome! Side note: the third bird pictured I'm unsure of, it may be a Grey Wagtail, but I think the fact that it has a yellow throat puts it more firmly in the Yellow camp. I could definitely be wrong though (on right).
Alan had the misfortune of developing a puncture today so he was only with me for the first hour or so of the survey before he went into the village of Karaivetti to have it patched. He had ridden on the bike too long before he noticed the flat and there were too many holes to actually just patch it. So a new tube was driven in from Pullambadi by one of the drivers at the school. This took the better part of the morning and I didn’t see him again until I returned to Pullambadi at 12:15PM. The water level is rapidly dropping at the other lake and I think I might actually see some interesting shorebirds there before I’m finished with this survey.
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
We had moved along and were about to leave the second to last stop when a car pulled up along the only road that actually intersects the lake and I was surprised to meet K. V. Sudhakat, a birder from Chennai who had been reading my blog and had taken a slow day at work and driven down to Trichy (about an 8 hour drive…) with several of his co-workers to see Karaivetti and to meet me! It was extremely fortuitous timing as Alan and I were about to leave when he pulled up. Anywhere else along our route it would have been next to impossible for someone in a car to have rendezvoused with us (and I also didn’t know to expect him!). We talked for about 45 minutes, I showed him the ashy-crowned sparrow lark nest and we saw fairly routine things (Osprey [on left], Yellow Wagtail, along with only my second sighting of a couple Red Avadavat’s) while we chatted. He was hoping that I would be leaving via Chennai and I could stop by a local nature club to speak before returning to the
The rest of our survey was fairly uneventful but I did see an Alpine Swift over the other lake (my third sighting this year…only one prior record). I also noted only my second Common Kestrel during the twenty-two days I’ve been conducting this survey, remarkable in their absence. One other note of interest, the male Ashy-crowned Sparrow Lark was seen brooding the eggs today. I’m not sure if this has been noted for this species before but this is fairly unusual in most north american passerines (songbirds).
Over the past few days I’ve been devoting more of my attention behind me as I’ve had a second bike to worry about since Alan has been accompanying me. I’ve noted with dismay that both of our bikes seem to share an unhealthy appetite for oil (and I promise you that neither of these bikes have any ties to Halliburton or Dick Cheney). Apparently these bikes could use a tune-up, or possibly need to be retired as I feel confident that my moped is at least as old as I am (Alan’s bike looks to be at least a decade my senior). At the same time this makes me feel comfortingly more a part of the global community. Mixed emotions…
I also would like to take this occasion to share a nightly part of my stay here which involves me going through the old kitchen (that I normally keep closed up) on my way to the “shower” (bucket of hot water mixed with cold tap water dumped over my head). As I open the door and shine my light (usually a candle since this typically takes place during the daily 6-8pm power outage) in the room I hear mass scurrying as a very healthy population of cockroaches all head for cover. I got to test out the macro lens on Relton’s camera on a particularly friendly individual earlier this week. I don’t think it would be fair for me to show you nothing but the avian wildlife that is present in southern
Tuesday, February 26, 2008
Relton’s son, Alan who is a first year Zoology student at
On the return trip to Pullambadi I was amused to watch in my rearview mirror as Alan attempted to overtake a gravel truck that I had already passed only to have his moped max out at the same speed the truck was going. His moped also doesn’t have rearview mirrors, so he hadn’t realized that a bus had been rapidly closing in on him! He definitely looked like a small fish in a big pond sandwiched between those two large vehicles! He safely was able to get back to the left and allowed the bus to pass, no worries.
The children at the school here have become sufficiently accustomed to my presence that they are now calling out my name every chance that they get. My name is typically pronounced here as ‘shohn’ – lacking the ‘w’ that isn’t represented in the spelling, hence confusing for most here. Whenever I respond to my name being called it is 9/10 to get only a “hi” as they aren’t confident enough in their English to say more than this. But they definitely want me to know that they know my name!
Monday, February 25, 2008
I’ve seen this topic addressed numerous times in various birding periodicals and have always enjoyed the sample photos they have where they ask you to estimate the flock. This is very pertinent to birders as many citizen science projects involve the counting of birds to estimate trends in their entire populations (Christmas Bird Counts, International Shorebird Survey, Great Backyard Bird Count, eBird). When I first began doing counts like these I would take one of two approaches; I would painstakingly go through the entire flock and count every single individual, or I would just guess the number. As I’ve been doing surveys that require counts of many distant flocks I’ve gotten a lot of practice in counting flocks and I now usually will mentally divide a flock into sections and count to ten or 20 and extrapolate how many sections there are represented by the rest of the flock for a fairly accurate estimate of the number. If I have time and I’m able to count every individual I will do this, but many times the viewing conditions don’t facilitate this approach. Over the years I’ve found that even my ball-park guesses of a flock are often not far from the mark. A recent flock of Black-tailed Godwits that were flying past the observation tower at Kariavetti gave me a good illustration of this. They were swirling around and flying by too rapidly for me to even count sections and estimate the flock, but I estimated that there were about 80 birds present. I also was able to get a quick photo of them that I knew I’d be able to go back and count them one-by-one blown up later on my laptop screen. I was pleased to find that my gut feel on the flock was only one off, there were actually 79 birds in the flock (I welcome anyone’s correction!). So while not exact, I had arrived at a very close estimation by letting my prior experience dictate my estimate.
This weekend I was out at Point Calimere with Relton and he had arranged for us to go out with a student who is working on her pHD on wading birds at this site. I learned quite a bit about BNHS (Bombay Natural History Society) staff and a very different approach to birding through this experience. BNHS is the largest bird organization and primary source of record keeping for all bird records in
The next morning I began to doubt the credibility of the pHD student as she was identifying birds through the scope that I knew were incorrect (distant common greenshanks were labeled as black-tailed godwits). She also apparently was not accustomed to viewing species through the scope at long distance because she refused to believe that the three large distant curlew I had watched fly in and that I had in my scope were Eurasian Curlew, claiming that they were “smaller waders.” At this point I stopped trying to show her things because I didn’t feel like arguing with her. Because of this she missed three (fairly rare) Slender-billed Gulls that flew by in the midst of a large Brown-headed Gull flock.
Later in the day we had driven inland about 20 km to a large lake that we had noticed the previous evening while driving out to the point. The flock of 80 Greater Flamingos that we had seen in the distance the previous night was the primary reason for our return, but we were also curious what the identity of the thousands of shorebirds and terns that had also been noted the previous night. We arrived at the sub-prime time of 4PM and unfortunately the sun was working against us, but we walked out over the rice paddies and began scoping the extensive mud flats. We were pleased to see that the flamingos had called some friends and that flock had multiplied to a very respectable ~500 birds divided among two flocks (115 of which are seen in the closing b&w photo). I was spending my time trying to get identifiable views of the many small and medium-sized shorebirds that were spread out over the flats. Unfortunately the light won this battle and I wasn’t able to turn up any of the hoped for broad-billed sandpipers or stints that I’ve yet to see.
During this time I was half-listening as the BNHS representative was rattling off numbers for each species. Some of the closer species that could actually be individually counted she was right on for, but when she starting estimating distant flocks my curiosity arose at how some of these numbers were being arrived at. The Painted Stork tally that she gave (450) I would say was less than 1/3 of the birds present…they covered the opposite shore for over a kilometer! She also was vastly over-simplifying species composition and gave a blanket estimate of the extremely large mixed tern flock as 3000 Caspian Terns. I could see hundreds if not more of at least 5 other tern species flying around and perched among this flock… She then asked my opinion (apparently I’d proven myself worthy of identifying these birds in her eyes) on a pair of terns that were sitting in the distance. They were definitely a pair of Lesser Crested Terns which are quite a bit smaller than the Caspian Tern which they sort of resemble by the presence of a crest and reddish beak. When I said this she said no that they were River Terns. I was a bit incredulous as this species doesn’t resemble in any way Caspian or Lesser Crested Tern (the only two species that these birds could have conceivably been confused as that are in southern
Sunday, February 24, 2008
Earlier in the day we had birded our way out to the coast and had several nice photo ops with several species including one of my favorite birds, Common Hoopoe. The odd combination of physical features of this very unique bird make it difficult even to describe, but since a picture is worth a thousand words, I’ll let this photo do the talking…
Another bird that is unique due to the extremely long length of its tail was also well seen in the garden of some relations of Relton that we ate lunch with. The bird (Asian Paradise Flycatcher, yes quite a mouthful) was begging to be photographed as it sat still for over five minutes and I got some nice shots of it, if only there wasn’t a brick wall in the background!
We had started the morning along the banks of a large river near Trichy and had primarily been looking for several species of cuckoos that are present there. We did see two Plaintive Cuckoos and one Indian Cuckoo (both new for me) along with the much more common Asian Koel, Common Hawk, and Pied Cuckoos. Shortly thereafter we also observed a pair of Ashy Woodswallows perched on a telephone wire right next to the road. This is the same species that I’ve been seeing infrequently at Kariavetti and this was by far the best look I’ve had of this species.
Friday, February 22, 2008
Continuing on my way I drove more slowly along the wooded section of the river/canal that enters Karaivetti Lake. My slower approach was rewarded by a brief observation of an Ashy Drongo. This is a species that has been recorded once at the sanctuary before, but it is uncommon in the lowlands primarily due to a lack of shaded woodland habitat that it prefers (it is the most abundant drongo up in the Ghats). The opening photo is a more artistic capture of the much more abundant Black Drongo that I took at the observation tower last week. The Ashy differs from the Black in being a more slate grey color with a bright red eye. The Ashy is typically found perched on the interior branches of a tree while the Black Drongo will perch out on wires and any sort of exposed and open perch.
A brief stop at the rail location garnered me looks at a Baillon’s Crake again…of course I saw this species on both days surrounding Relton’s visit. I was grateful that the greylag goose at least didn’t rub salt in the wound by not appearing today despite almost the full contingent of Bar-headeds being present (221). The rest of my survey was slow but as I was leaving I watched a Brahminy Kite that had been asserting its dominance over literally everything in the area (including openbill storks and ibis!) begin to scream and climb up towards a very long-winged raptor that was soaring above me. I hadn’t noticed this bird prior to the Brahminy Kite alerting me of its presence and a quick look through the binocs revealed that this bird was a subadult Bonelli’s Eagle, a species that regularly occurs in the plains, but that had never been recorded at Karaivetti before. I actually had seen this species at least three times last year, but this was my first observation of the species this year.
I caught the 3PM bus from Pullambadi to Trichy and had the privilege of being on a bus that was showing some of the latest films on dvd. Apparently police/military brutality isn’t something that is frowned upon here. Most of the scenes that seemed to illicit the most admiration from my fellow travelers were the scenes where one military officer was beating some hapless soul senseless. I honestly was trying not to watch the TV but every one of these beatings was signaled by an almost disco dance beat while the special effects people went nuts with slow motion. I don’t mean like Matrix slow motion or wire-foo, I mean just normal slow motion to a man being utterly battered. Yeah forgive my lack of enthusiasm; I’m accustomed to movies like Fight Club where the fighting actually has some sort of purpose…wait. Okay maybe I can’t claim the moral high ground here, but regardless I was not overly impressed.
Thursday, February 21, 2008
It’s days like this that make one pessimistic. Relton woke up very early and joined me for the survey today in order for him to see several of the unusual species that I have been seeing over the past week (Greylag Goose, Gadwall, and Baillon’s Crake). As my subject line indicates, we struck out on all of these species despite me being 4/5 and 3/5 over the past five days on the two he hadn’t seen in Tamil Nadu before (the goose and crake). I guess this just underlines the fact that one never knows what will see when you go out into the field. Perhaps this is part of the mysterious attraction that birders have to the hobby. I did use his local expertise to help me iron out the differences on the bushlarks that I have been struggling with and this was very helpful. All three confusing species were present today, thus giving ample opportunity to compare and contrast. The song and display flights are one of the biggest clues to the species.
Otherwise today was really a bit on the routine side (if you can species like the above Eurasian Golden Oriole routine…). White-browed Bulbul was a repeat, an Asian Paradise Flycatcher was a pleasant surprise, and we got a good opportunity to study (and photograph) a snipe near the observation tower while we waited for the greylag that never came… We decided that this bird is probably a Pintail Snipe due to the very wide buffy supercilium that is wider than the dark eyeline that comes out from the beak (yes this is one of the only differences between this and the very similar Common Snipe…yikes!). Snipe are usually very hesitant to allow close approach so I cautiously approached this bird under the cover of a stone wall until I knew I was within 20 feet of the bird. I then crawled on my hands and knees and actually stuck the camera around the corner of the wall without actually showing the bird any part of my body other than my trigger finger and found the bird using the large lcd screen on the Sony Cyber-shot. I wish someone could have taken a photo of me getting this photo because I felt pretty hardcore!
I also enjoyed the company of a native speaker as the amount of curious onlookers that felt the need to visit me was greatly dissuaded by the simple presence of someone who spoke Tamil… I also got to learn what may seem to be an intuitive lesson that exhaust pipes on motorcycles can get hot! We had taken a full size bike since there were two of us and the scooter I normally take is a bit underpowered for two men. I definitely have a nice souvenir on my right leg from my momentary lapse of attention. Yet another lesson learned; you won’t see me getting off the right side of a motorcycle again anytime soon!
I will be conducting the survey again tomorrow morning and then taking the bus into Trichy where I will depart with Relton and his family for the weekend at Point Calimere on the coast where we should see many waders.
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
So yeah, the birds today seemed slow, but I actually topped yesterday’s tally by four species for my best day yet (122)… I don’t know why it seemed slow, maybe I’m just getting used to everything I’m seeing. A few interesting waders were seen including four Painted Storks that gave me a nice flyby (see photo below), I also had only my second sighting of Glossy Ibis today (2 birds), along with a pair of Lesser Sandplovers (formerly Mongolian Plover) that I can thank a male Pallid Harrier for flushing up past the tower. Probably the best bird of the day was a Grey-bellied Cuckoo that is only the second record for the sanctuary (and a new species for me). The water levels at the lake are actually back up to the same level they were at the end of January… This is good for the ducks but not good for the waders that I was hoping to be seeing higher numbers of by this point. All the shorebirds I see are either flybys or perched on the extremely distant small islands out under the rookery. Black-winged Stilts are literally about the only species I can ID at that distance. Yesterday I lucked out and had a pair of the stilts actually foraging on top of floating vegetation (like a jacana) right by the dike. Here’s a shot of a sharp looking adult male (black back rather than brown on female and immature birds) on the right. I didn’t relocate the Gadwall because all the ducks at the other lake were roosting on the opposite shore far beyond the range of my scope.
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
And the species is…Gadwall (and no this isn't a gadwall pictured above...it's an Indian Pond Heron). I find it mildly amusing that I’m finding waterfowl that are really fairly rare in this part of India, but that I’ve seen literally thousands of in either the UK or the US (just like the Greylag Goose). I could just as easily be finding species like Falcated Duck or Bean Goose that would be probably equally rare as what I’ve found, only extremely novel to me, but no…Gadwall and Greylag Goose! Gadwall actually isn’t a new species for Karaivetti, there is one record from 1988 as well. I did find one new species for the sanctuary (and me) today (#207) which appeared in the form of a Red-necked Falcon that zipped along over the rice paddies bordering the dike and did a loop past the shorebird spot probably hoping to surprise one of the fifteen or so shorebirds that are usually present there. This falcon is probably overdue to be recorded here as it is a fairly widespread resident of open areas throughout the subcontinent. It is slightly larger than a Merlin with a yellow cere (the area behind the beak) and a reddish wash across its crown and shoulders on an otherwise fairly grey body with dark primaries. Falcons are generally very impressive birds and this species was no exception. This bird also represented the 300th species that I’ve observed in
A couple of Red Avadavats were also my first in
I’ve been watching with interest the behavior of Brahminy Kites as they course over the lakes. This is probably the most common predatory bird present and I’m amazed by the variety of prey I’ve observed the species eating or attempting to catch. These birds are a little smaller than Red-tailed Hawks (more like Red-shouldered Hawk size) but I’ve witnessed them carrying fish that are over a foot long! Most of their prey seems to be smaller fish, snakes, frogs, lizards, palm squirrels (chipmunk sized), and small birds. I’ve watched them stoop on young coots several times but the adult coots go crazy and the young birds dive under water but I’m sure they catch one occasionally. The most impressive catch I’ve witnessed definitely goes to an adult Little Grebe that I watched being carried away still squawking by an adult kite…this grebe is comparable in size to a Pied-billed Grebe and I would have thought that these guys wouldn’t have to worry…apparently this is not the case! Here’s a photo of an adult Brahminy Kite in flight (left) taken near a stand of palms where I suspect a pair are nesting.
Also, the opening photo is of an Indian Pond Heron, a species that is present at literally every habitat where there is even a hint of water. They are quite impressive in flight as their entire wings are entirely white. Apologies for the lack of pertinence to this entry…I don’t have any good photos of any of the species that I was describing earlier… And I tested out the macro mode on the Sony Cyber-shot on this sharp looking dragonfly the other day as well (perched on the camera strap below!). If only birds allowed me to get the camera within 3 inches of them!
When fueling up the moped this morning I was grateful that the same attendant didn’t demand a tip, so I offered him one. I was vindicated in my earlier refusal when he emphatically refused it due to another attendant’s watchful eye!
Since I have been watching more cricket on the tele the boys I play with every evening have realized that they can’t tell me whatever they feel like with regard to the rules! Due to the constraints of the size of our pitch, we play what I would liken to half-court cricket. Normally the batter can actually hit the ball behind him (as long as it doesn’t hit the wicket) which really opens up the field of possibilities while batting. My bowling is erratic at best (that whole one-bounce thing makes things a lot more tricky), although if they let me actually throw (which some of them do) I’m money!
Another observation of a cultural difference between America and India; in America paved roads serve as places for vehicles to travel along, telephone wires to be strung along, and hazards for wildlife to cross. Here those same functions are fulfilled but roads are seen as having many more purposes than what we restrict our roads to in
I’ve also been impressed by the truckers fastidious efforts to extend the fuel efficiency of their vehicles by removing or cutting off their mud-flaps! I can’t even begin to think about the vast quantity of petroleum that is saved by this reduction in the weight of all trucks nationwide (perhaps this would be a good thing for
In case you didn’t notice, the sarcasm is getting a bit pent up as it doesn’t transcend cultural boundaries well so I have to restrain myself here… All for today - maybe tomorrow I’ll find a mega rarity…like a Mallard!
Monday, February 18, 2008
While out in the field this morning, with perhaps too much time on my own with no one to talk to, I decided to name my renewed examination of the various species of larks present after the US Education system’s catch-phrase of a similar title (child and lark obviously switched). I don’t recall who actually coined this phrase, but since I can’t accredit a single person I’m going to give the acolytes to the US Education system (and honestly I think it can use all the praise it can get these days…but that’s another story). Anyway…I drove the dikes around the lake much slower today and was stopping and checking every lark that I saw (probably ~30 or so today). After thinking I had figured out most of the key field marks yesterday when I noted predominately just Oriental Skylarks and Rufous-winged Bushlarks, I realized that I definitely don’t have them all figured out yet! I saw two birds today that I honestly am not sure what species they were. Since the degree of rufous that is shown in the primaries is supposedly a great (and easily seen) field mark, that’s what I’ve been trying to key off of (and since hind claw length is kind of ridiculous to easily see…). The larks seem to enjoy discarding the myth that this is a reliable and easily seen fieldmark. Whether they have their wings folded in such a way that you actually can’t see the primaries while they are perched, or are so worn that you can’t tell if the color that I’m noting is really what is represented in the field guides I have. I really could use a “Bushlarks of the World” in depth guide or something like that. I bet there is one, but I definitely don’t have it here… Anyway, I did finally get a photo of an Oriental Skylark which was represented by a contingent of seven today. These guys are pretty easy as they have a crest and they show much darker wings when they fly up out of the way of my rapidly approaching moped (on left). The opening photo is yet another photo of a Rufous-winged Bushlark from today (ok promise I won’t post anymore of this species…it was less than ten feet away though!!).
While the fact that I’m actually going to the same location every day is getting a little bit tiresome, it’s also presenting me with many more opportunities to photograph many species that are either wary or just not cooperative. The later is true of the Greater Spotted Eagles that I’ve seen every day that I’ve come out here, but they are typically extremely distant and far out of the range of the photographic equipment that I have with me. Today I got lucky and had a Greater Spot soar right over the observation tower. It is a bit tricky to get the auto focus on the camera to grab a hold of a flying bird, so I was very grateful that the eagle gave me three circles directly overhead before moving off. It was a little bright by this point in the morning so the light is rather harsh in the photo, but beggars can’t be choosers! I also resighted the unusual Baillon’s Crake that I observed on the 9th of February. I saw it in essentially the same location which also happens to be where I’ve been seeing Ruddy-breasted Crake(s) (three flushed yesterday).
Today I had a group of five local women who took a break from carrying firewood to enjoy the shade of the observation tower and see what I was up to. They thoroughly enjoyed looking through my scope at the 168 Bar-headed Geese (incl the lonely Greylag) that were spread out on the water. After several minutes of non-stop emphatic Tamil and gesturing I offered to take a photo of them to at least appease them of whatever they were trying to communicate (this often works to resolve situations such as this). They lined up like they were part of a chain-gang and presented stoic expressions (an apparently common trend as people are afraid of being captured smiling on film…). They were all laughter after seeing the photo on the screen and they then communicated that they would like a photo of them with their bundles of wood on their heads. I obliged them partly so I could continue my count in peace but I was also curious to see how they got these enormous bundles on their head. They would put a sort of towel on the top of their head with a sort of saddle-like depression in the top and they would then lean over into the wood and have another woman help hoist the wood while she straightened up (on left) with the bundle situated above her! I was impressed and with a little coaching I lined them up and took the following photo of them before they set off, each of them shaking my hand before they left. Now that, you don’t see every day in