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.