Monday, 19 September 2016

Bird comparison: Purple Sunbird and Loten's Sunbird

Many a time we come across bird with little differences - that tend to confuse us, the birders. Well the birds are different and different in many a ways but to declare - that bird is so and so is always met with raised eyebrows. To top it all in regards to these birds the range overlaps. The Purple sunbird is found in the entire subcontinent - where as the Loten's sunbird is found in Southern India and Srilanka. So the problem is in South India where both the birds exist.

Like I said before the difference are many but it is the field that the problem resides - I have tabulated the differences in the end to but let us se the males of both species.

This bird is known with some more names - the Long-billed Sunbird or Maroon-breasted Sunbird. Well the differences are in the names itself. Whereas the Purple sunbird is fully purple - the Loten's Sunbird has brown chest downwards and this is separated with a maroon band. In field however, if the light is not good - or the bird is not in direct light - it is a small purple bird hopping from one branch to another - just like a purple sunbird. Next difference - the Loten's sunbird is slightly bigger than the purple sunbird - the Loten's being 13 cm and Purple being around 10 cm. Next the bill of Loten's sunbird is fairly bigger than the purple sunbird and for me this has been the greatest difference for me to confidently say - "there - Loten's Sunbird". You really have to see the bird once and compare to know what I am talking about. Next there is a Maroon band on the chest of Loten's that separates the purple of above the chest to browner below. Purple sunbird on the other hand is - what the name says - purple all over 😀. The final difference is if you are lucky to see the birds in mating season when they display their Pectoral Tufts - they are Yellow mixed with crimson in Loten's and pure yellow in Purple Sunbird. I have been lucky to see the Pectoral tufts display in Purple sunbird but have not the opportunity to see them in Loten's. Unfortunately I do not have any usable picture of the bird displaying them - but then I know my friend who has a great snap of a Purple Sunbird displaying the tufts. Will update when I get that picture. The bird calls too are different and am inserting them at the end for you to experience.

So - hopefully when you come across these birds next you will confidently snap your fingers and call out the name.

Loren's Sunbird. See the Maroon Band and brown below the band.

Loren's Sunbird. see the beak and compare with the purple sunbird below.

Purple Sunbird. Notice the fully purple body and the beak - definitely lesser curved and smaller.

Loten’s Sunbird Purple Sunbird Remarks
Size 13 cm 10 cm

Colour 1. Purple above and upto chest
2. Maroon band on chest
3. Brown below the band
Purple all the way in field and in poor light they both are small bundles of purple in a hurry to get somewhere…
Bill Longer and more curved. Comparatively smaller

Pectoral Tufts Yellow mixed with crimson Yellow

Friday, 16 September 2016

Hey cousin ! .... two Storks.... two Continents...

They cannot be mixed up with each other for sure - after all they got separated a million years back but still the similarities are unmistakable. One from Indian Subcontinent and one from Africa. Both more beautiful than the other. The sitting posture, the beak, the basic plumage is all the same you will agree. Infact as we watched them, the behaviour too was absolutely the same. Only thing I missed was that I did not see the Yellow-billed Stork feeding.  That one behaviour would have convinced me more about their being related - I have seen our painted stork feeding so very many times and the feeding is very peculiar. The bird wades in shallow water (knee deep) and opens the bill partially - and sweeps it left and right - any fish, frog etc that touches the beak is quickly snapped up and swallowed. The African cousin at 108cm pictured first is slightly bigger than the Indian Cousin standing at average of 100 cm.

Yellow-billed Stork
Okay now - if you find the bird looking so similar - the birds will be be related in at one level or another. In this case the Family (Ciconiidae) and Genus (Mycteria) are the same. Both are beautiful birds at that and were a great treat to see. Of-course the Painted Stork is one bird that I run into off and on in India.

Painted Stork (though the neck may seem devoid of feathers in this picture - it is just that they are wet and struck together)
I have not inserted the sounds as storks are very poor at making sounds as adults. Most of the times it is the clattering produced by striking the beaks together. 

One unfortunate fact is that the Painted Storks are nearly decimated in wild in Thailand, small populations survive in Cambodia and are under serious threat in Pakistan where the Painted Stork's nests are targeted and chicks harvested for Pet Trade. This puts the conservation status of Painted Storks as Near Threatened.

The Yellow-billed stork populations are known to be decreasing but not rapidly so are still listed as Least Concern.

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

A Crow of a Time - Uganda

What is with these crows? Photographing crows have been my achillies heel, okay - I might have another dozens of them here and there but this is one of them. You look towards them - they are ready to fly - you pick up the camera - they are already up and away. You really think one can get away with pointing something towards them - forget it - they are way too smart. Point something towards them - they will not only fly away but also keep you in the periphery of their vision and GOD forbid that you look towards them again - this is no way to photograph them. I learnt this the hard way - actually very very hard way. 

Then there is this one more small little problem - they are usually black and I do not know about others but my camera and me included break into a sweat playing with the settings. As if that was not enough the Crows in Uganda turned out to be Black and White - whatever you thought would work just went out of the window - either you will over expose White or you will under-expose black. No way you will land a perfect shot - till the time you are as lucky as me.
Pied Crow
Hide, take a zoom lens, crop the picture and show the world how easy it is to picture crowns 😀
Let me come down to my experience in Uganda - we had two Crows and one Raven in the range we visited. The Piapiac - the unusual crow of East Africa, the Pied Crow and the White-naped Raven. I would discuss the Piapiac in a moment. First the Pied Crow - the crow that looked and behaved like a crown. It was bigger than the common house crow that we so often seen in India. It used to cautiously hop around keeping a lookout towards the humans and perhaps everything else. They sounded like a crow. These were the intelligent types - one look and off they go. They were every where but extremely cautious. Inspite of seeing them everywhere they hardly afforded me photo opportunity. When I did photograph them on two occasions - once they were actually preoccupied and concentrating on the task at their hands and on the second occasion I hid behind a tree and took snapshots of a crow sitting far far away. 
Piapiac - the crow with long tail

The immature Piapiac have red bills that become black as the birds mature.
Piapiac on back of an elephant in Murchison

Now as to why I call Piapiac an unusual crow was that their look and behaviour was not what I have seen of crows in my experience. The tails were long and pointed. The sounds they made was not the croaking sound of a crow but more like a shriek of a parrot, shrike or something. The sounds of the pied crow and the piapiac are in the end of this article for you to compare. Their behaviour too was unlike the crows normally seen. They were all over the place jumping over cows, elephants, giraffes and other animals - that kind of thing is better expected out of oxpeckers and cattle egrets. That is why perhaps they were perhaps as approachable as cattle egrets - not bothered about anything in the world other than what they were doing.

Unfortunately for us - we did not sight any Raven - though there were people in the group who claimed to have seen one. The range of raven was in the vicinity of Entebbe and Kampala. So perhaps some other time...

Sunday, 11 September 2016

A Vulture gone Nuts: Palm-nut Vulture

I was preparing for the trip to Uganda and came across this bird in my book - Palm-nut Vulture. I thought it is an odd name. Odd ? Come off it - of course it was Very Very Odd... Its a fairly small bird, infact the smallest of the Vultures in East Africa. Don't get fooled by that - this small bird is still 60cm (24 inches).

It is a boldly marked black and white raptor with large black patches with white tipped black tail. It also has a funny hunched position while sitting and has a long and large bill with bare pink skin around the eyes.
All said and done - the bird was majestic...
Coming back to the story of the bird's name - Palm-nut Vulture. The range of the bird is fairly large and coincides with the Palm Oil Plantation and the range. Surprisingly - inspite of being a vulture - 65% of its diet consists of fruits of Oil and raffia palms as well as grains of other plants. In addition to this if will take fish, invertebrates, amphibians as well as small mammals, birds and reptiles. It behaves like a vulture feeding on small carcasses too.
This is a chance shot of the bird passing overhead. Notice the fish in it's claws

A bird near lake Victoria as we drove from Entebbe

Sam bird as above...
This birds is not persecuted, but gets affected by habitat loss - particularly in West Africa due to expansion of oil palm plantation that gives it limited opportunities to nest and as a result of harvesting. Infact the major threat now that remains with the most of the birds is the rapidly changing environment in the hands of humans who don't care a damn - considering it a birth right to profit out of whatever means possible.

All the same coming back to the bird - it was a great sighting - that happened on majority of our stay days in Uganda and though photographing of this bird was not very easy as the perch points were generally very high up in the trees.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Bristled Grassbird: Vulnerable Species Endemic to India...

The Bristled Grassbird is a small passerine bird also called Bristled Grass Warbler. This species is endemic to the Indian Subcontinent and known to be patchily distributed in Indian Subcontinent. I photographed and bagged this bird as a lifer today in Jawaharpur, Punjab. Wiki lists this bird as insectivorous bird that skulk in dense and tall grasslands, often in marshy areas. The bird was considered to be sedentary, the species is now considered to be migratory, moving south and east in the Indian peninsula during winter and returning to their breeding grounds in the Northern plains south of the Himalayas.

The first sight of the bird in Jawaharpur, Punjab

This bird flew overhead to investigate when I played the call.

One last sight after we planned to moved on - after the two odd hour appointment
This is a warbler - that is large and brownish with broad dark streaks to the feathers of the crown and back and can appear almost babbler like in appearance. The tail is graduated and has dark ribs to the feathers the are visible in the first picture.

This bird has a bare patch of skin in front of the eyes on which a vertical row of five stiff rictal bristles arise and face forward. The bare skin is flexible and it is thought that the bristles provide protection to the eye as the bird scampers between the dense and rough grass back and formisn a kind of cage or visor over the eyes. The sexes are similar. 

The species is threatened by the destruction of grassland and marshland habitats.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Of beautiful Wattles and Wattle-eyes: Brown-throated Wattle-eye (Uganda)

A small little bird that impressed everyone there in Uganda was a Wattle-eye. Though there are five species of the birds in East Africa - we could see only one. My book on birds of East Africa describes the birds as medium sized, fly-catcher like and several of them named after the females plumages and not males. 

The birds we saw were the Brown-throated Wattle-eye, one of the common birds there. We saw a pair but the male was more fidgety and did not give too good an opportunity to photograph but the female was more patient and gave a few but good opportunity to observe and shoot. The bird like described in the book was around the average 13 cm. This is also one of the biggish birds with others being somewhat smaller than this.The bird has been listed as common and we saw the birds in the fringe area of Mpanga forestry reserve.

The female and the Dark Chestnut Brown neck that gives the bird its name

Brown-throated Wattle-eye (Female)
I am including this picture as it gives a great view of the potruding wattles over the eyes.

The birds were great sport in the sense that they sang out to each other and the singing birds were as great to hear as they were to see. I am embedding the sound from Xeno-canto for your listening pleasure.

Monday, 22 August 2016

The little birds that started it all... White-eyes...

In my last blog post I spoke about comparing the similar birds across three continents - well the quest - or let me say the idea came by - by a very very small bird - the birds with white eye rings. White-eye - or specifically Oriental White-eye are very common birds in Indian Subcontinent. Common, moves in good healthy groups - it is seen many a times in outskirts of cities and in forests. Here I was sitting writing an article on Oriental White-eyes, that was some time back in mid 2015 - it was just a few months for my birdwatching visit to Australia. While preparing for my Australian visit I came across a very similar bird 'Silvereye'. I was thrilled - infact the continent has one 'Pale White-eye', one 'Yellow White-eye ' and four sub-species of 'Silvereye'. So I thought - let me wait and see if I can catch a sight of that bird. Finally - the visit was through and I could see only one Sub-species of Silvereye. That happened on the second last day of my visit to  Australia in the extreme South as we were travelling towards the Twelve Apostles. I was excited and sat down to jot down the notes - and just a few days after my visit - my next country for birdwatching popped up. I ordered books, bought apps and sat down and there - bingo another similar birds were there - four to be precise in East Africa. In my area of visit only one was present - namely 'Yellow White-eye' in Uganda. So once again - I pended my article and waited - if I was lucky enough to see this bird in Uganda. It was not a small wait - wait was good six months - and there is no guarantee that you will see a particular bird during a visit - but I decided to wait it out and take my chances...

The day came, we were in Uganda and we were out birding - shaking every bush for birds. Back of my mind I wanted to see the White-eye - even one single sighting - for me to see and appreciate. First two days passed and there were small birds scurrying around in the bush - alas - none looked like a white-eye or a silvereye. By the third day I was becoming a little bit doubtful - but then on the day of visiting Mpanga forest - one bird decided to hop and sit so close to me that to focus on the bird I had to actually move back. As our group of birdwatchers ran around shouting in excitement for birds here and there - I was concentrating on this one beauty that was giving such great opportunity to click. 

Okay let me put across the bird pictures for you all to see before I try and make something out of it. Ofcourse the sequence would be as I have seen the birds in my life - so White-eye from India comes first followed by Silvereye of Australia and then White-eye of Africa.

These birds are pictured from Nagpur
Oriental White-eye

Notice the bright yellow throat and the yellow vent

A small passerine bird in the white-eye family. The family of Zosterpidae. There are eleven subspecies in the Indian Subcontinent, from Pakistan till Bangladesh, including one separately classified Ceylon White-eye. Its a tiny golden olive bird with a very broad white eye-ring and bright yellow throat and vent. The bird is about 8-9 cm. The birds are gregarious and move in highly business like - fast moving noisy flocks.


Eye seems exactly the same 

Australasian Silvereye
Notice the paler yellow throat and rufous flanks
This is a different bird from above in different location
Okay - Australia complicates the issue a little bit with two comparable birds, one the Yellow White-eye and the second Silverye. The problem is that I did not see the Yellow White-eye, that fiscally inhabits the Northern Australia along with the coast, so I will not be able to talk too much about it. The second bird is the Silver eye. This bird has basically five subspecies and I saw the ones in the South East Australia also known as the race Westernness. They are slightly larger than the indian White-eye at 10-12.5 cm. The flocks were seen moving exactly in similar fashion as of the Indian White-eye.

The only bird I could photograph in Mpamba Forest fringes.
Notice the complete yellow wash on the belly and the underparts, unlike the Indian and Australian birds

The eye in all three birds is almost similar

Another shot of the dame bird.
East Africa has four white eye but the country of my visit had only one, namely Yellow White-eye. It does have seven sub species however. I had the good fortune to see the bird at two different locations, Mpamga Forest Reserve and in Kampala city. At the Mpamga forest there was only one bird that I could observe an photograph and at the Kampala city though I could see a flock I was unfortunate and could not photograph any. The bird averages 11 m so size wise it is in middle of both the Australian and Indian birds with Australian bird being largest and Indian smallest. The behaviour of the birds I observed was very near the Indian birds.

I will do a tabulation like I did last time regarding the lapwings to put across the birds in a better comparison.
Bird Family Size Remarks
Oriental White-eye
8-9 cm The behaviour of the birds at all three locations was almost the same. Infant I had to listen to the bird songs again to recall the songs by the birds and believe me they were fairly similar
Australian Silvereye Zosterpidae 10-12.5 cm
Yellow White-eye Zosterpidae 11 cm

Well the scope of these comparisons is too great with half a dozen subspecies inder each and so many related birds that I have not seen. But this does give a fair idea about the species separated by thousands of kilometres - having developed over million of years and still have the similarities of the original family history. I have loved doing this comparison and if you loved going through it - it would be great if you can leave a comment or follow the blog. Would just give me more impetus to continue down this road.