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.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Two birds... one click: African Jacana and Grey-headed Gull

Well I would love to say - it is not everyday that you get two lifers with errr... one click. There is a big problem when you go out of the way for birding, like me visiting Uganda and you find birds that are common, common they may be but you throw common sense out of the window and do not trust the previous knowledge worth a dime. Come on - you want me to spell it out to you? well they are birds - they decide whether you have the pleasure of their company and not the other way round.

African Jacana was supposed to be common and it did show itself plenty of times while on our hunt of Shoebill. But then during those times there are very special times when the lighting is great, background and foreground is a sort of perfect and Wham ! other birds decide to land on the same very spot. Now you are in a fix, perfect foreground, perfect background and a confused soul behind the lens. Anyway - I did what I thought was the best at that moment - I kept the camera down - to the surprise of my birding guide. I can still imagine him cursing beneath his breath while he was trying to whisper - Grey-headed Gull.... the boatman had stopped rowing the boat trying to give me a perfect moment and I too realised that the boat was drifting and the moment would soon be lost. I had tried to soak in the environment a bit too long I suppose. The modern cameras give this opportunity a bit better than their predecessors I believe. I pressed the shutter and did not raise the finger till my 200 shot buffer gave up. The rest you can decide after seeing the picked few pictures...

Lilly in foreground, African Jacana the bird I was photographing and the gulls in the background...

A portrait of African Jacana
There are two Jacanas found in Uganda the African Jacana, one pictured above and Lesser Jacana. Though the range overlaps I was fortunate to see only one of the two. The frontal shield of the birds I saw were striking blue.
...and the gull asked me - we flew in all for nothing?
Neat birds was my first expression. The Grey-headed Gulls did not leave their names to any imagination. Other that the neat grey heads - the eyes were beautiful with pale yellow eyes surrounded by pink red ring. saw these birds in flight as well as resting as they landed on the island of sort occupied by a lone Jacana.
...keep posing I said 
...face slightly to the left - Ah ! that's my girl...
...the moments drifting away...

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Snowy-headed Robin-Chat: Uganda

Another bird that I found in Uganda that was beautiful, a 'chance see' as I really did not expect to see it. The bird was the Snowy-headed Robin-Chat also called Snowy-crowned Robin-Chat. Well people little realise that bird watching is also of many a variety. I will talk about my trip to Uganda - that was specifically for birdwatching with a large group of people - it was birdwatching for sure but the "Pokemon Go" variety. You are let off in a Botanical gardens and given time - 3 hours and said - Go ! you go running around and seeing all the birds that you can see. Sometimes you go together, other times either you huddle in small teams at other times you go alone. This kind of birding is not the peaceful kind where in you locate a spot, sit down, let the birds be naturalised to your presence and then wait for them to hop around you if you are lucky. Well both have their merits but then there are birds that you do not expect to see while in your "Pokemon Go" hunt variety. The birds you do not expect are the extremely shy ones, the ones for whom you have to time and effort on your hands. All that is well but here is where the luck factor can call it a draw.

Article of this bird on wiki is a stub and the handbook says this about the bird - 'not uncommon but shy'. See why it was perfectly placed this bird in my 'may not see' category. 

On the first day of visit to Uganda after having a lunch we still had time and the majority decided to go to Entebbe Botanical forests before checking in the rooms. So with luggage still in the vehicle we got down at the gardens, the guide paid up the fees and we were running around like kids chasing birds (Average age of our group may be near the 55s or 60s). I decided that it was best that I set course along a path and I was leading by about an hundred odd yards when I came across a stream crossing the path. I saw some common bulbuls taking bath and got down on my knees to photograph them. It might have taken 10 min or so of my waiting, kneeling still like that punishment in class in the golden 80s era. And bingo this Robin-chat hops in for a quick bath. 

If I was surprised - then let me assure you the bird seemed as surprised to find me there. It did a few hops and it was gone. With no time to adjust the settings, towards the dark undergrowth of the tropical forest, I let go a lot of shots. Though they were too dark - it was only after reaching India and post processing I could salvage the pictures.

My first and only encounter with this bird: Snowy-headed Robin-Chat

It was looking at me as if to say - Holy Sh*t - who's there ? and off it was...

Thursday, 4 August 2016

Gonoleks of Uganda...

If I was to tell one of the most beautiful bird that I saw in Uganda - well it will be pretty difficult to answer, difficult because so many birds there were beautiful in every sense - however ummm... there is one bird that will pop up in the mind. The bird that was beautiful - with the bird present everywhere we went - but always flirting with our cameras. The call was very clear and the bird could be clearly identified - but to see the bird was more of a luck than it flirting in and out of trees and bushes. 

The bird was 'Gonolek' - a small 20 odd cm bird with a striking black and scarlet body with creamy-white eyes. Infact there are are two Gonlek's residing in East-Africa and we (specifically me) were lucky to see both of them. One is the Black-headed Gonolek, the bird found in cities, country sides, parks and everywhere else, the other was the Papyrus Gonolek - similar to the Black-headed other than the crown of the bird that was golden-yellow. This bird is also listed as 'Locally common' but more difficult to observe in the dense papyrus swamps.

The papyrus gonolek was sighted in during the hunt for shoebill in the Mbamba swamps. Infact that is the only place we saw it - though I might have heard the call at one more place during the boat ride to the birthplace of mighty Nile.

Black-headed Gonolek - the first one sighted outside out guest house in Entebbe 
Same bird
Once again in Entebbe - different bird, on the hindsight I do not have a single picture of a female...
Same bird
Okay I am not going to get sick of posting this bird a hundred times here...
Same bird...

During a walk...
Last day this bird was sighted in Entebbe Botanical Gardens - just before we set course for the airport on our way back home
This is the second bird - the Papyrus Gonolek. One sighting and this bird appeared for a few seconds - jumping around in reeds hardly coming out in clear 
Okay this is the second picture that the bird was out.. and this was the only instance...
An interesting fact about the bird was that the bird calls were a duet in a sense where in the male makes a bell like sound and the female responds with a harsh grating sound.

Though you might not notice - it is a duet by the first sweet sound of male and then almost overlapping harsh sound of female. The above call is of Black-headed Gonolek.

Again, pasted above is a duet call of male and female of Papyrus Gonolek. Notice the almost immediate response of the female.

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Birding across continents: Yellow Wattles and Lapwings...

I have been lucky - lucky in the sense that in the last one year I have made birding trips to two other continents - Australia in Oct last year and Africa, Jul this year. I was lucky to see similar species across the three continents - that is Asia (Indian Subcontinent to be precise), Africa (East Africa) and Australia. The observations on the similar species that I have observed in these three places is wonderful. I am no scientist - and do not proclaim myself to be an ornithologist - but to a keen birdwatcher like me - to discover facts like this - simply by observation is a great and interesting thing to observe and study.

I intend discuss all such birds. My birding trips have been - the tourist variety - not the kind that I might have preferred - staying for days and observing - but then something is better than nothing ? Okay the first similar birds that I saw across were the Lapwings, I am talking about Lapwings with Yellow Wattles. So in India we have our Yellow-wattled Lapwing, a bird not very common but fairly common (don't get me wrong please - what I mean is less common than very common), in Australian East Coast I saw Masked Lapwing, again a fairly common bird and in Uganda I saw Wattled Plover or also called Wattled Lapwing. The Wattled Lapwing in Uganda was seen by me only in Murchison while on a safari - but where I did see them - they seemed common enough.

The birds have been presented here with my home bird first followed by Australian and then African, purely in the sequence I have seen them in my life.
Picture of Yellow-wattled Lapwing in flight (India)
Yellow-wattled Lapwing (India)

The cute baby: Yellow-wattled Lapwing Chick (India)

I virtually saw this bird along the entire East Coast. There are two subspecies This picture is of Race novaehollandiae. Just don't ask me how to spell it.
This picture is of the Race miles. The basic difference visually is the Wattle, The black on the crown, nape and going down the side of the neck.
The bird with the smallest yellow wattles. My sightings were in the Murchison fall area - but seemed fairly common there.

Okay there is blur - but I thought I will share this - have only limited pictures to compare.
Now that we have seen the three birds that I saw over these three continents - let me try and compare them a little more.
Bird Family Size (cm) Remarks
Yellow-wattled Lapwing Charadriidae
The birds behaved exactly as the other. The behaviour may have been in part due to belonging to the same family. The african birds I did not hear them - seemed quite but my exposure was for just 2 days, the Indian Yellow-wattled calls only when disturbed and the Australian was nearer to our Red-wattled Lapwing - same irritating calls over and over again.
Masked Lapwing Charadriidae
African Wattled Lapwing Charadriidae

However listening to the sounds they made was absolutely similar with small variations here and there. If you do listen to either of them - you cannot go wrong guessing that you are listening to a lapwing. None of the birds discussed are migrants so stands to logic that coming from the same family they got split as the land masses moved away from each other and over period they developed same and different - all at the same time. I will not speculate into the science of all this but am satisfied to be a witness to these small things and classify under the small miracles of Life...

I hope you have liked going through the blog. The references to the blog has been done by Wiki, xeno-canto and referencing the books I had bought for the birding at these three places. They are the best I got to pick from a lot of books on the subject floating around. I am leaving a link to all the books I have referred - before and after the tours...