Saturday, 22 April 2017

Spiderhunters of India... Little Spiderhunter and Streaked Spiderhunter

Spiderhunters can be seen sunbirds on junk diet. After all, how do you explain the drab colours when rest of the Sunbirds are so shiny, beautiful and colourful? Well - spiderhunters are of the genus Arachnothera, part of sunbird family Nectariniidae. There are eleven species found in South and Southeastern Asia. 

These birds (two of them found in India) were very high on my list of birds to see - but unfortunately, they are absent from my local areas of birding around my city so remained elusive during my visits to the birding around Chandigarh. Then I got a break - in the Zoological park of Dimapur early this year I saw a bird - Little Spiderhunter on a Banana plant flowers. Unfortunately, the sighting was just a flicker and it was gone. It did not meet my requirement of observing the bird to my satisfaction so that I could tick the bird on my life list - but the beginning was made and I stand by what I have felt for a long time - once the birds decides to show itself - it is just a matter of time before it gets ticked. My next birding was 3,000 km from Dimapur - Ganeshgudi in Karnataka. The bird - Little Spiderhunter visited the bird bath set out by the Old Magazine House and gave sightings on two days to my heart's content - I awed at the beak of the bird - peered through the camera and saw the bird - the beak - the flicking of its tongue as it sipped water and bathed itself. Now only the second bird remained - the bigger cousin of this bird found only in East India and further Eastwards - the Streaked Spiderhunter. I bigger cousin as little spiderhunter is 13-16cm - the Streaked spiderhunter is 17-20cm. 

That sighting too was not too far away - in April I was in the forests of Arunachal Pradesh - and there it was - a flicker of the Streaked Spiderhunter - after that, the sightings were off and on - not for too long or as good as they were of the Little one - but good nevertheless. The bird seen in flight had a typical flight pattern - flap wings - fold them and become a rocket till the next flap. With the long and curved beaks - coupled with this flying we were soon seeing them flirting from the top of the tree canopies off and on.

The diet and the feeding of these birds require a special mention - their bills are long and almost twice the length of the head. The tongue forms a complete tube for most of the length of the beak - this beak-tube and the tongue is like an injection sucking nectar from the base of the flowers. Now, this is a wonderful and important way of pollination. These birds are also known as Nectar Robbers - they use the long bill and insert them from the side of the flowers to avoid being dabbed by the pollen - this tactic is called Nectar Robbing. The birds will eat spiders and are capable of extracting spiders from the centre of their webs - and that is not a small feat - the feat that earns them their name - Spiderhunters. With these two spiderhunters safely bagged - I am eagerly looking forward to the nine left - it may take time and effort as I have to travel out of my country to snap them.

Little Spiderhunter

Oh my! Oh my! what a beak...

Little Spiderhunter in his own bathtub 😜

Okay - here goes the Streaked Spiderhunter - the only good shot I got of this bird in Arunachal
Range of Little Spiderhunter - see the break in range in India

Streaked Spiderhunter range
Before I pen off - I too discovered an interesting fact about these birds while researching for this article - the nests are frequently parasitized byViolet Cuckoo, Asian Emerald Cuckoo, common Cuckoo, Large and Hodgson's Hawk-cuckoo.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Black-faced Warbler... one more tiny beauty...

Continuing with the tiny beauties of Himalayas - here is another one - the Black-faced warbler. The bird forms part of the bush warblers (Scotocercidae) and at only 10 cm - it is a perfect contender for the tiny bundle of joy for the birdwatchers. These birds are small, and being warblers - they hop around in the thickest of the bush and that does not make the job any easier for us to see and appreciate these birds. If you have not seen the Yellow-bellied fantail earlier - I will not blame you to give them a glance and look the other way thinking that you have spotted on of the fantails. I am by no means suggesting that their characteristics are similar - after all the fantail sits on a branch, sallies for flies and insects and spreads the fan off and on - but what would seem to confuse you is the same face pattern with a black mask on the face as it flirts in and out of the bush.

Though this bird - like a lot of endemics of Himalayas - reside from the east to west of the mountains - I saw this bird for the very first time a week back in Arunachal Pradesh. The problem sighting these birds are that the food is almost entirely invertebrates, foraging chiefly in the upper canopy, especially among creepers, to lesser extent in lower and middle canopy. So the sightings come only when the birds are forging the lower canopy of vegetation. It is also known to feed restlessly flicking wings and flashing tail - not unlike the Yellow-bellied Fantail I just spoke about a little earlier.

Surprisingly too many details of the breeding are not known about this bird and the information available on the Handbook of the Birds of the World live is based upon observation of two nests only.

A beautiful warbler...

Keep a hand covering the body of this bird - this is the way it will probably flash in front of your eyes - mistaking for Yellow-bellied fantail is easy

Talking about beauty and small bundle of joy...

The range of this beautiful Himalayan bird...

Monday, 17 April 2017

Carrying forward the Tiny bird series - the Yellow-bellied Fantail

Two things happened since my last update - Firstly, I have travelled and did some fabulous but not so easy, the difficult kind of birdwatching. Well, that update will take some time to happen. Secondly, The blog was selected by Feedspot as one of the top birding blogs in the world, eightieth to be precise. The  So I planned to carry on with the bird series - in continuation to the one I did in my last post - the tiny little bundle of joys. 

Today I discuss a tiny little fantail. Well, it is common and common like hell - if I am permitted to say so. The bird inhabits the part of the country where I reside - that is the North India tucked into the laps of Himalayas. It does some half-hearted migration from lower Himalayas to little higher, ranging from about 1,000m to highest at 4,000m. In South-east Asia, it has been seen locally down to about 180m. The bird is a beautiful mixture of Yellow and greyish-olive and is a tiny 11.5 cm to 12.5 cm. Tiny when compared with the other fantails of India - ranging from 18 to 20 cm.

Being tiny - it has a diet that is based upon small flying insects that are flushed out by fluttering about among the foliage. It occasionally forms part of the mixed hunting flocks but I have often seen that the hunting flocks moves along and these birds get left behind perching and hunting from their spot. I have spotted this bird in almost its entire range in Indian Himalayas, Hills of Shimla, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland.

The beautiful and the tiny Yellow-bellied Fantail...

The habit of sallying back to the same branch can give you some good views and pictures of this tiny bird...
The fairly large range of this tiny bird...
The eBird almost bunked my report where I saw more than 20 birds together last month in Nagaland. The birds seemed part of a larger hunting flock that got separated as these birds decided to let go others and settled to hunt near a small stream. The bird song is as embedded below and I find it difficult to differentiate from the so many other small birds.

Monday, 3 April 2017

How small can a bundle of joy be? Black-eared Shrike-babbler

11.5 to 12 cm is what is listed for this bird and it truly became a bundle of joy - as I scoured the jungles and walked relentlessly to find one bird that I can tick off as a lifer.

We had a day off and Khonoma is just a two and half hours drive, unfortunately for me, there was no bird guide as the only one, (in entire Nagaland I believe) Mr Anguilie was busy during the day. As it is my decision to start was taken late and I reached Khonoma around 1030 - the time of the day during which the bird activity ebbs to the lowest - from around 1100 to 1300hrs. Nevertheless, I was just not giving up. I entered from one forest track to another - not finding anything. The strong winds and frequent drizzle may have been to blame - but then when I sighted this tiny little bird as I was about to end the day after almost 6 hours and not finding anything that would have hang my head in disgust - this small bird hopped into my vision and lifted my spirits to the seventh heaven. 

Frankly, there were problems like the bird was too far away and down beneath the towering trees and the light was just about trickling down - but the camera at 800 iso and little bit of photoshop could bring out the colours and the gave life to this highly cropped shot.

Highly cropped shot - the original shot at 500 mm is included below

The second of the only two shots I got... 

The original shot with the bird almost non-existent in the centre...
As they say - all's well that ends well. A little about the bird now - this is a bird that has two subspecies and the one pictured above is the ssp melanotis. This bird is found in the Indian Subcontinent at 1200-2800m and recorded locally down to 300 m. Generally found singly or in pairs often with mixed flock. My sighting was with a large flock of Yellow-bellied Fantails. Handbook of the Birds lists this bird as winter immigrant in Nagaland improbable and require substantiation.

The range of the bird is fairly large...