Friday, 22 December 2017

Eurasian Wryneck - differently packaged woodpecker...

When you look at this bird you will be surprised when someone points out - well it's a woodpecker. Afterall when you see a bird of a family you have a picture in mind that says - here - that bird is a wagtail, that one is a crow - within that, you then shortlist that bird - it is a house crow or a Yellow Wagtail etc.

When I first saw it a few years back and I was told that it is a woodpecker with my fellow birder - my eyebrow raised and touched the already receding hairline... Okay, I might have gone too far with the description - I did not have that receding hairline till past year or so. Coming back to the bird - the Eurasian Wryneck. This woodpecker (take my word that it is a woodpecker till you read through) breeds in Temperate regions of Europe and Asia and then migrate to Africa, Iran and Subcontinent of Asia in winters. It is this time of the year that I start looking out for this bird. Well ever since I first saw it - I have been hunting it to get a good shot. It is said that a bird decides when you will get a good sighting of the bird and not your hunting and chasing it down. I have always got shots of this bird - that is every winter for past five years or so - but never the shot that I would have really really wanted so badly. A few days back that opportunity struck and I was ready.

The bird came, flew and settled in front of me - It was peering curiously at my camera...
A few moments of me remaining there without moving and it settled down for basking in the winter sun.

As I decided to move - the bird too moved a few feet with me - still giving the amazing view. Look at the feet - woodpecker like - second and third toes in front and first and fourth backwards...
The birds are about16-17 cm that translates to 6.5 inches or so. The bills are shorter and dragger like than average woodpeckers and that is one of the reason that they do not look like one at the first glance. The second reason is that they lack the stiff feathers of the woodpeckers so they prefer - not to hang on a tree trunk - more often perching like any other bird. That is the second reason that one can ordinarily not relate them to woodpeckers.
Distribution of Eurasian Wryneck. Yellow-summer, green-resident and blue-winters

However, like true woodpeckers, they have large heads, long tounges that they use to extract prey from insects from decaying wood or ground. They also have zygodactyl feet, with two toes pointing forward and two rearwards. They re-use the other woodpecker holes for nesting rather than making own holes.

One interesting point as to how these birds get their English name is their ability to turn their heads through almost 180 degrees. When disturbed in their nests, they use this snake-like head twisting and hissing as a threat display. This behaviour also led to use these birds in witchcraft for put a 'Jinx' on someone.

The sound of this bird is a must hear for someone not heard this bird before. Please find this embedded below. 

Thursday, 14 December 2017

Honey I full framed my birds...

Oh! I have been crying like a baby about how difficult it is to get pictures of birds in the tropical areas of East India. Well, it is truth and nothing but the truth. All this while I was looking at the stunning images by one birder, Malcolm Peake - who is the Administrator of Worldwide Birders on Facebook and pulls out one photograph after another - stunning, to say the least - that keeps me drooling over his pictures.

Past few months have not been too good for birding in any case - a few walks on a Sunday or a holiday - but then what did it matter - I was in the birding heaven of India - Arunachal Pradesh, where in-spite of hunting and all the associated pressures the birds were just a bush away. Well here was the problem, I was seeing good and great birds but they were just not posing for me. I have to admit, though I love birding, I am also a Bird Trophy hunter who keeps scores of the pictures of the birds I see and even a single good picture makes my day.

So little birding, with no good pictures, was not helping me at all. So much so that I am fairly irregular with the blog, and morale was taking the hit. Today - a normal day with the sun rising in the East like it does every day - turned out to be a little different. I had reached my expected birding spot dot before the sunrise and was waiting patiently for the sun to light up so that I could start peering into the bushes around. The birds were already making sounds but impossible to spot.another fifteen minutes the light was good and a billion sounds played out like a perfect orchestra - but still no sightings. I started walking down the road. It was another half an hour before the first sightings started here and there - but nothing to talk about. My average walks last anything from 5 to 8 hours so I had the day in front of me. The best thing to happen to any birder in East India or any tropical forest, I suppose is that you come across a good mixed hunting group.

Little did I know that my prayer was to be answered 'in a Jiffy'. I would have barely covered a km the next hour, peering hard in the bush to get some good bird lurking around. I heard some sound from my left that felt like a parrotbill splitting the tender shoots of bamboo - and I stopped, Parrotbill is a social bird and are in a flock with a lot of other birds. I saw the bush swaying but still no birds.

Well with nothing better - I tried to predict the movement of the birds and walked around 15 - 20 meters where I thought that I would get the best sightings and the wait for the perfect ambush started. The flocks are like the starling murmuration - well not really but the hunting flock is a flock with a mind of its own - the birds move dictated by one bird taking initiative and all birds suddenly would change the course midway, so though one can try to predict the direction of movement of the birds and try to position in their path - but there is no grantee of success. It was only a couple of minutes when sounds got closer and the birds seemed to be moving along the predicted path. Suddenly I was surprised with a parrotbill popping up just a yard from me. The bird was as surprised as I was but perhaps seeing me as no threat, continued munching the tender bamboo shoots. The bloody bird was too close to focus on my 200-500mm lens, so I lowered the camera and stared at the beauty of the bird at such close quarters. With the bird and the perch so close, I backed up a couple of steps till I could focus on the twig where the bird had popped up and waited. I did not have to wait before the main body of the flock started flooding me with great observations. I was child gone crazy with so many candies to choose from, I had parrotbills, Babblers, Yuhinas, Scimitar Babblers, drongos in this one flock. I shot crazily for the next few minutes - Oh it was heavenly! Finally, the birds moved on, but not before making my day. Presenting here some pictures that I got that day - both full frame and others for all to enjoy.

Pale-billed Parrotbill (Lesser Rufous-headed Parrotbill)

Pale-billed Parrotbill (Lesser Rufous-headed Parrotbill)

White-hooded Babbler