Saturday, 28 April 2018

Celebrating the Twelve hundredth bird of life list: Painted Bunting

Some milestones are special and there is no parallel one can draw. I hit the One-Thousandth bird in Europe (Italy) this year and the celebrations lasted a month. Now another milestone with logging the Twelve-hundredth bird - Oh! and what a bird...

Let me start from the beginning. I came to the US for birding primarily and bird I did. There were two places that I had intended to cover in a four-week stay - New York and the area around and Houston, Texas. One of the bird I marked up while I was studying the birds of US and making a list of 'wanna see' birds, was Painting Bunting. It is not a rare bird really - but just simply shy and hard to find. And here I am today I am pounding my keyboard to share the bird that I logged as my Twelve-hundredth bird in my life - the Painted Bunting. Painted Bunting is also sometimes called 'Nonpareil', meaning 'unrivalled' - a way to describe the unbelievable colours the male bird has.

These birds are shy, secretive and often difficult to observe though at times can be very approachable especially around the feeders.  It displays an interesting behaviour in which that the male migrates about a week earlier and establishes a small territory. They then advertise themselves - wooing the females to breed with them.

The bird has moved from Least Concern to Near Threatened due to habitat loss due to development, especially in the coastal swamp thickets and woodland edges in the east and the riparian habitats in migration and Southeastern United States and Mexico. This was a very popular cage bird and it is hard to wonder why - currently it is illegal to hold and capture this bird but it is speculated that the trapping still takes place in Central America. This bird is also protected under the US Migratory Bird Act.

I had seen the pictures so many times but to see it in person was an experience I will carry with me for a long time. I had requested services of a Bird guide whom I had come across and became good friends with, Mr Bill Goloby of Penfeathers Tours (contact details are given at the end of write-up). I was toiling hard as my list of birds seen during the trip of US was hovering at around 168, that was below the 174 I saw during the Ugandan bird trip and way below the 192 birds that I saw during the Australian birding. While I was struggling and penning down the birds, moving one bird a time to improve my American sightings, I saw my list and exclaimed to Mr Bill, I am with 1199 sightings worldwide and was about to hit the figure of 1200. He asked me - what do you desire the 1200th bird to be and without hesitation, I replied - Painted Bunting - a bird that I was on the lookout from the first day I came to Texas. We had just halted listening hard for warblers and were coming across them far and between. Seeing and hearing nothing we moved a bare 10 m when Mr Bill shouted - Painted bunting and a painted bunting flew from a fence nearby, I was excited no limits - and the bird went and sat on a tree at a distance. Mr bill replied - have patience - it should come back to the fence as it might have a rest nearby. A few minutes later the bird flew back and sat on the fence again. I was down on my knees moving a bare step a time towards the bird and clicking pictures. My legs ached as I was being too careful trying not to scare the bird off and moved a few inches a time. The bird seemed to be okay with it and after what seemed to be an eternity I got some shots that I am sharing here and I will treasure eternally.

This is the closest I could crawl to this bird... an effort worth it.
This remained the only bird (male) that I saw during the entire visit.

My first shot of the bird - cropped a lot and then sneeked ahead clicking a dozens of images every few inches.

This is a highly cropped shot - and the female that was sitting on the tree was so hard to focus and click that I concentrated on the male alone - an oversight I regret as I do not have any picture of the second bird.
I would be writing in detail my adventures of birdwatching in the US over next few weeks. Please keep a lookout for some of my experiences.

I birded in Texas with a fine gentleman and a bird guide whom I think of highly. His details are as below and he conducts regular tours in and around Houston and in neighbouring states.

Bill Goloby, Director
Penfeathers Tours, LLC
Mobile: +1 713-542-3473