Monday, January 18, 2016

Blue-tailed bee-eater

Hello Goa, said the bee-eater, or that is atleast what I thought it said. During the same birding walk that I described in my previous post, we spotted this bee-eater.  For a while, we thought it to be the Green Bee-eater (Merops orientalis) commonly found in peninsular India. As the bird changed perch, the change in light helped us get a better look at the bird and behold we were face to face with a winter visitor- The Blue-tailed bee-eater (Merops philippinus). The bird breeds in North and north-east India and spends it's winters in the warmer southern India.
Like the name suggests the bee-eater eats bees and also other insects like wasp, hornets and ants, all of which have a nasty habit of stinging. The bird's long beak, helps to keep these stingers at a distance, away from its eyes. Once a prey is caught after a zigzag pursuit, the bird removes the sting by beating it against something, or by just squeezing the prey. All this does not mean that the bird does not eat non-stinging insects, it does enjoy dragonflies, butterflies and moth too. So it's not just the humans that eek out a living on the bee, the bee-eater does it too.
A few pair of bee-eaters make their nest every year in our backyard. The nest that comes to our mind is the one that is built on trees, with reeds and twigs. But unlike that, the bee-eaters, digs a burrow in soft ground. I enjoy watching, the bee-eaters dig out burrows using their feet and beaks. The ground based nest means snakes and rats take their toll of eggs and chicks; many pairs are left without brood. Bee-eaters that have failed to find a pair or lost their brood help out a relative with a family to feed. As older birds tend to be more successful at breeding, it is normally young birds that help the parents- which generally turns out to be brothers or sisters, hatched during the previous year.
As one drives around Goa, it is quite common too see bee-eaters or Drongos lined up on power cables, looking for flying insects, which are disturbed from ground as people or animals walk- it is a common character with all bee-eaters. The East African bee-eaters, where there are no power cables, hitch a ride on Kori bustard (the worlds heaviest flying bird). As a foraging bustard walks through the grass flushing out insects, the bee-eater sitting on the back flies off briefly and snaps them up. It is the only recorded example of one bird hitching a ride on another in order to obtain food. 

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Shikra (Juvenile)

At a recent birding trip to Neura village in Goa,( thanks to our friend Tallulah for the invite ) we chanced ourselves on this Juvenile Shikra (Accipiter badius). It was flying quite low, from one bush to another, definitely hunting something. It's long tail and broad wings, gave the bird good maneuverability in tight spaces. Our presence may have been a bit of an irritation to the bird, but we parted ways quite soon.
 "I wonder that my very simple stratagem could deceive so old a shikari" said Sherlock Holmes, in "The return of Sherlock Holmes" by Arthur Conan Doyle. 'Shikari' is Hindi, Urdu and Persian for hunter and it is from this word the Shikra gets its name. The bird's usual diet consists of lizards, frogs, grasshoppers and small birds, but in the hands of an proficient falconer the Shikra was trained to hunt bigger birds like quails, crows and partridges. A Shikra could be easily trained by a falconer (in as short as 10 days) and was hence used by them to catch food for their more valuable birds like the Falcons and Goshawks.
The bird we spotted was a Juvenile, probably less than a year old. As a rule, birds of prey lay no more than four eggs. Eggs in the larger clutches are laid at intervals of tow or four days- and there is thus considerable variation in the size of nestlings. The first one out of the egg, thus has a great advantage over other fellows. The parents feed the larger, more alertly begging chicks and may neglect the others completely, leaving the the weaker one to die from starvation. So it is extremely likely that our Shikra was the eldest and the first to crack his egg.
'Lost Tribes Beverage' is a microbrewery that specialises in brewing beers using ancient and forgotten beer recipes. One of their beers is called 'Shikra', which is Aramic for alcoholic beverage. Meanwhile cheers and enjoy a Shikra. 

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Black Winged Stilt

And I am back. 2016 started with a schedule full of activities and that is good tidings for me. Meanwhile, I went on a bird walk recently and spotted at least three birds that were my first sightings of the species. They were the Marsh Harrier, Grey-Headed Lapwing and Little Stint.
It is during this bird walk that I spotted this gracefully wading Black-Winged Stilt (Himantopus himantopus). I just realised that the bird's Latin name is a 'tautonym'. Scientific names for animals are usually composed of two words (not always, more about it soon): the genus comes first and then the species. Two animals of the same species can reproduce and give birth to an individual which can further reproduce. The genus is analogous to its tribe: a group of species that are related to each other.
The Genus and the species name of the Black winged Stilt is the same making the name a tautonym. A little bit of prowling on the net and I realised that there are many such toutonym's in the animal kingdom. Gorilla gorilla (the Western gorilla) is one such example and surprisingly the Western gorilla has a sub species too called Gorilla gorilla gorilla (the Western Lowland gorilla) making it a triple tautonym. Just how a species has a sub-species, a genus too can have a sub-genus and to avoid confusion that genus name is given in brackets- like Megacephala (Megacephala) megacephala (tiger beetle, Latin name translated- Bighead (Bighead) bighead). That now gives rise to an interesting possibility of some one having a quadruple toutonym. One well known such creature is the Bison (Bison) bison bison , and like you must have rightly guessed by now it is a kind of Bison.

Unlike the Zoologist the Botanist have taken a clear stand against tautonym's. I have been told that tautonym's are strictly forbidden for plants under the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature.

Meanwhile the Himantopus himantopus, caught some thing that looked like Chandramara chandramara or a Devario devario or it may have been some thing else entirely.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Brown Thornbill

Another Australian bird, which is also found in Tasmania- the Brown Thornbird ( Acanthiza pusilla ). This insectivorous bird has a melodious call and it was a pleasure watching it hunt for insects.
Could not observe the bird for long- since it disappeared after about 10 minutes. 

Friday, May 15, 2015

Grey Teal

A small respite in my schedule gives me a chance to resume my posting of Australian birds. We all associate ducks with water- so when I spotted a duck high up on a tree, I was quite amused. Although I had seen many photographs of ducks on trees, I had never seen one in real life. Well this time it was the Grey Teal ( Anas gracilis ). Another mobile duck,(just like the wandering whistling duck posted earlier) that keeps migrating irregularly, between freshwater lakes- looking for abundant food supply. When it comes to food they are not at all fussy and can eat anything from dry land plants,to insects and their larvae. The bird generally breeds near inland waterways, and nests may be placed on the ground, in rabbit burrows or in tree hollows. Eggs are also laid on the bare floor of the nest site, which are then covered with down (feathers).

Monday, April 27, 2015

Black Swan

One of my favourite books in finance is Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s "The black swan", a term he popularized to mean "An event or occurrence that deviates beyond what is normally expected of a situation and that would be extremely difficult to predict." The chance sighting of this pair of Black Swan ( Cygnus atratus , the scientific name means ‘a swan attired in black’, ) was something like a 'Black swan' event itself. A series of unplanned events, led my wife and me to a place called Hunter wetland center, where we spotted this pair.
We spent quite sometime, watching this graceful pair. Black swans are naturally found in in the wetlands of south western and eastern Australia and were hunted to near extinction in New Zealand, where they are successfully reintroduced now.  These birds are exclusively herbivores and feed on aquatic plants and algae. The swan is the state emblem of Western Australia and appears on the state flag.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Satin Bowerbird

When I started birding in Australia there were three birds that I wanted to see; Kookaburra, Satin Bowerbird and the Lyre bird. I have already posted about the Kookaburra, today is the turn of the Bowerbird. To my dismay, I did not sight a male Satin bowerbird ( Ptilonorhynchus violaceus) - but was quite delighted seeing a female. Bowerbirds themselves are quite drab looking birds, nothing eye catching about their appearance or colour. But what is quite fascinating, is what the male does to woo the female. The male builds an elaborate structure and decorates it with various artifacts- they could be anything raging from shells, petals, parrot feathers, berries to mirror pieces, ball pens, clips and other man made objects. They however prefer objects with blue colour or even the ones that shine. Once the structure ( called bower) is built the female inspects it and if she likes it mates with the builder. What the male has built is actually not a nest- but just a structure. The female now has to build her own nest and lay her eggs- while the male goes his merry ways.
I did not spot a bower in the wild, however I did see one in the Natural History museum at Sydney. The third photograph is from this place, and displays a bower with two stuffed birds.