Sometimes I just take pictures of random groups of terns. There’s nearly always a colour-ringed bird in a large group of birds, and if you take a series of pictures and then pore over them carefully afterwards you’ll find it. The pictures are seldom interesting, being designed to spot rings and not for anything else.
Last year in January I photographed a group of Sandwich and Great Crested Tern at Boulders Beach. I actually found a colour-ringed tern in picture afterwards, with a numbered ring that was part obscured so I could not see the number (!) but I also had some fun cropping out bits of the pictures and saturating the colours. This little slice of a picture is something that could have inspired Charley Harper to do something fun, I think.
I was standing on the hawkwatch platform near the lighthouse at Cape May, New Jersey, a few days ago, when this bird emerged out of the fog — a Great White Egret, from the Great Whiteout. There were no migrating raptors about.
(*I grew up calling this bird the Great White Egret. Now most people just call it the Great Egret, Ardea alba.)
another record image from the archives, this a grab shot of a Secretary Bird (Sagittarius serpentarius) that appeared suddenly next to my car while on a trip through the Kruger National Park in South Africa in 2007. These increasingly rare raptors never cease to amaze me — they have the head of an eagle with an American Indian headdress, the legs and body of a stork, the talons of a hawk and an appetite to match. They prefer to hunt by walking kilometres across the African veld, stamping small rodents and reptiles to death when they find them, although they’re adept at soaring high on midday thermals when the need arises.
most birders are aware of the recent claimed ‘rediscovery’ of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker in the US, which had been thought extinct for some decades. Millions of dollars have been spent to track down the last remaining Ivory-bills and conserve what are thought to be their last habitats.
Far fewer birders know that in Mexico, just south of the US border, the largest woodpecker in the world has been allowed to slip into probable extinction almost without a murmur. There are credible sightings of Imperial Woodpecker from as recently as the 1980s and their original natural range was far larger than that of the Ivory-billed — thus making them better candidates, in my view, for conservation expenditure. But few people have gone to try to find the last Imperials, if they exist, and the big bird conservation organisations hardly ever mention it.
A cynic would say that this is because it’s harder to raise conservation dollars in Mexico, and perhaps a bit tougher to work there. I hope there are better reasons for this comparative neglect.
During a quick visit to the Natural History Museum Vienna, in Austria, in 2007 I was stopped in my tracks by this old mounted specimen in a glass case, doubtless shot by an early collector for a few dollars and casually stuffed and stuck on a post by one of the museum’s taxidermists. No sign told visitors that this was the globe’s largest woodpecker, and that it was probably extinct. It was just arranged in the case along with a whole lot of other old, ratty mounted birds.
How many other amazing birds, like the Spoon-billed Sandpiper, are we likely to lose in our lifetimes?
I’m slowly accumulating clear record shots of North American birds. Here are a couple of gulls that are common in the northeastern USA — but rare vagrants back in South Africa!
is today. I don’t have great images of Old World vullies to post and my vid footage from India 2002/2003 is back in Cape Town… but I did post a little story and some pics of those ultimate rare vullies, California Condors, and an image of the sad end of a Black Vulture at the end of this post last year.
It was actually quite amazing how, in northeast Texas, many armadillo roadkills were closely associated with Black Vulture roadkills — the armadillos would get squashed during the night, and the vullies would get whacked the next day while feeding on their remains. I guess Texans don’t really care about vultures — I heard accounts of people shooting them for sport en masse.
You can read more here from the other bloggers participating in this awareness day.
had a fantastic time in Central Park on Saturday with a gang of New York city raptorphiles releasing 5 pint-sized Eastern Screech Owl into the park. They had been rehabilitated by Bobby and Cathy Horvath. Here are some photographs:
Cathy Horvath with one of the young grey-phase birds before release:
Two more grey-phase ESOs. Note Bobby Horvath’s slightly munched hand on left — they may be small, but they have teeth sharp beaks and claws:
Me and ‘my’ owl — the one the Horvaths gave me to release. Cathy on bottom left of frame. It didn’t seem to want to fly off in any hurry and sat on my hand for quite a number of minutes while everyone took pics:
Because the bird did not want to fly, I decided to put it on branch, from which it immediately flew:
Here it is a coupla minutes later near-silhouetted in a bush next to the path. I really like its unevenly-sized pupils!
Here’s a pic of the rufous-phase adult that Bruce Yolton released with a green tinge all over everything — the light really is green under that summer deciduous canopy in North America…
…and another of the same bird a little later:
What a great thing to do on a Saturday afternoon! You can see more pics of the release at
went down to the Riverside nest (in Manhattan’s Upper West Side) this afternoon to check out the three youngsters, one of which has properly fledged, one of which still seems to be in the advanced branching stage, and the third which is still in the nest. As I arrived an adult swooped in with a squirrel, which was a pretty spectacular thing to see. I was very keen to lay my eyes on some NYC Red-tails after spending 6 weeks in this amazing city last year with them while shooting a programme for SABC’s Healing Power of Nature series.
The light was shocking so the images are not great (800 ISO and hail-Mary shutter speeds with no depth of field) but here is the nest-bound youngster and the advanced ‘short-flight’ brancher (note crops bulging with squirrel meat).
Curious little buggers, young Buteo jamaicensis — they’re constantly looking around. If the one on the nest did not fledge just after I left I’m sure it’ll go in the next couple of days. It was standing around a lot on the edge of the nest and eyeballing the ground met ernstige mening.
You can read more about the Riverside Red-tails at Bruce Yolton’s blog
I see there’s still a trickle of visitation to this site even though I haven’t added a thing to it since late last year. I’m a little wary of blogging because it can mean a lot of time in front of the computer (I already have too much of that) and because my blog entries are usually written in one unedited go they’re not always highly readable — when you make most of your living from writing, as I do, that combination can be hazardous.
Nonetheless, because there are interesting things in the world that don’t always merit proper ‘stories’ (like little birding adventures) I’ve decided to carry on here. I can’t promise to be reg’lar as a geezer on All Bran Flakes but I will continue sticking things into the Web-ether.
Yesterday, late morning, I decided to flunk off to Intaka Island, a small bird sanctuary here in Cape Town near the truly horrendous Century City shopping mall. The weather was fantastic, and the bright, low winter sun made everything pop out wonderfully.
While I was sitting at the Painted Snipe spot a Malachite Kingfisher (Alcedo cristata) appeared close by. These are fairly common tiny kingfishers that like to fish from reeds or sedges low over shallow water. I usually see them zipping past in low, slightly undulating and very fast flight, their outrageously iridescent blue backs giving them away along with their clear ‘peeet’ call (a little like the call of the Malachite Sunbird, strangely enough).
The bird was very good at positioning its head so that the sun did not directly shine in the surface of the eye, presumably to avoid flare and thus see into the dark water more effectively — getting a shot like this, with a little eye-shine, meant waiting for it to look up at passing birds.
I could see that this bird had been ringed on the right let, I’m not sure by who, and I remembered from my teenage ringing days that we had to fit them with extremely narrow rings because the tarsus (lower leg) of this species is so short. They also have fused middle toes, as far as I remember — their feet are thus optimised for perching, not hoping, walking or handling anything.
Anyrate, my little Malachite flew around a bit from perch to perch and occasionally splashed down (sometimes successfully) after something like a tadpole or whatever. Sometimes it faced away from me, making its ‘false eyes’ on the back of the head quite obvious. Many species have marks like these, presumably to make predators think twice because they’re ‘being faced’ or ‘seen’.
You can see from this picture that the moniker ‘Malachite’ is a bit of a misnomer. The bird is far more a royal-type blue. The malachite-ish bits, on the head, are more like a deep turquoise. I’m a sucker for iridescent birds like this no matter what their colour, but perhaps we should think of a better name for these guys?
Sometimes the bird would lurch forward, as if to dive down to a fish, but suddenly change its mind and not let go of the restio it was perched on. For a few seconds it would be tipped forward like this, feathers ruffled out, until it settled back. I have no idea why the feathers get puffed out like this as it’s about to dive: simple excitement?
You can see the ring in this photo.
After about fifteen minutes another Malachite Kingfisher appeared on the scene, resulting in some piscivorous disharmony; the birds could clearly not share a fishing spot, and every time the ‘first’ bird would try to move a few metres to stay out of trouble, the newcomer would attack it. Here’s the beginning of a sortie:
and, a fraction of a second later, we have contact (ouch)
This photo was pure luck — my manually-focused old Tokina 300mm was just in the right place at the right time. What surprises me about the image is that you can see how serious the attacking bird is. This is no playfight or territorial show-conflict. It seems to want to impale the other one on its bill! The attacking bird’s eye appears strangely white because it is protecting the surface of the eye with its nictating membrane, or ‘third eyelid’. This is a membrane that birds have that can be flicked very rapidly across the eye (transversely) to clean or protect the cornea. Sometimes I wish I had them, like, hello darling! flick, flick, whoa…
The pictures were photographed using a shutter speed of 1/1,600th of a second, very fast, and its a testament to the speed that this all happened at that the two pictures immediately above this text are slightly blurred. Many birds flying along at normal speed would be rendered more sharply at this shutter speed. It’s amazing to me that not only did the attacked bird seem able to get a defensive foot out, but it also managed to fly out of its perilous position without braining itself on the surrounding vegetation. They must have incredible avionics!
Until next time…