The many faces of birding: I and the Bird #128

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The Bird Ecology Study Group welcomes you to I and the Bird #128. This is our second hosting, the first being in November 2008.

Watching birds can be fascinating. After all, there is a wide diversity of sizes, colours and vocalisation to attract our attention. And when birds congregate in masses to feed, roost or prepare for migration, they cannot help but be conspicuous.

There are many ways of watching birds. Most are satisfied to simply identify the birds they see, and maybe make the necessary ticks on their checklist and move on. Others are just happy to spot a new species, like Karen who saw her first Yellow-crowned Night Heron, a bird she did not know was around the area she is in – Maryland, USA.

Susannah, hailing from British Columbia, Canada had a happy encounter with a Turkey Vulture on her drive down to the sunshine coast. She had not seen one before, at least not as close as this one for her to identify – the bald red head, the two-toned underside of the wings, the black wing linings and dark grey feathers.

Similarly, Gloria was surprised when she heard the distinctive call of the Oriental Pied Hornbill around her high-rise residential area in urban Singapore. Looking out of her bedroom window, she noticed the hornbill perching on top of the next block. She has been monitoring the bird life around her area for some four years now, with nearly 40 species spotted.

Recreational birding can also be done around your backyard where Beverly had the opportunity to observe the fledglings of so many different species, from goldfinches to House Sparrow and House Finch. It must have been a good season to see so many backyard birds completing their breeding cycles successfully…

Kay, who is from Texas, USA, is also a keen backyard-frontyard birder. So far she had seen more than 260 species… and counting. June being about nesting, she had a busy time tracking the birds for a lead to their nests – flycatcher, whistling-duck, mockingbird, oriole, grackles… The birdhouses were no problem but the natural nesting sites were.

Or you can birdwatch at your favourite patch – or a new patch that Michael ended up in when he had a few hours to spare at the University of Essex, England, after dropping off someone there. He was planning to count coots but did he succeed in counting them? Or did he count cows instead? Well, when you are in an unfamiliar patch…

When Joan was at Wilkeys County, Georgia in the US to do a night survey of frogs, she visited a field the next afternoon on her way home. There was a couple of Wild Turkeys with four chicks foraging that she enjoyed watching.

Some birders move away from their comfort zone, travelling some distance away to new areas. Wai Mun did just that, taking a short boat trip to look for seabirds. Due to bad weather, only the Short-tailed Petrel of the three target birds was seen. But there were sightings of an Asian Koel and Spotted Wood Owl on a side trip on the way home.

Susan travelled a longer distance south from her hometown. She visited the popular Panti Bird Sanctuary in Johor, Malaysia. There were birds aplenty, but then she was disturbed to find out that logging activities are still going on around. Will logging encroach onto the sanctuary? Has it actually done so?

When Boon Eu found out that the Belum-Temengor Forest in Malaysia is in danger of being slowly destroyed by logging, he linked up with the Malaysian Nature Society to lobby for the saving of the habitat where at least 2,000 individuals of the Plain-pouched Hornbills regularly flock to roost and to feed.

A trip to Panama from his base in the US is the ultimate in birding trips. This was what Mike did recently. Spending the night in the renowned Canopy Tower afforded him the surreal experience of waking up at dawn to a spectacular view of the rainforest canopy and no doubt the dawn chorus of the numerous South American birds.

Recreational birding has different effects on different people. Some feel pleasantly satisfied after a morning of looking at birds. Others feel elated, especially when a lifer has been spotted. To Flowergirl from Madras, India, it brings out the poet in her. Check out her poem on the koel laying her egg in a crow’s nest…

A common fixture of recreational birding is the bird race where participants join in to see who can spot the most birds during a fixed period. That was what Tabib did for the last two years, not as a participant but as an observer. Unfortunately he will not be at this year’s Fraser’s Hill International Bird Race in the highland resort of Malaysia.

But birdwatching can also be a vicarious experience, as seen in Kevin, a self confessed nature spy. He trawls the net to seek out photographs of interesting sightings by bird photographers and birdwatchers, borrowing the images and highlighting them in his blog, as in this Grey-headed Fish Eagle. This is his way of popularising bird photography to a wider audience.

The curious birders not only look at birds, they also study them – observing their behaviour, however basic they may appear to be. Jill is one such example. She writes about the social behaviour of the Pygmy Nuthatches, how they share roost cavities, how the young from past years assist in breeding chores, warning against predators, etc.

Similarly, Samson became fascinated with the preening activities of the Spotted Wood Owl when he came across one in Singapore. It was daytime when he photographed the owl indulging in such comfort behaviour. As the owl is a nocturnal bird, he naturally wondered whether owls also preen during the night. This is a thinking birder, always questioning and never taking things for granted. Something that should be encouraged!

In the case of Clare, who is from Quebec, Canada, he headed for Marcil Lake to greet the arriving Red-throated Loons with his camera and accessories in tow. He had planned to document their behaviour. Somehow or other he ended up photographing the Long-tailed Ducks and their various antics in the water.

Although Clare missed the loons, GrrlScientist, has provided an image and calls of the Pacific Loon in her post – in a form of a “mystery bird”. Viewers were supposed to name at least one field mark to support their identification. Apparently “loon” refers to either the bird’s clumsy movements on land or to its distinctive wailing calls.

Duncan documented “ten seconds in the life of s lapwing”, showing photographs of the bird standing on one leg, scratching its chin, stretching a wing… The comfort behaviour of a Masked Lapwing. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words, don’t you think? And we have more than a single picture.

And then there are the specialists, who are meticulous in their documenting of bird behaviour. John is one such birder. The return of the House Wren to the nesting box allowed him to make further observations on the nesting behaviour – 12 days incubation, brood of 4-6 chicks, female incubates while both adults feed the chicks…

Photographers can also be meticulous in what they want, as Amila found out when he took a group of “high-octane” bird-photographers into a rainforest in Sri Lanka. The mark of a successful tour? The quality of night birds seen! They did see nine out of 15 resident nocturnal species and many others as well.

A camera on a birding trip always proves useful. Amber’s encounter with a hummingbird with its bill probing through a bunch of flowers may well be thought of as nectar foraging. But it was actually stealing insects trapped in a spider’s web found between the flowers. And there is photographic evidence of bits of silk attached to her bill.

More specialists. Andrew & Sarah took the sound approach to birding. Armed with the equipment of the trade, the adventurous pair travelled to Turkey. Not to a rainforest mind you, but to a harsh, rocky gorge where you would not expect the bird life to be rich. But it was surprising rich. And the bird songs were equally rewarding.

Of course viewing birds on film is the ultimate experience. On film, you can study every details of behaviour over and over again. And Gunnar has brought to us the Long-whiskered Owlet, video-filmed for the first time by Shachar Alterman. If you need to view the owlet, you need to travel to Esperanza in Peru.

The final word comes from Grant who suggests using the spotting scope that birders use for birds, to look at stars…

Well, the above are the different way people enjoy birds. You can just look at birds. You can study birds. You can photograph or video birds. Or you can record their songs and calls. After all, to each his/her own. And as long as you are enjoying what you are doing, go for it.

The I and the Bird #129, scheduled for 8th August 2010 will be the fifth anniversary edition, to be hosted by 10,000 Birds. Contributors will be asked to do something special – rather than provide a new post, Mike would “like everyone to submit the best birding trip report they’ve ever written on their blogs. Any report, whether it be distant travel or local birding, is welcome as long as it’s good.”

YC Wee
June 2010

8 Responses

  1. Twitter Trackbacks for Bird Ecology Study Group » The many faces of birding: I and the Bird #128 [] on

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  2. I and the Bird #128

    […] The BESGroup blog, led by the indefatigable Y C Wee, takes the group’s commitment to know more about a bird than just its name forward by providing a platform from which each member can share field observations, photos, and research. This blog is simply amazing and successful too based on its long history! If you’re not already a fan, you’re in for a treat but make sure you start with Y C’s “many faces of birding” edition of I and the Bird #128. […]

  3. Susannah

    I’m stopping in late, as usual, lately. And here’s a great excuse for more procrastination! Thanks!

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