© Foraging Behaviour of White’s Thrush at Cuc Phuong NP. Part 3

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“A daytime temperature of just under 20Celsius in mid-February was simply crisp and sweat-free. As long as enthusiasm held well, one simply could bird and photograph wild life and flora whole day.

“My several days spent at Bong Rangers’ sub-station- 20km inside Cuc Phuong National Park (CPNP) of 222sq.km- was simply sublime. Hardly was there any visitor in the first couple of nights.

“But it came with a downside…

“When I am done writing about birds in CPNP, I have no intention of a return visit to an in-hospitable management and to keep a good memory.

“The bonus of this birding trip was the opportunity to observe and monitor strange but amusing, foraging behaviour of White’s Thrush (Zoothera aurea) in the open, grassy fields.

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“Being mainly ground foragers, they were seen stalking amongst low flora vegetation (top, above).

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“At times, a few quick ‘forward and freeze’ steps were made on precaution mode noted. Alert stance was observed when wary and sudden sounds nearby startled the 29-31cm bird easily (above, below).

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“I did not hear any bird calls during observations.
Diet is known to consist of earthworms and some fruits and insects.

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“Shown here is image of bird with prey –insect/moth (above).

“Most of my sightings were foraging for vermin on ground.

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“Soil stained bill shown here (above).

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“A composite vermin foraging image extracted from video recordings is shown here (above).

“Apart from excellent faculties in hearing, smell and sight, how does White’s Thrush know exactly to draw out these earthworms?

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“To quote eco-naturalist Rev. Gilbert White of his reverence towards earthworms in his letter XXXV (20May 1777) book ‘The Natural History of Selborne’ (above):

Earthworms, though in appearance a small and despicable link in the chain of nature, yet, if lost, would make a lamentable chasm… worms seem to be the great promoters of vegetation, which would proceed but lamely without them.

“So let us focus on ‘Rocky 3’ the Bird No: 3 as mentioned in Part 2 to see how this ubiquitous bird does the jig to get those juicy earthworms.
Rocky 3 began with a sequential, rhythmic body sway from side to side, increasing to a crescendo bouncing of full framed body and occasionally spot marching on ground. The body sway wound up a vibration force, transmitted into the ground via bird’s feet.

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“This was followed by taking several steps forward to repeat the sequence again and again, moving forth to right and then to left in a zigzag manner (above).

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“By moving in such a meandering manner, it ensured complete territorial coverage of field area to be flushed. Jig and vibration sent into the ground via Rocky 3’s feet sent earthworms to flee and surfaced (above).

“I wonder how the late Rev. would have thought to see his revered creature be had in such a creative way…

“It is important to take a closer look at the plumages of White’s Thrush for opportunity to know the difference amongst other sub-species.

“This one last opportunity will be described in Part 4. I say the last because this will be the first and last time I need to be visiting CPNP.

“The Park management failed to arrange pre-booked return transport to Headquarters accommodation. I was left stranded 20km interior of Park with no communication outside to be had. Management was least apologetic about the incident. They… victims of ‘Post Vietnam War Syndrome’? (An insensible, resentful and discourteous act of retribution by abandonment).

“All friendliness came to sudden halt the minute chalet keys got surrendered.

“My request for a lift from same uniformed security-ranger who checked me in earlier was met with rebuff. He was more interested to load his brood of female restaurant employees he lunched with, into a UNDP pick-up vehicle.

“When offered a token sum, he squawked 500,000VD.

“My guardian angel came in the form of a young South African couple who chartered a car cum driver on a day trip.

“‘Readers wanna still read me at the Bong…?’
Read – ‘Plumage Study of White’s Thrush at Cuc Phuong NP’ Part 4 coming up…”

Avian Writer Daisy O’Neill
Penang, Malaysia
13th February 2016

Copy article and all copy images – Courtesy of Daisy O’Neill Bird Conservation Fund

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