The Advisory Boar
“Make eBird your New Year's Resolution for 2016!”,
they said, with a picture of a Steller's Sea Eagle that looked like it
meant business. So I did.
A month and a half into the year, it's become a habit to record and
submit lists during the day. It's given me a reason to get out of the
house for a while in the morning and evening, and to take occasional
breaks from work during the day, all of which has made me
fitter, happier, and more productive.
I have many complaints about the eBird interface. The "Submit
observations" page needs to be a couple of orders of magnitude faster.
The Android app shouldn't be so dependent on network connectivity. Both
need to be much smarter about interpreting abbreviations. I can think of
various features that would make reviewers' lives easier. But those are
just details (I hear the eBird team is receptive to suggestions), and
none of it takes away from the fact that eBird has helped me to start
birding regularly and seriously again.
As new year's resolutions go, I can't think of one that's worked out
I have now lost count of the number of forwarded copies of the
“A scientist found a bird that hadn’t been seen in half a century, then killed it”
mail that people have sent me. The collection of a Bougainville
Moustached Kingfisher specimen by an AMNH team in Guadalcanal has
drawn intense criticism and reignited the debate about whether
scientific collection is justified or even necessary.
[Illustration: J G Keulemans (1842–1912),
I don't have anything new or insightful to add to this debate.
Two years ago, I bought a pair of
Alpen Wings 8x42 ED
binoculars. These are one of the least expensive mid-range birding
binoculars, but a big step up from my earlier
Nikon Trailblazer 8x42 at
three times the price.
Even so, I didn't expect them to be so much better than
anything I had used before. The view is addictively bright and clear,
and I use the 2.5m close-focus capabilities much more than I thought I
would. The build quality is excellent, the adjustments are smooth and
precise, and these binoculars feel reassuringly solid in the hand. The
hard carrying case is also welcome.
On paper, the specifications are very similar to the Trailblazer: same
magnification, similar field of view, waterproof and fogproof, slightly
less eye relief, a bit smaller but a few grams heavier. I expected only
a modest improvement in optics and better build quality, but they're in
an altogether different league. Two years later, I'm still as happy and
impressed with them as I was in the first five minutes.
(I also use an Alpen spotting scope, which I will review someday;
suffice it to say that Alpen optics deserve their excellent reputation.)
I am a big fan of written descriptions of field sightings.
Forcing myself to write down my observations and present them in an
organised manner has helped me to learn to make better use of however
little time I get with a bird in the field. Unless I did this
consciously, it was all too easy to spend time looking at birds without
seeing very much.
Written descriptions are not always reliable, and the reliable ones not
always conclusive. A photograph, regardless of the quality, can often
serve to clear up an incomplete description; but photographs can't be
the beginning and end of identification, because they come with their
an old thread from delhibirdpix
that shows how photographs can mislead even a succession of expert
observers. The ingredients were all in place: a location that has an
extraordinary (and well-deserved) reputation for being a vagrant-trap,
a small warbler with an unmistakable black brow, and only one species
anywhere in the region matching that description.
But two and two did not add up to Black-browed Reed Warbler in this
case. The identification hinged entirely on the black brow, which turned
out to be an artifact introduced while lightening a dark photograph, as
shown in the comparison above. The bird was (probably) a Booted Warbler
with an entirely unremarkable pale brow.
(from about the same time) about a similar problem.
Late in December 2009, as a birthday present to myself, I went on a
solo trek to Dayara Bugyal, a high-altitude alpine meadow in Garhwal.
I meant to write about the week I spent in the mountains, but upon my
return, I found the experience too overwhelming to try to describe all
Some six months after the trek, I posted a
a photograph from my first campsite.
Nearly a year later, I wrote about my decision to
forego a field guide
on the trek; that's where the paragraph quoted above comes from. It's
been nearly five years since then, and I've typed that first sentence a
dozen more times, but I never got much further.
One of my most enduring memories of the trip is of a small grey bird
crawling up the face of a rock cliff just below Barsu village. I was
driving back to Uttarkashi in the late afternoon after the trek, and I
caught a flicker of movement on the cliff from the corner of my eye. I
knew instantly what it was—a Wallcreeper, a bird I had been hoping to
find for the past five years. I had barely a minute to admire it, but
I'll never forget the sudden flash of scarlet when it flew away.
It's almost Wallcreeper season where I live now. They're a familiar
sight in passage to lower altitudes in early winter, but that first
sighting will always be the most precious.
I've read many pieces about the people after whom birds are named, and
it struck me recently that most of them are male. Not surprising, since
there must have been many more male ornithologists than women; but there
are nevertheless many birds named after women. Because of the regularity
of Latin grammar, we can find a considerable number just by looking for
names that end in -ae.
Alas, the majority of matching names are toponyms. Some of these names
are obvious, like novaehollandiae and novaeseelandiae,
which account for 23 species between them. But many more are obscure,
and there's no way to exclude them en masse. One must go through
the list one entry at a time to discard the place names. One notable
example of this genre is adeliae, which refers to Adélie
Land, named after Adélie Vicomtesse Dumont d’Urville, wife of a
French Antarctic explorer. Another problem comes from male names which
have been Latinised as -ae (e.g. Matsudaira, Fea). When these and other
complications are eliminated, we are left with just under a hundred
Only a handful of these names belong to women whose contributions to
ornithology are well-documented.
Maria Emilia Ana Koepcke, a famous German ornithologist and explorer in
Peru, has a Screech-owl, a Cacique, and a Hermit named koepckeae
The Dot-winged Antwren Microrhopias [quixensis] emiliae is named
after Henriette Mathilde Maria Emilie Snethlage, another German
ornithologist in Brazil, and the Director of the Goeldi Museum.
Eleonora's Falcon Falco eleonorae is named after Giudicessa
Eleonora d'Arborea of Sardinia, who made a law protecting goshawks and
falcons at their nests… in the fourteenth century!
Marion A. Johnstone, an English aviculturalist, has three birds named
johnstoniae after her.
Therese Charlotte Maria Anna Princess of Bavaria, a zoologist and
explorer, has two birds named theresiae after her.
British ornithologist Beryl Patricia Hall had a bird named hallae
after her (but I can't figure out what species it was).
The Jos Plateau Indigobird Vidua maryae is named after Mary Dyer
for her field work on indigobirds in Nigeria.
The delightfully-named Elfin-woods Warbler Dendroica angelae is
named after New Zealand zoologist and conservationist Dr. Angela Kay
The Afghan Snowfinch Pyrgilauda theresae was named after Theresa
Clay, a British expert on bird lice.
The Golden-rumped Flowerpecker Dicaeum annae is named after Anna
A. Weber van Bosse, a Dutch botanist and collector in the East Indies.
Otus ireneae and Metallura odomae are named after Irene
Morden and Babette Odom, sponsors and bird-watchers in Kenya and Peru
Lulu's Tody-tyrant Poecilotriccus luluae is named after Lulu May
von Hagen in recognition of her support for research in avian genetics.
I gave a talk on feathers to the Delhibird group at the WWF auditorium,
but the video and presentation are not yet available on this web site.
Write to email@example.com if you're interested in them.
Last christmas, I saw a number of
Richard's Pipits at Dadri.
Yesterday, on a trip with Ramit and Ammu, I was pleased to make their
acquaintance again. We had multiple good views of at least one bird out
in the open, and saw and heard a few others in flight.
I noticed this time that, at a distance, the streaking on the back can
be more obvious when the bird is running with its head down and body
held parallel to the ground than when it stands upright, something that
can be seen briefly in this video:
Perhaps when the bird is in its characteristic upright posture, the back
feathers are pushed together, and the streaks are shifted out of
Apart from the pipits, the highlight of the morning was watching three
young Peregrine Falcons hunting waders and waterfowl over the lake.
(Meanwhile, a number of Blyth's Pipits have been seen in Karnataka this
year. I wonder if there are any at Sultanpur yet?)
Mangar is one of many small villages nestled in the Aravali foothills
near Delhi. In a region that is under increasing pressure from real
estate development, Mangar is especially interesting because it adjoins
a banni (sacred grove) that represents the largest remaining contiguous
unspoiled Aravali habitat. The residents of Mangar and some neighbouring
villages understand the value of this grove, and are exploring ways to
secure lasting protection for the area.
The banni is important for many reasons, including its cultural
significance, being a valuable groundwater resource, and being home to
many species of trees, animals, and birds. I am studying the bird life
of the banni and the area around it as part of an effort to establish
its biodiversity value.
The banni comprises various distinct kinds of habitat, each with its own
characteristic bird life. This is a work-in-progress checklist based on
two visits to the area in September 2001, and will be refined as more
data are collected. Considering the extent and richness of the habitat,
there is no doubt that subsequent visits in winter and other seasons
will add to this list significantly.
Today I recorded a Yellow-bellied Prinia Prinia flaviventris
calling in the Typha reedbeds at Okhla Bird Sanctuary in New
Delhi. The bird was very close to me—though I could not see it in
the overgrown reeds—and one can hear its wing-snapping display in
the recording. The incessant drone of Cicadas provides a backdrop.
an MP3 file
(which I created using
Audacity), and here's an
old photo of the species, also from Okhla.
(There are much better
photographs on OBI.)
This is the first time I have used my new
recorder, and I am very impressed with the sound quality I obtained,
given my complete inexperience at nature sound recording. I used the
default 44.1KHz/16-bit settings, with the "low" mic sensitivity setting,
and a recording level of 10.
I am delighted to have been able to record one of my favourite singers
as my first subject. I've always tried and failed to describe the call
to people, but now I can let the bird speak for itself.