Monday, April 18, 2016

Cupwings, Tesias, Minlas, Fulvettas, and Niltavas – another 77 lifers in Nepal

The timing of my arrival here in Kathmandu, Nepal was fortunately just right. Having arrived on a Thursday evening, my first full day was a Friday, when my friends Kate and Mich had to go to work. Perfect time to me to begin the long process of getting over my jet lag (Nepal Time Zone is 12 hours and 45 minutes ahead of Mountain Time Zone).  I birded a bit in the yard, seeing my lifer Oriental White-eyes as well as a few birds I had seen in years past but didn’t know well: Oriental Magpie-Robin, House Crow, Common Myna, Common Tailorbird, and two migrant Greenish Warblers. Both House Sparrows and Eurasian Tree Sparrows are common and the ubiquitous feral Rock Pigeon abundant. Black Kites are always overhead, and Rose-ringed Parakeets fly by frequently.

Then on Saturday, the whole family and I took a late morning hike to Shivapuri National Park, a very short drive to the edge of the city. Kate, Mich, Mara, and Malcolm.


It was just a dirt road through some nice forest, and we walked about a mile and back over the course of about 3 hours. It was light birding, as we took time to entertain the kids, Kate fed Malcolm, and we looked at damselflies, grasshoppers, and beetles.









I was a bit overwhelmed with 27 lifebirds, mostly names I had never heard before. (I must admit I did not have a chance to study at all for this trip.) Mich has been throwing names at me like “tesia” and “niltava,” and I have no idea what he is talking about. Now I know how some of my participants felt when we saw a Double-striped Thick-knee in Costa Rica last month, and they had never heard of the word. “Double-striped WHAT?”  I swore Mich made up the name Blue-winged Minla, but I actually saw one.

Here are some photos of the birds we saw – all of them new for me.

This Common Hawk-Cuckoo was singing very loudly right over the road as we were driving up.

This Blue-capped Rock-Thrush was a surprise for Mich, as it is apparently a migrant that had only recently arrived.

The Long-tailed Minivet is relatively common and conspicuous, and I noticed that its excited call reminds me of Helmeted Manakin.

A very common bird in small mixed flocks is the Nepal Fulvetta. (Whatever a fulvetta is…)

A male Small Niltava – one of the prettiest birds of the forest here.

Not nearly as colorful, this probable female Taiga Flycatcher was a recent arrival.

We were lucky to find a pair of Spotted Forktails along a rivulet. We don’t have anything remotely resembling forktails in the New World, and now that I’ve seen three species (two in Borneo three years ago), I’ve decided I still have no idea what a forktail is. But I like them.

It took me a while to track down this Golden-throated Barbet, as it was singing from the top of an alder tree and sitting very still.

Finally, while I was trying to track down the barbet, Mich spotted this perched female Wedge-tailed Pigeon, a new bird for him.

Butterflies were surprisingly common, and I managed to get at least tentative names for most of them:

Pieris brassicae nepalensis, Nepalese Large Cabbage White

Metaporia agathon, Great Blackwing

Acytolepis puspa, Common Hedge Blue

Lampides boeticus, Pea Blue

Athyma opalina orientalis, Himalayan Sargeant

Callerebia annada caeca, Nepal Ringed Argus

Nymphalis xanthomelas fervescens, Large Tortoiseshell

Precis iphita, Chocolate Pansy

Symbrenthia lilaea khasiana, Common Jester

A grass skipper, maybe Thoressa aina

Then on Sunday, Mich and I were joined by Som GC, perhaps Nepal’s best known birding tour leader, to spend a few hours in the morning at Phulchoki, a lovely forested hill southeast of the city. Incidentally, since Nepali is an Indo-European language, it's not surprising to see there are many cognates with European languages. Phulchoki means flower-full. Chock full of flowers.

The dawn song was overwhelming, and mixed flocks were everywhere. I saw another 44 lifers in just 5 hours, but I had the feeling there were just as many that we passed up. I really look forward to knowing these birds better. Here are the ones I managed to photograph:

Green-tailed Sunbird – this male was all riled up at our pishing and owl imitations.

Himalayan Cuckoo – an amazing spot by Som, perched a couple hundred meters away. We heard them all morning, but saw only this one and another in flight.

Nepal Fulvetta  – like yesterday, we had several flocks of these. It's a simple looking bird, but I could get used to seeing these every day.

Orange-bellied Leafbird – I had seen this yesterday, but only fleetingly.

Rusty-cheeked Scimitar-Babbler – a great name for a great bird, usually very hard to see.

Tickell's Leaf Warbler – I don’t know how I managed to get a photo of this, one of the better warblers we saw (and probably a migrant here), and a constant flitter in the tops of trees. We saw thirteen species of birds called “warbler,” including eight in the genus Phylloscopus, to which belongs this Tickell’s.

Ultramarine Flycatcher

Verditer Flycatcher

Three birds that I didn’t photograph but must mention for their cuteness are Pygmy Cupwing (formerly called Pygmy Wren-babbler), Gray-bellied Tesia, and Chestnut-headed Tesia. All are tiny things that live on or near the ground in dense thickets, have very short tails and long legs, and resemble a cross between an antpitta and a winter wren. They can be hard to see. The tesias are now in the bush-warbler family (Cettiidae), and the cupwings are a genetically distinct group of five species that were recently removed from the babbler family and placed in their own (Pnoepygidae), and them moved in the order to be placed closer to distant relatives, the kinglets and the African warblers. Incidentally, “pyga” means rump in Latin, but I don’t know the meaning of “pnoe.”

We also saw a few more butterflies, but it was cooler and shadier than Shivapura.

Byasa dasarada, Great Windmill. I had seen this swallowtail yesterday but didn’t get a photograph good enough to ID it.

Colias fieldii, Dark Clouded Yellow

I also saw a stunning birdwing swallowtail, but there are two species that are very similar.

There is no good field guide to the reptiles of Nepal, so this lizard may remain unidentified for some time.

This delicate bush in the mint family smelled strongly of pennyroyal, sort of a cross between peppermint and basil.


As it got warmer, these beautiful yellow-winged cicadas began making a clicking sound, rather different from the majority of species that have a long, continuous buzz.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Views From Greenland and Kathmandu

I have gotten very behind in sharing all the news, photos, and highlights from my recent tours to Peru, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, and back to Costa Rica. But I’m behind in lots of stuff. I got my taxes submitted just in time, something I couldn’t put off any more.

Just to quickly fill in a gap in reports on my blog, here is some scenery from the past few days.

On a long-planned trip dating back to last early September, when I booked my business class ticket with nearly all of my frequent flier miles, I departed Tucson this past Tuesday, spent the night in Chicago, then boarded a flight to Abu Dhabi. One third of the way through the flight, I looked out my window to see astounding views of the southeastern coast of Greenland.


Our 13-hour, 45-minute flight path then took us over the southern tip of Iceland, over Denmark, across the western tip of the Black Sea, then over Turkey and western Iran before our final descent over the Persian Gulf early in the morning. I had only a short layover there, then flew on to Kathmandu, arriving at about 7:30 p.m. local time, nearly 20 hours after departing Chicago.


The next morning I woke up to these panoramic views from the roof patio of my friends’ house in the capital of Nepal, along with the contant whistles of an Asian Koel, chattering of an Oriental Magpie-Robin, and constant activity of House Crows.


Thursday, January 28, 2016

NE Tucson’s Rillito River Sparrows

Rillito River

Last Thursday I spent a couple hours of the morning checking the sparrow flocks along the Rillito River with my friend Keith Kamper. It was a good excuse for a bike ride (about 12 miles round trip), and I wanted to follow up on a report of Clay-colored Sparrow from the Tucson Valley CBC over 5 weeks ago. Thanks to the rainy first week of January, there’s still water flowing in the wash.

We tallied 36 species as we walked the wash between Craycroft and Swan Roads, slowly flushing birds as we navigated the sometimes dense brush. One of the first birds I spotted was a White-throated Sparrow, a bird that was missed on the CBC and the second one to be found in the circle since then. I failed to get a photo of it. Birds disappear quickly in this habitat.
Rillito River

By far the most abundant bird this morning was Lesser Goldfinch. Most of them had already eaten and bathed and were joining in a chorus of insanse mimicry in the mesquites lining the bike path. We hoped to find  Lawrence’s among them, but there weren’t any.
Lesser Goldfinch

The shrub they and the many other sparrows are feasting on is a composite with very strange fruits, Ambrosia salsola, Burrobush. It used to be placed in the genus Hymenoclea but now is merged with the ragweeds and bursages.
Ambrosia salsola, Burrobush

Ambrosia salsola, Burrobush

There were lots of White-crowned Sparrows, and just one of them was of the rare (here in winter) subspecies oriantha, with the black lores and pinkish orange (not yellow) bill.
White-crowned Sparrow oriantha

There were a few Rufous-winged Sparrows.
Rufous-winged Sparrows

But we paid particular attention to the flocks and flocks of Brewer’s Sparrows, drab, but cute.
Brewer’s Sparrow

Brewer’s Sparrow

And it finally paid off – a Clay-colored Sparrow amongst them! Extremely similar in size, shape, proportions, and call note, they usually hang out with Brewer’s. The pale lores, broad grayish-buff supercilium, contrastingly pale whitish malar, gray collar, and well-defined ear coverts with a warm brown center are all good marks, but it was the contrasting brown patch in the wing caused by the edges of the tertials and secondaries that first caught my eye.
Clay-colored Sparrow

We flushed a couple Greater Roadrunners on our way back.
Greater Roadrunner


It was still cool, but there was an active nest of these shiny, smooth harvester ants. Their small size, shinyness, time of year, and shape of the nest help identify them as Veromessor pergandei.
Veromessor pergandei

Veromessor pergandei