Thursday, January 8, 2015

Little Birds of Great Interest

So far, all of the attention has been to those iconic penguins, their little chicks and the other big birds, like albatrosses, that are found in the Falkland Islands. Beyond those well-known subjects, there are some really interesting little birds.  Let's dive into the ones that deserve some attention.

The Pied Oystercatcher is a striking shorebird because of its eye and the black and white plummage.

Another bird that immediately reminded me of home was this Austral Thrush (previously called the Falkland Thrush).  Of course, it is a cousin of the American Robin.  It is perched on the Gorse, possibly using it for nesting cover.

I recall clearly my first sight of the Long-tailed Meadowlark. We were hiking up a hillside towards an albatross site, when I saw this brilliant scarlet color among the Diddle Dee scrub bushes.  Days later, I was able to get much closer and see it clearly.

 This was a bird I did not anticipate in my pre-trip planning. One day I arose before the others and hiked up a hill to find one male singing with great energy a typical sort of meadowlark song. It was a surprisingly loud sound from so small a bird.

There was the small  and elusive White-bridled Finch (previously called the Black-throated Finch). It was usually hanging on to some thin stalk of Tussock Grass and whipping about in the wind.  You can see on its sides, how the wind is unsettling the breast feathers.

One day, the question was whether I had seen the Rufous-crested Dotterel.  What is that?  I learned that the bird it is quite shy and hard to approach, and is attractive, too.

There were more familiar species too.  The Common Snipe was a pleasure; it often came quite close and lingered.  I've never been that close to a snipe here in the USA.  It's quite beautiful.

It's been suggested to show your best photos first to capture the viewer's attention.  I've saved my most interesting small bird for last.  (Actually, it is my favorite of the entire trip to the Falklands!)

When first seen in a pond on Sea Lion Island, the brilliant red eye of the Silvery Grebe startled me.  The behavior of the two adults only increased my interest, as they sheltered two chicks under a parent's wings, while the other adult foraged for small invertebrates in the fresh water pond. Note the small bit of food in the bill of the parent approaching the exposed chick.  Oh my!

These grebes so captured my attention that I returned three times. They were not the least bit wary of humans.

I learned that they build a floating nest in the rushes bordering the pond.  The chicks grow rapidly and begin to dive for food while still in their fluffy down.  This chick stretched to reveal a webbed foot perfectly suited for strong swimming but useless on land.

I had a book describing the flora and fauna of the Falkland Islands.  These grebes were included in the illustrations, but they could not capture the brilliant colors nor the fascinating bahavior exhibited.  These birds are my strongest memory of the trip. 

Paul Schmitt