New Bulbul Species Discovered

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We often assume that we know all there is to know about our world. Even though there are behavioral patterns and various other mysteries surrounding some of the animal and bird species on our planet, we tend to assume that mankind has discovered just about every creature and insect that shares our world. When the news broke that a new bird species had been discovered, it made headlines, as it is not every day that a species appears that no-one was aware of.

The Minerals and Metals Group that operates in the Loas region of Asia, funds a project that employs conservationists and scientist such as Iain Woxvold (University of Melbourne), Rob Timmins and Will Duckworth, who are part of the Wildlife Conservation Society. While working in this region, these three men discovered the new bird species, which has now been named the Bare-faced Bulbul (Pycnonotus hualon).

This unusual little bird is not only unique in its features, but is also a songbird, and due to its ability to adapt to unihabitable areas, it is no surprise that it has been able to remain undiscovered for so long. It is also the first time in approximately a hundred years that a new bird species has been identified in Asia, making this a memorable moment for the scientists, the conservation organisations of Asia and for the region as a whole. The new species was found in the desolate karst limestone landscapes, which are located in the lowlands of the area and consist of sparse trees and not much else. The bare-faced bulbul is the size of a thrush, which is approximately twenty centimeters, and has beautiful olive green plumage that covers its back. It has off-white feathers over its chest and has large dark eyes set in its bald head that is pinkish in color.

Iain Woxvold explained the reasoning behind the new species remaining undiscovered for so long by saying: “Its apparent restriction to rather inhospitable habitat helps to explain why such an extraordinary bird with conspicuous habits and a distinctive call has remained unnoticed for so long.” Asia Programs, part of the New York Wildlife Conservation Society, assistant director Peter Clyne expressed his excitement in regard to the discovery, acknowledging that finding new bird species is an extremely rare event, and due to new species not being found every year, the unveiling of the bald-faced bulbul is most certainly a newsworthy discovery.

Unique Birds of the Philippines

There is a good chance that the Philippines might have to change their conservation efforts when it comes to bird species. If the studies performed by Dr. David Lohman are correct, the Philippines could have more unique bird species than previously thought, and this would most certainly force the Philippine authorities to become stricter in regard to conserving these extraordinary birds. According to Dr. Lohman, it is one of the areas in the world that is overflowing with biodiversity and is astonishing in every way.

Over seven thousand islands make up the Philippines, and its wildlife is considered to be truly unique. Almost seventy-seven percent of the amphibians on the islands and sixty-four percent of the land mammals cannot be seen or found anywhere else in the world. When it comes to the bird life on the islands, it was believed that only thirty-one percent of the birds in the Philippines were endemic. Professor David Lohman then took it upon himself to begin a study to find out if some of the bird fauna could deliver distinct bird species that have not been recognized before. He decided to concentrate mainly on seven perching bird species, and by following the genetic lineages of these species, Professor Lohman has been able to determine a distinct history in regard to these bird species. In previous years, taxonomists would identify bird species through the color of their plumage and various markings found on birds, but Professor Lohman has pointed out that this form of identification is not accurate enough, saying: “Those features are not ideal, since closely related but distinct species can look similar.”

Due to the distance between the Philippines and the Asian mainland, it is believed that contact between mainland birds and those on the islands would be minimal, if none at all. By following the evolution of the bird species, Professor Lohman has found that a great number of Philippine populations were unique and not found in various Southeast Asia regions. “These unique genetic lineages were unknown before, however, our research hasn’t gone far enough to say these are new species”, explained Lohman, continuing by adding that “more rigorous analysis of the morphology may be needed to make that determination.”

Asian Bird Fair 2010

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Bird watching groups from various countries, such as China, Singapore, Thailand, Philippines and Malaysia, was working together to host the first Asian Bird Fair on the 24th and 25th of September 2010. The fair will offer lectures and talks by well known delegates, and also take visitors on fascinating bird watching expeditions. It is a unique opportunity for bird watchers to get together and explore the world of birds locally and internationally.

Visit the Birdwatch website at http://www.birdwatch.ph/index.html for more information in regard to lectures, bird watching and the fair schedule.

Date: 24 – 25 September 2010
Venue: Waterfront Insular Hotel Davao
City: Davao
Country: Philippines

Corn Crake (Crex crex)

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The Corn Crake (Crex crex) is quite a pretty little bird that is commonly found across Europe and western Asia. They are quite different from other crakes since they do not share the same habitat. While most crakes tend to prefer marshy areas, the Corn Crake seems to favour meadows and arable farmland as a breeding ground. Unfortunately, this tendency has resulted in the Corn Crake becoming a ‘Near Threatened’ species since modern farming methods often result in the destruction of nests and birds that may be hidden in pastures and amongst crops. What’s more, it is difficult to flush these birds out, since they prefer to run from danger in amongst the surrounding growth and out of sight instead of taking flight. Since harvesting and mowing often takes place before the end of breeding season, youngsters and nesting birds are often killed in the process.

When in flight the Corn Crake is quite easily identified due to its chestnut wings and long, dangling legs. The adults have brown, spotted under parts, a blue-grey head and neck area and a reddish streak on their flanks. Immature birds are similar in colour but their heads are a buff colour instead of the usual blue-grey. The Corn Crake also has a short bill and its slender legs are a yellowish-orange. As is typical of birds belonging to the rail family, the chicks are black and later develop their distinctive colouring when they lose their down feathers. The average bird is between 27-30 cm in length with a wingspan of 46-53 cm. In general, the Corn Crake is quite a secretive bird which is more often heard than seen. At night they make a rasping ‘crek crek’ sound which is quite distinctive.

The best time to see the Corn Crake is between April and September when they arrive at their Scottish breeding grounds to nest, mate and produce offspring. These days the Outer Hebrides of Scotland is generally considered to be the best place to find the Corn Crake, though they can be found in other parts of the country too. Their diet consists mainly of insects and seeds and you are most likely to find them by listening for their call instead of looking for them amongst the growth.

Greater Flamingo (Phoenicopterus rubber)

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The Greater Flamingo (Phoenicopterus rubber) can be found in North and South America, Asia, across Europe and in Africa. Standing at approximately five feet, the Flamingo, ranks amongs the tallest birds on the planet. Their distinctive pink plumage, large bodies and long pale pink legs make them unique. The beak of the Greater Flamingo is shaped at 45 degrees, is light of color with a black tip and assists them in filtration and pumping while they feed. Interestingly enough, the Greater Flamingo’s coloring is a result of the crustaceans that they eat. Flamingos that are housed in zoos are given dyes such as flamen oil or a beta-keratin coloring additive to ensure that they do not lose their coloring. Male and female Flamingo’s are similar, with the males being taller.

The Flamingo has webbed feet and an extremely long neck. Having webbed feet allows them to swim, but most importantly it helps them stir up organisms such as algae, diatoms, protozoa and insect larvae on which they feed. Flamingos also eat worms, crustaceans  and mollusks. The feeding process of the Greater Flamingo is very specialized. Flamingos will spend most of their day with their heads bent down, filtering water through their beaks. Their beaks contain a lamellae, which is a sieve-like structure, that is thin and can be described as a comb. Their fleshy tongues are used to suck water in the beak and then force it back out again. The bolus of food that is nearly dry after the water is forced from their beaks, goes to the back of their mouths and is swallowed simultaneously with the next water intake. The Greater Flamingos feed in large groups as this ensures safety by numbers when they have their heads down. Big flocks can also create a lot of noise, and when they are not feeding they flap their wings, preen themselves or stand in beautiful postures. Flight and migration takes place at night, and during flight Flamingos have both their legs and necks outstretched.

Flamingos are filter feeders, and are therefore found by lakes and lagoons, or watery areas that have the right water depth and mud to sustain the flamingos’ feeding process. They will only breed when they are in large numbers, and even though some build new nests, it is known that many use the same nest each year. Breeding takes place during March and July and the birds generally form a pair bond that is long term. Flamingos will built their nests on the waters edge from mud, and it is approximately 35 to 40 centimeters in diameter and 25 centimeters high. The female will lay only one egg that is white in color with a red yolk. Both parents take care of the egg that has a 28 to 32 day incubation period. Chicks are gray in color with a pink bill. The chicks are able to leave the nest after a few days, and parents will only feed their own chick. For 4 to 6 weeks, the chicks will be fed by their parents, and fledge the nest at three months. Fledglings will group together and only reach full size between the ages of 1 to 2 years. Adult plumage is only acquired during the ages of 2 to 4 years, and the long maturing process is suggested to relate to the long life span of the Flamingo. The Greater Flamingo can live to between 25 to 60 years of age.

Gyrfalcon (Falco rusticolus)

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The impressive Gyrfalcon (Falco rusticolus) is the largest of all falcons. Its body measures roughly 60 cm in length and its wingspan may be as wide as 130 cm. The male is usually about one third smaller than the female and the bird may weigh between 2 to 4.5 pounds. The plumage of the Gyrfalcon varies quite considerably from white to almost black. Throughout history, this impressive bird has been highly sought after for falconry. Because of its size and rarity, it was often reserved only for those of noble birth and during the middle ages only the king had the right to possess one. The Gyrfalcon continues to be a popular bird for falconry today though modern falconers may keep their ownership of such a bird secret to avoid theft. Falconers generally refer to the male Gyrfalcon as a ‘jerkin’.

All variations of the Gyrfalcon are similar in size and have long, broad-based, pointed wings and a short, dark, hooked beak. The adult-grey morph has grey upperparts and white underparts with dark streaks. The flight feathers are pale and there is a thin moustache mark. The tail is grey with thin white bands. The adult-white morph has white plumage and a white tail with black barring on the back and wings. The adult-dark morph has dark brown upperparts and a dark tail. The underparts are heavily streaked and the flight feathers are noticeably paler than the lining on the wings.

The Gyrfalcon is circumpolar in nature and tends to nest in the arctic regions of North America, Europe, Asia, Iceland and Greenland, though they may be found elsewhere in the world when not breeding. They can live in either open, treeless plains or in swampy, forested areas and can be found near cliffs along shorelines, rivers or even in mountains. They usually nest in depressions on a protected ledge or cliff face and may even make use of an abandoned nest or a suitable man-made structure from time to time. When they nest, they generally lay 2 to 6 eggs that may take 34 to 36 days to hatch. Interestingly, they nest in arctic regions and often begin to lay their eggs in below-zero temperatures. Gyrfalcon‘s take about 2 to 3 years to become sexually mature. They generally feed on ptarmigan, grouse, seabirds, waterfowl, lemmings and ground squirrels, catching their prey either in the air or on the ground.

Marabou Stork (Leptoptilos crumeniferus)

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The Marabou Stork (Leptoptilos crumeniferus) is a wading bird that is found in Africa and in parts of Asia and Europe. They frequent rivers, lakes, marshy areas and savannahs. They can often be found near cattle that disturb insects, areas where humans might leave offal and often scavenge from vultures and other animals. The Marabou Stork is somewhat scruffy looking, with a long pointed beak, almost no feathers on his head and neck, and a pouch of skin that hangs from its beak. It is a bird that is impressive in size, at approximately 115 to 152 centimeters in length, and can weigh up to 9 kilograms. From under its throat and across its belly, the Stork is white, with its upper body parts, such as back and wings, covered in black plumage.

Marabou Storks are scavengers, and will not only feed on animal carcasses, but will also settle for frogs, termites, snakes, fish, grasshoppers, rodents, and even young flamingos or nestlings. In general, the stork is not fussy when it comes to his meals. It has also been known that these scavengers will walk in front of a moving fire to collect the fleeing animals.

Due to the having a big body and carrying a lot of weight, the Marabou Stork’s long legs have hollow bones. This assists the bird to be able to take off from the ground, and enable flight. When the storks take to flight, they are extremely elegant and fly with their legs outstretched and necks resting in a “S” position.

Nesting can either be a solitary event or the stork will find a colony of a mixture of birds. Nests are constructed from twigs and are built in trees. The nests are very large constructions, and many smaller birds will nest amongst the twigs. The female Marabou Stork will usually lay between two to three eggs at a time, and the incubation period for the eggs is 29 to 31 days. At times, the incubation period can last 50 days. Both parents will scavenge for food to feed the chicks, and after about four weeks the chicks are able to stand. It takes a few months for the chicks to grow flight feathers, and even after they are able to fly they still remain dependant on their parents for several more weeks.

Merlin (Falco colombarius)

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The Merlin or as it is scientifically know as, Falco colombarius, is a falcon that breeds in many different continents like North America, Asia and Europe. In North America it is known as a pigeon hawk, and the Latin part of its scientific name, “columba”, means dove also indicating the falcon’s popular food choice. But the name is incorrect in that it is not a hawk but a falcon and so the name is not often used.

The Merlin is a small bird of prey that breeds in open areas like moor lands, birch scrub and taiga or willow scrub, coasts and desert areas. When temperatures become too cold the Merlin, like its larger counterpart the Peregrine Falcon, will migrate to more temperate regions. These northern European birds will go over to North Africa or to southern Europe, whereas the North American birds will head to southern USA and to northern South America. If the bird is found in Great Britain, one of its milder breeding ranges, it will leave high grounds and move to lowlands and the coast.

In Europe the Merlin is a social bird and will roost communally in winter, many times with Hen Harriers. However, in North America, communal roosting is rare because the Merlin is known for its aggression and it will go so far as to attack any bird of prey, even eagles. Throughout the Merlin’s territory range they will nest on the ground, for instance in the United Kingdom they will usually look for a shallow scrape on the heather moor land. They also enjoy long heather but because of the regular burning in that area they tend to be over managed.

The male Merlin’s coloring is specifically blue-gray with orange-tinted under parts. The female and the juvenile differ and have a dark brown back and a white belly with brown spots below. The American subspecies go from pale in the Great Plains to dark brown, black in the Pacific Northwest. This particular species is small in size and has dark under parts, and is distinguished from the Peregrine Falcon by its facial features, which are not as strongly marked.

These falcons prey on small birds like pipits, larks and large insects and because of this they rely heavily on their speed and agility to hunt prey. Merlin Falcons hunt by flying low, about one meter off the ground, and very fast catching their prey by surprise.

Mute Swan (Cygnus olor)

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The beautiful Mute Swan (Cygnus olor) is the bird that people most commonly picture when discussing a swan. This striking, white bird with its slender neck, black eyes and dark orange bill has become a bird of legend, with many European and Asian fairytales and bedtime stories featuring this magnificent creature. The Mute Swan is found naturally in the more temperate parts of Europe and western Asia and, while it is not migratory as such, certain inland populations are forced to move to the coast in winter when their waterways and lakes may freeze over. Because these birds are considered to be so beautiful, some have been taken to other countries where attempts have been made to keep them at parks and ponds. However, the birds inevitably escape and as a result there are currently a number of feral bird populations in the US which have become naturalised over time. In some places, however, they compete with local bird species for food and space resulting in them being labelled as ‘pests’. Nevertheless, they fall under the AEWA conservation agreement.

The Mute Swan is an impressively large bird with an average body length of between 145-160 cm. Their wingspan may measure 208-238 cm in length and the males are normally quite a bit larger than the females. These proportions and the resulting weight make the Mute Swan one of the heaviest flying birds in the world and the heaviest water bird ever recorded. Both the cobs (males) and pens (females) are similar in appearance with pure white bodies, necks and heads. There is a small black area around their eye which joins up with the knob on their bills. The males have a larger knob than the females. Their bills are orange-red in color and their necks have an unmistakable S-like curve which adds greatly to their allure. Young Mute Swans are called ‘cygnets’ and they are normally a dull white or grey with a dull-colored bill.

Mute Swans usually build their nests on large mounds which they create in shallow water. These mounds may be either in the middle or near the edge of a lake. The birds typically use the same nest each year and they may have to restore or rebuild it at the beginning of breeding season. The Mute Swan is monogamous and both sexes share in building and caring for the nest and for incubating and raising their young. Mute Swans normally feed on water plants, insects and snails and an adult may eat as much as 4 kg of vegetation in one day. These birds are generally found in large colonies and can become quite tame though they will always act defensively if you approach their nest and it is not recommendable for anyone to do so.

Ring-necked Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus)

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Also known as the Common Pheasant, the Ring-necked Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus) originated in Asia but was introduced to North America and is now well established over much of the continent. It was also taken to Britain in the 10th century but had to be reintroduced in the 1830s as the original birds died out in the 17th century. Today it is also well established in that country. It is generally regarded as being a game-bird and is often bred for hunting purposes. However, there are several breeding facilities which not only supply hunters but restaurants with these birds. Since the meat can be tought and dry, farm-raised birds are prefereable for consumption.

Generally speaking the Ring-necked Pheasant is a distinctive and colorful species. Its body usually measures between 50-90 cm with the tail often accounting for half the total length. The bird has a chunky shape, round wings and a long tail. The head is small and set on a thin neck. The adult male has a green head with a pale bill and red facial skin around the eye. There is a bold white ring around its neck from which its name is derived. The rest of its plumage is somewhat golden in color with blue and green iridescence as well as black spotting randomly dispersed all over its body. The tail has long, pointed golden feathers with black barring while the legs are spurred. The adult female’s head and underparts are a buffy brown. Her back is dark brown and she has black spots and bars scattered around her head, neck and flanks. Her tail has no barring and she also does not have any spurs. Juveniles resemble females until about two months of age.

Generally speaking this ground-bird prefers cultivated agricultral lands that are interspersed with marshes, hedges and brushy groves. They prefer to run rather than fly and have a short wingspan of only 56-86 cm. Ring-necked Pheasants feed on seeds, grasses, leaves, roots, nuts, wild fruit and insects. They usually nest on the ground in amongst tall grass or weeds in a scrape which is sparsely lined with vegetation. The female may lay between 7-15 eggs in her nest and her chicks are able to leave the nest and feed themselves shortly after hatching. Males are polygynous and usually defend their harem of females from other males quite fiercely. When they are not nesting, Ring-necked Phesants usually roost in trees.

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