Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Birds of the Pantanal

So many photos, so little time to blog. From my recent blogs, you can see that the trip to Pantanal in Brazil, has been one of the most productive this year. Birds have been my favorite animals and as a result, I came back with thousands of bird images so here are a few ones. The Black-fronted nun bird above is a new species for me, as most others in this blog except for the Ringed Kingfisher.  This bird looks mostly black but if hit by the light at a certain angle it appears blue.

I have seen many herons but the Capped Heron above, is the most beautiful of them all.  When I first saw it, I had to do a double take; is this bird for real?  I did not see more than 3 of them and they were always alone; most others hang around together and nest in colonies. Those long feathers in the head are really attractive.

The Rufescent Tiger Heron had a peculiar behavior.  It is holding a catfish with a little stick and walking away from sight.  A "bird using a tool."  It shows that we humans are not the only ones.   The type of catfish the bird is carrying has very sharp fin spines.  While the fish is alive, the fins are erected and it is impossible for the bird to swallow it, so the bird waits until it dies and the spines are relaxed parallel to the body.  I saw a Ring Kingfisher with the same species of catbird; it was holding it by the tail hit and slamming it against a branch until dead, and only then proceeded to swallow it whole.

There are 5 species of kingfishers in the Pantanal, I photographed all of them but for brevity, I only loaded in order of appearance the Amazon Kingfisher, the Green Kingfisher and the Ringed Kingfisher which is the largest and most abundant.  Most kingfishers are shy and difficult to approach, but here, you could even grab them from the branches, they appear to be obliviuos to humans.  Imagine, being ignored by a bird, the ultimate insult.

There are many species of flying predators in the Pantanal but the Great Black Hawk and the Savannah Hawk were the most abundant.  They mostly feed in smaller birds but sometimes they also go after fish. 

Birds come in a variety of colors but the Jacama and the Vermillion Flycatcher are really flying jewels.  When I first saw the Jacama, I though it was another species of kingfisher because it looks similar and nest in holes in the banks of the river.  But after observing it for a while, I noticed that it seats in a tree branch, and then fly-off capture insects and returns to the same perch.  The Vermillion Flycatcher,  as the name implies, is right truly intense red; what a difference in body shape, and coloration between these two birds.  Also consider that both feed in insects that the catch while flying; why the difference in beak length?

Two birds that owe their names to their bill peculiarities are the Smooth-billed Ani and the Yellow-billed gulls.  The Ani needs such a heavy bill to be able to cracks seeds and I assume that the gull's yellow bill has something to do with breeding. In the bottom image above you can see an immature gull asking for food.

And finally, we get to the Sun Grebe, another unusually colored bird that I have never seen bird. This bird feeding behavior is unusual for a grebe, instead of diving in the pursuit of fish, it swam along the shore line picking up insects from the vegetation. I am sure that the sun grebe also dives for fish but I did not witness it.