Sunday, January 25, 2009

Colombia - Dark and Dashing

Ok, so "dark and dashing" is not exactly a colour category but these birds have either all dark plumage or dark colours contrasting with light highlights (or vice-versa), e.g. classy black and white patterns like this beautiful male Torrent Duck, at home in the fast flowing streams roaring down the Andes.

and this second image of a pair of Torrent Ducks showing the strong sexual dimorphism. The interesting thing about the male plumage is that is seems at once showy and cryptic. In the foaming water as in the first photo above or against the white and black rocks, the white and black lines blend in so well that i usually spotted the female first. At the same time though it is not hard to understand how his stylish garb highlighted by red bill and legs might equally be driven by sexual selection. I assume that she is well camouflaged when sitting on a nest in the rocks, especially with the grey and white streaking on her back barely visible in this photo.

Walking on the water, or more strictly speaking walking on floating vegetation, thanks to extremely elongated toes that spread their weight, is this Wattled Jacana. Jacanas are an interesting pantropical family, known for the polyandrous breeding system found in most, but not all, of the 8 species worldwide.

Despite their large size, the cracids (guans, chachalacas and curassows) are generally much more arboreal than pheasants, partridges and grouse as is seen in these photos of Sickle-winged Guan

and the endangered Cauca Guan.

Keen North American listers should have the Southern Lapwing on their radars. With a species name of “chilensis” you get some idea of their original range; however they have been on the move north, colonising Panama and then Costa Rica and with more and more sightings further north including the bird on the Eastern Seaboard that graced the cover of a recent ABA issue.

A truly handsome Buteo, the White-rumped Hawk is one hawk that is not hard to identify.

The Powerful Woodpecker is a congenitor of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker and this photo shows the white lines running down the back found in several woodpeckers from this genus.

Staying with black and white but moving out of the passerines, after much effort, i finally managed a shot of this tiny and restless male White-flanked Antwren peering from behind a leaf larger than himself. The insert shows a side view with the characteristic white stripe along the flank and breast side and you can also see the white spotting on the wing bend found in many species of antbird.

The white of the Thick-billed Seedfinch is mostly hidden until they open their wings (underwing is white) – no prizes for guessing what they eat with a cracking great bill like that.

Two birds that might have been included in the previous email but didn’t fit are the dashing Brown-backed Chat-tyrant, common denizen of high altitude low vegetation and a charming and friendly little companion when you walk across the p├íramo – they look so classy with their white supercilium and cinnamon wing bars,

and the distinctive Cinnamon Flycatcher. This individual was photographed from a window in a torrential downpour, which didn’t seem to compromise their maneuverability in the air nor stop them from catching many tasty morsels. If you look closely you can see some of the yellow feathers from the concealed crown patch.

The Hemispingus are an interesting genus of skulking tanager-like birds, the Black-capped Hemispingus being arguably among the most distinctive with their handsome crown stripes.

This Yellow-hooded Blackbird looks very similar to our Yellow-headed Blackbird but is not actually in the same genus! If you are wondering, the Yellow-hooded is quite a bit smaller and has not white in the wings.

Last but not least, two species of flowerpiercers. The White-sided Flowerpiercer on the right shows the hooked upper mandible and the Masked Flowerpiercer on the left is demonstrating how this hook is used to poke a small hole in the top of a flower to extract nectar. This technique is often called “robbing” a flower because these birds are not likely to get dusted with pollen this way and hence are not good pollinators. Personally, i suspect that their body feathers may sometimes carry pollen. As you will see in the sixth blog of this series, hummingbird sometimes use the holes that flowerpiercers make for easy feeding… but i am getting ahead of myself!

My website ( has some larger copies of these images...

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