I and the Bird Number 42

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingWelcome to the I and the Bird, the ornithology blogging carnival. In this edition, we’ll be taking two simultaneous journeys: H. M. S. Beagle’s second survey mission, and the forty-second voyage of IatBeagle. Excerpts from Charles Darwin’s Voyage of the Beagle will be interspersed with entries from the IatBeagle’s log, which is written by, and records the activities of, the ship’s crew, who have produced a flock of fine posts about our feathered friends. The IatBeagle’s crew includes artists, conservationists, magazine editors, photo- graphers and writers; their log entries feature many wonderful photographs, as well as slide shows, MP3s and film clips.

Upon returning to Great Britain, the specimens of birds and mammals collected by Darwin were given to John Gould, an English ornithologist and curator and preserver of the Zoological Society museum, for identification. Gould’s illustrations of the specimens were published, alongside Darwin’s descriptions of them, in The Zoology of the Voyage of the H. M. S. Beagle 1832- 1836. On the left is plate XXIX from that book; it’s an illustration of the long-tailed sparrow (Ammodramus Longicaudatus).

Crown of the head and shoulder, greyish brown; back, light brown, tinged with reddish brown on the rump, and with a stripe of dark brown down the centre of each feather; greater wing-coverts, primaries, secondaries, and tail blackish, margined externally with greyish white; forehead, stripe over the eye, and all the under surface, buff; bill black; feet brown. Young, or a bird after gaining its new plumage, differs in having the whole of the upper surface rich brown, with a tinge of olive and with a stripe of dark brown down each feather, and in having the wing coverts margined with reddish instead of greyish brown. At Maldonado this bird frequented, in small flocks, reeds and other aquatic plants bordering lakes. In general habits, as well as in place of resort, it resembles those species of Synallaxis and Limnornis, with which it is often associated. It appears to live entirely on insects, and I found in the stomach of one which I opened various minute Coleoptera. Mr. Gould remarks, that the structure of this Ammodramus is very remarkable, for that it has a great general resemblance both in form and colouring to Synallaxis, although the thickness of its bill shows its relation to the Fringillinæ. In its habits it certainly is more allied to the former genus, than to its own family.

(From The Complete Works of Charles Darwin Online.)


December 27th, 1831; Plymouth, U. K. Charles Darwin’s father refuses to allow the 22-year-old naturalist to take the H. M. S. Beagle’s 5-year-long, round the world voyage, but then capitulates.

After having been twice driven back by heavy southwestern gales, Her Majesty’s ship Beagle, a ten-gun brig, under the command of Captain Fitz Roy, R. N., sailed from Devonport on the 27th of December, 1831. The object of the expedition was to complete the survey of Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego, commenced under Captain King in 1826 to 1830, – to survey the shores of Chile, Peru, and of some islands in the Pacific — and to carry a chain of chronometrical measurements round the World.

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Before the IatBeagle embarks, we go on board to visit its artists…

Zeldoniac, a new member of the crew:

To draw something is to own it. You take home a sheet of paper with an image filtered through you, and you have an intense experience of the subject that can’t be taken away. I once sat for hours at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon with a sketchbook and made exactly two drawings. What I learned from that observation was that the canyon is a set of horizontal shapes stacked one above the other and fantastically carved by wind and water. A laminated land form…I still can see it vividly, a side effect of looking long and carefully and transmitting that image from my eyes to my hands. Could there be there some neurological change from this sort of concentration and interpretation? I wonder.

(Draw a bird, own a bird, at Drawing the Motmot)

Cicada, another new crew member, takes us on an excursion to a virtual studio, where we can see the remarkable work of Moscow-based artist Vladimir Gvozdev. (Bioephemera)

and then the British and German members of the crew describe their recent bird-related activities.

January 28th, 2007; Lancashire, U. K., about 300 miles north from the Beagle’s point of departure.

…we were joined by the Preston Society, [and it] was a great afternoon out by the Ribble. More than 50 assorted local Penwortham and Preston residents (with assorted pooches and pushchairs) walked from the Old Tram Bridge downriver to Priory Park, then back upriver and finishing just past the Broadgate mudflats on Old Penwortham Bridge.

(Locals enjoy the Ribble’s Winter Wildlife, at Save the Ribble)

January 29th, 2007; Germany. Dana:

This morning, as I looked out at my feeders, I had a feeling that the bright sunny day and melted snow was not indicative of the weather for the day. Thirty eight goldfinches, the largest group I have ever seen at one time, were lined up at the feeders…As I write…the sky is darkening and snow is beginning to fall. The wind is howling.

(Backyard birding, at Principled Discovery)

The IatBeagle sets sail from Great Britain, and heads off due west, across the Atlantic, on the first leg of its voyage.

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Illustrations of male and female blue-winged yellow swamp warblers (left) and a male Cuvier’s kinglet (right), from The Birds of America, by John James Audobon (1840-1844), at the New York Public Library’s Digital Gallery.

January 16th, 1832; Cape Verde Islands.

…we anchored at Porto Praya, in St. Jago, the chief island of the Cape de Verd archipelago. Few living creatures inhabit these valleys. The commonest bird is a kingfisher (Dacelo Iagoensis), which tamely sits on the branches of the castor-oil plant, and thence darts on grasshoppers and lizards. It is brightly coloured, but not so beautiful as the European species: in its flight, manners, and place of habitation, which is generally in the driest valley, there is also a wide difference…Near Fuentes we saw a large flock of guinea-fowl – probably fifty or sixty in number. They were extremely wary, and could not be approached. They avoided us, like partridges on a rainy day in September, running with their heads cocked up; and if pursued, they readily took to the wing.

Upon arrival at the east coast, the crew of the IatBeagle disembarks at New York state. From there, they travel by land to Wisconsin, then return to NY before travelling south.

January 29th, 2007; New York city. Mike Bergin:

The trip from the Bronx to Piermont wasn’t long at all…the Snowy Owl was right where we expected it, perched on some tall pilings, completely unperturbed by the belligerence of the local crows and gulls. If I understand correctly, most snowy sightings occur at a great distance, usually through a spotting scope. Our first view of this spectacular bird, so unlike any other species, was much closer than that.

(Stalking the Piermont Snowy Owl, at 10,000 Birds)

February 2nd; Cayuca Lake, Ithaca. Dan Rhoads:

There had been reports of a few rarities in the Cayuga Lake basin recently, and today I finally had time to go hunting for one of them…I didn’t see the Iceland Gulls… I did, however, see a number of Great black-baked gulls…there were very many Ring-billed gull…and I noticed..a couple [of] Herring gulls.

(Gulls at Stewart Park, at Migrations)

February 3rd; District of Columbia. John:

Today I went out to Ocean City on a DC Audubon Society field trip. We began the morning at the Ocean City inlet, where we quickly found common and red-throated loons, surf scoters, red-breasted mergansers, and lots of the usual gulls.

(Winter birding at the beach, at A DC Birding Blog)

Feb. 2007; Pennsylvania. Marcia Bonta:

On bleak winter days, when the forest seems empty of life, I am often cheered by the sight and sound of pileated woodpeckers. Looking like miniature pterodactyls, they flash their black-and- white wings over a black-and-white landscape…in the winter I often find them eating wild grapes together or foraging on nearby trees and rotten logs in search of ants and beetle larvae. Ants remain their favorite food, especially carpenter ants. George Miksch Sutton, Pennsylvania’s state ornithologist back in the late 1920s, reported finding 469 carpenter ants in the stomach of a male pileated in Northumberland County.

(The Magnificent Log-cocks, at Marcia Bonta‘s blog)

Lilian and Don Stokes almost missed the departure of the IatBeagle, but boarded at the last minute with some spectacular photographs of the log-cock. (Stokes Birding Blog)


there is a fantastic piece of grasslands not 20 minutes from my house. I decided to hit it late afternoon in order to be there for the most productive time for the owls. I was elated when I arrived, 2 were already flying around. After several minutes of viewing the antics of these two birds with my bins I whipped out the scope for a closer look and when one cooperatively perched about 80 yards away I pulled out the digiscoping setup and snapped a few shots. I was happy with the results so I pulled the camera off the eyepiece and looked back at the owls. Wait…what was that diving at the shortie?

(The ballet of the shorties, at Nemesis Birder)

February 6th; Greensboro, North Carolina. Iris:

Walked around the complex this morning, and there was a LOT of birding action! We’re in the midst of a polar blast, with temps hovering in the high 20s/low 30s. The sun is nice and bright, though, so it could be worse…I spotted…a song sparrow…yellow-bellied Sapsucker…Dark-eyed Junco…Northern Flicker…and more.

(Arctic blast brings hot birds at Greensboro Birds Blog)

Wisconsin. Nuthatch:

…the Wisconsin DNR will allow citizens in three southern counties in that state to “adopt” wild Mute Swans and spare them from approved lethal control measures, provided they pay to have them sterilized. [Holds head in hands and groans.]

(Shooting mute swans versus mute swans shooting blanks, at Bootstrap Analysis)

Feb., 2007; Lakeland, Florida. Kevin Doxstater:

…yesterday was mostly spent out and about in and around Lakeland, FL. The first stop was at a location called Lakeland HighlandsScrub where one of the target species was everybody’s favorite, the Florida Scrub-jay…after lunch…a long walk around the RV park [where we] discovered a pond with a few birds around the perimeter.

(On the move again, at NaturalVisions Photography & Birding Blog)

Grrl Scientist discusses palaeontological evidence that the “terror bird” landed in North America long before a land bridge connected it with South America. (Living the Scientific Life)

September 24th, 1836; Valparaiso, Central Chile.

Of birds, two species of the genus Pteroptochos (megapodius and albicollis of Kittlitz) are perhaps the most conspicuous. The former, called by the Chilenos “el Turco,” is as large as a fieldfare, to which bird it has some alliance; but its legs are much longer, tail shorter, and beak stronger: its colour is a reddish brown. The Turco is not uncommon. It lives on the ground, sheltered among the thickets which are scattered over the dry and sterile hills. With its tail erect, and stilt-like legs, it may be seen every now and then popping from one bush to another with uncommon quickness. It really requires little imagination to believe that the bird is ashamed of itself, and is aware of its most ridiculous figure. On first seeing it, one is tempted to exclaim, “A vilely stuffed specimen has escaped from some museum, and has come to life again!” It cannot be made to take flight without the greatest trouble, nor does it run, but only hops. The various loud cries which it utters when concealed amongst the bushes, are as strange as its appearance. It is said to build its nest in a deep hole beneath the ground.

The IatBeagle leaves Florida and sails due south, visiting the Gulf of Mexico, Costa Rica, Columbia and the Caribbean. It then continues south and, after rounding Cape Horn, turns northward and eventually docks at L. A. harbour, California.

Gulf of Mexico. Bill describes the characteristics of the Migratory bird stopover habitat. (Gulf Coast Bird Observatory blog)

Costa Rica. Patrick Belardo:

After breakfast, we boarded a small, but comfortable, van and headed to our next destination: The Arenal Observatory Lodge. The lodge, located about 2.5 hours from where we were, is situated right next to the Arenal Volcano…. We had received a tip that a field near the town of La Fortuna was hosting two rarities: Tropical Mockingbird and Southern Lapwing. These two birds are not even in the CR field guide! It took us a few minutes to find the Lapwing, but the Mockingbird was nowhere to be found. Another group of birders located a second Lapwing, but still no Mocker. As a consolation prize, our views of the Arenal Volcano from this spot were astounding!

(Costa Rica, Day 2, at The Hawk Owl’s Nest.)


The Cerulean Warbler (Dendroica cerulea) is a bird in trouble. It breeds in the eastern U.S. and winters in South America, and populations have been on the slide in recent decades — faster than any other eastern warbler…The American Bird Conservancy (ABC) is partnering with the American Birding Association to help coffee growers preserve critical wintering habitat around the new 500-acre Cerulean Warbler Bird Reserve in the Rio Chucurí basin of Santander.

(Cerulean warbler and Save the Cerulean warbler campaign, at Coffee & Conservation)

On an island somewhere in the Caribbean. Tai Haku (Commander of the IatBeagle’s next voyage):

The locals call this a funeral bird on account of its black and white attire, the guide books call them black-necked stilts. At the moment I’m calling them a few expletives because they are rather noisy and rather flighty and these two characteristics are flushing the ducks I’m trying to creep up on at my new photography spot. Luckily their rather raucous behaviour (which would be out of place at most funerals except possibly the one in that Scrubs episode with “tasty coma wife”) more than makes up for this minor inconvenience by being immensely entertaining.

(Funeral suits and yellow stockings at Earth, Wind & Water)

Orange County, California. Amy:

The Hal Scott Preserve field trip had us in place, in front of a longleaf pine tree, before the sun rose. Our quarry: an endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker. A bird did appear in the cavity of that tree and briefly explored the upper-right branches before flying back to another tree to feed. We saw three more RCWO during our chilly visit to this spot.

(Space Coast, Saturday, at Wildbird on the Fly)

Elsewhere in the west:

Spindly yet striking, the anhinga is perhaps my favorite bird. Lesser souls may find the anhinga to be an ugly, awkward and vulgar creature, but these people have no taste and should not be listened to. No doubt these are the same folks who endowed the anhinga with its other, less glamorous names: Snakebird, or alternatively, Water Turkey.

(Snakebird, I love you at Mountain Time blog)

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Illustrations of the Rainbow Bee-eater (left) and the Forest Kingfisher (right), from The Birds of Australia: In seven volumes, by John Gould, at the National Library of Australia’s Digital Collections.

January 18th, 1836; Australia.

Soon after leaving the Blackheath, we descended from the sandstone platform by the pass of Mount Victoria…At Hassan’s Walls, I left the high road, and made a short detour to a farm called Walerawang… Early on the next morning, Mr. Archer, the joint superintendent, had the kindness to take me out kangaroo-hunting… Although having poor sport, we enjoyed a pleasant ride….In these woods there are not many birds; I saw, however, some large flocks of the white cockatoo feeding in a corn-field, and a few most beautiful parrots; crows, like our jackdaws were not uncommon, and another bird something like the magpie. In the dusk of the evening I took a stroll along a chain of ponds, which in this dry country represented the course of a river, and had the good fortune to see several of the famous Ornithorhynchus paradoxus. They were diving and playing about the surface of the water, but showed so little of their bodies, that they might easily have been mistaken for water-rats.

On the second leg of its journey, the IatBeagle leaves California and continues west, arriving eventually at Australia.

Feb, 2007; Melbourne. Snail (Commander of the IatBeagle’s previous voyage):

I managed to identify a bunch of [Richard’s pitpits] in my garden in Townsville, mostly on the way they were behaving. Hopping up and down as if they were on a trampoline. Strange little things….Australian bustards (Ardeotis australis) [are] big, beautiful but unfortunately declining birds of the open plains. I’d like to say that I saw these individuals in the wild but they’re at Serendip Sanctuary, SW of Melbourne.

(LBBs, at A Snail’s Eye View)

Serving on board the H. M. S. Beagle’s second mission was John Lort Stokes, who was promoted to Leuitenant upon the Beagle’s return to Great Britain. Stokes then served under Captain John Clements Wickham, who commanded the Beagle’s third mission – a survey of Australasian waters. But, in 1841, Wickham fell ill and, after resigning as commander, Stokes took the helm. In Australia, he too would observe Australian bustards, not too far from where Snail saw them.

Victoria. Duncan:

It had been quite a few weeks since I’d been to Bellbird Corner to check on things, so I went there this morning…Birdlife was pretty sparse, Brown and Striated Thornbills, lots of Grey Fantails, some Yellow-faced Honeyeaters, Blue Wrens, a few Tree Martins, Magpies, a Grey Butcherbird, and a pair of Brown Falcons were about all I saw.

(Catching up , at the Ben Cruachan Blog)

Adelaide: Trevor gives us a photograph of a darter he came across at a wildlife park in the Adelaide Hills, and a brief description of the bird and its habitat. (Darter, at Trevor’s Birding Blog)

On the final leg of its journey, the IatBeagle returns to Great Britain, via New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Singapore and Zimbabwe.

New Zealand. I describe new evidence, published yesterday, that confirms the kiwi bird’s status as an honorary mammal.

Papua New Guinea. David J. Ringer went to the Aiyura Valley in the eastern highlands, armed with a tape recorder, with which he captured a number of bird songs. Can you name the unidentified songster? (Search and Serendipity)


There are several species of birds in Malaysia that are often seen flying in pairs. Some pair for life, some for several seasons and some just a single season only. The Yellow-vented Bulbul (Pyconontus goiavier) is just about the most frequently seen paired resident species in my area and this particular pair catches my eye for some particular reason (below). They became frequent visitors and nesters in my private garden balcony the last few years that we decided to name them Laurie and Laura.

(Romancing Laura, the double-vented bulbul, at the Bird Ecology Study Group)

Lumwana, Zimbabwe: KeesKennis displays a slide show of his photographs of avian mating behaviour. (Randy fliers and Score, at KeesKennis)


One of the driving forces behind evolution is adaptation, the mechanism by which structural, functional or behavioural changes enhance the ability of an organism to survive in its habitat. “It is not,” Darwin wrote, “the strongest species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change.”

Carel P. Brest van Kempen discusses some of the physiological adaptations by which birds keep warm in winter:

…birds, cloaked in insulating feathers, are conspicuous through the coldest days. Best protected are the gulls, loons, grebes, and others whose foraging requires prolonged contact with cold water. The insulating and water-repelling properties of duck and goose feathers are legendary, and they leave their owners well-equipped to float, warm and dry, upon the iciest waters, propelled by naked feet that can remain submerged without much heat loss.

(Cold duck, at Rigor Vitae)

Greg Laden discusses brood parasitic birds:

[Lewis Carrol’s Alice Through the Looking Glass] is a metaphor for a phenomenon in evolution that is also analogized as an “arms race.” Typically, two species are engaged in some sort of competition, or one is parasitic on the other. Over time, Natural Selection shapes the relevant features of one species in the context of the countervailing features of the other species, and visa versa. Since the relevant features of both species are dynamic, the selection is dynamic, and all else being equal, the relationship of the two species (or their relevant features) stays roughly the same while the entire system shifts in its intensity.

(Parasitic birds and the Red Queen Effect, at Greg Laden‘s blog)

Our journey ends with something from me:

the term “bird brain” is often used in reference to intellectually challenged individuals. This is, of course, based on the notion that birds are dim-witted creatures whose behaviour is largely based on instinct. The main assumption is that a six-layered neocortex, like that of humans, is a prerequisite for anything that might be classed as intelligent, and even ornithologists have generally believed that, because they have a “smooth” brain, birds aren’t too clever. However, it has in recent years become clear that we have grossly underestimated the cognitive abilities of birds. Some of the behaviours observed in birds are just as complex, if not more so, than those seen in non-human primates – and “birdbrain” no longer seems so much of an insult.

(Call me “bird brain”)

The IatBeagle’s crew disembarks.

Thanks to everyone who submitted entries. I’ve enjoyed putting them all together, learnt a thing or two, and discovered some great weblogs. The next voyage of IatBeagle will depart from Earth, Wind & Water on February 22nd. Log entries can be emailed to mike{at}10000birds{dot}com, or directly to Commander Tai Haku, at p{dot}taihaku{at}gmail{dot}com.


19 thoughts on “I and the Bird Number 42

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  6. To catch a bird in my lens, and be able to take it home with me is one pleasure, to download it and see it in all its glory anytime i want, is another pleasure. Its like a time capsule.

    Happy Birding
    Keith H.
    Mornington Peninsula

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