Long-legged Tchaikovskys

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insufferable delicacy

infused into the bend

of knee, turn of head:

a water-borne ballet,

beat kept by still water,

reflecting this moment

then, now, forevermore.

This will – finally – be the last of the birds from my trip to the Llobregat Delta in Spain, almost eight months on. (What can I say. I procrastinate.) And it’s the bird I treasured most from my trip there – one that, to me, embodies everything there is to love about shorebirds: the black-winged stilt. When I saw it, just below the hide, I may have squealed a little.

Part of it is the number of times the name has casually been dropped when reading birding blogs, and till Llobregat, I have had to contend with the knowledge that I have never seen it; another part of it is – well, it. Come on. There is nothing to hate about such a paragon of utter loveliness. Observe its thin, pencil-like beak, beautiful in its ergonomicity; the perfect roundness of its head; the ridiculously and delightfully disproportionate legs that offer its name to us very easily. (Unlike *cough cough* some birds.)

Sometimes I wonder how such birds can exist without the world imploding twice-over.

Creeping Suspicions

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We’re out of the Llobregat and back up to the Pyrenees to return to a bird which had my heart jumping to my throat. Presenting: the Eurasian Treecreeper.

Continue reading “Creeping Suspicions”

Mallard over Metropolis

MallardandSky_ProcessedLogoToday in quirky bird names, we bring you a Mallard from, you guessed it, Spain. Apparently the name is derived from Old French – from mallart, or wild drake – and also from masle, meaning male.

As a female, I am slightly offended by this gendering what is, at the end of the day, a duck. A duck with a lovely green head that is found across most of the world in a distinct two sexes, but neverthless, a duck, which should, by all accounts, defy gendering.

But ah well. That’s taxonomists for you.

Google tells me it is the commonest duck of the northern hemisphere, to which I have to say: thank you very much, I could have figured that out myself. (I mean, aside from the fact “northern hemisphere” should include Singapore. As restaurant names constantly remind us, we are 1º North!) I’ve seen it across what little of Europe I’ve been too, and also in Washington, D.C. – so it is a bit of a high flyer. (Get it. GET IT.)

But it’s not all jokes and names with this duck. Due to its extreme popularity as an adornment for man-made waterbodies and its extreme success at doin’ it with practically every other related duck in sight, interbreeding is a major problem whenever this duck moves in. Because it diverged relatively recently from the Tree of Life, its hybrid offspring are often fertile as well. This is usually not a good thing for preserving the genetic pool of another species.

So a mallard over a metropolis is, at the end of the day, a common sight. Let’s just hope their increase in numbers doesn’t lead to Mallards over Metropolises And No Other Duck.

Duck Days

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My adventures at the Llobregat Delta continue. One of the things that fascinated me about the area was the sheer density of waterfowl – specifically, ducks and geese. Of course, I’ve been witness to the hundreds of shorebirds at a time at Sungei Buloh, and long-legged waders are hardly new to me – but ducks? Not so much. In fact, I do believe I haven’t seen a single wild duck in Singapore. (When you consider the fact only one duck species is resident, and that too is extremely rare, this feat becomes decidedly less reputation-ruining.)

This was one of the four or five species we saw that day. I haven’t got the faintest clue what it is, or even where to start in identification – and to be honest, that’s the most exciting part.

Swamphen Days

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Barcelona’s Llobregat Delta proved to be a fruitful trip for me. However, birds I could identify were in a minority – which, thankfully, included this Purple Swamphen. I can now profess myself to be intimately familiar with this species, after having documented them in the Sandpit Swamphens, based on observations of them in Bangalore this summer.

Looking back on this European individual with a summer’s worth of observations under my belt, these pictures become doubly fascinating. Not only was I afforded a very good glimpse of its exceptionally long toes – which aid in gripping hard-to-balance reeds – but also its foraging behavior, as it brings a nice tender shoot to its mouth. Both of these are characteristics I didn’t see in India, perhaps due to the different habitat – that was deep water with a mat of water plants over it, whereas Llobregat is shallow water.

I think it’s safe to say even after hours and hours of observation, I’ve only scratched the surface of these undoubtedly fascinating birds.

A Tit-Blue Sky

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A Blue Tit peeks out from behind blossoms, a brilliant blue sky behind. Honestly – who could resist the chubby little face?

And to Each His Throne

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In the Pyrenees of Spain, somehow this (unidentified) bird manages to maintain a ridiculous level of self-contained superiority while sitting on what is really a pile of horse manure.

Birding the Chaff

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Put it simply, I do not know European birds.

Which is why I saw this one and sighed. Its vagueish eyebrow indicated its membership of that hated family: leaf warblers. A brief history – I have seen several in the Himalayas, probably some in the Western Ghats, and a total of nil have been identified. Their song is beautiful, but their bodies themselves are far from as colorful as it might make them out to be. All are the same oliveish tinge and the glances I get are usually not enough to figure out is the venting yellow-olive or more creamish?

That’s why it’s always nice to go somewhere new with someone who knows the area. When travelling, however, that luxury is ill-afforded; the next best thing – research. Research, research, research.

And that is how we ended up wandering down a road in the middle of (semi)rural Spain in the middle of the morning, searching for birds. A series of coincidences had led us there – some happy and some not so, but the end result was our arrival at a place knows as the Llobregat Delta. Every site I had visited had pointed newbie birders to Barcelona there, citing its proximity to the airport and diversity of waterfowl and, well, I rarely turn down an opportunity to bird, even if what I end up birding are birds I haven’t the faintest clue what they are, because all the field guides are in Spanish. My most likely chance of any identification was to meet a fellow birder.

Unfortunately, all the birders were also Spanish – and extremely apologetic about it, too. Through a series of hand-gestures and monosyllabic phrases that are the stock of any tourist in a foreign land, however, I managed to communicate my sighting of the above bird, at which point frantic nodding ensued and this (Spanish) field guide opened to the appropriate page. I backed up five meters to photograph it with my long lens, having forgot, as usual, to bring a notebook.

Then I went home to Singapore, because that was our second-to-last day there, and when processing my images, I stumbled across the picture of the field guide.

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I duly googled the scientific name, and I duly realized how little I know European birds.

It was a chiffchaff – as in a common chiffchaff, as in resident/migrant to most of Afro-Eurasia, as in not some obscure species of leaf warbler I had no chance of identifying.

And I suppose my severe overestimation of the bird is simply just the unbearable optimism any birder possesses – that any day might be the ‘lucky’ one, the thrill you get when leafing through a field guide. And I suppose that’s the reason I bird in the first place – for that optimism, and for the chance to encounter new species, common or not, for the thrill, and for the hoping, and for the song of a warbler on a sweet, sweet afternoon.

Coup d’Oeil

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Car-window glimpses –

hints at something beyond

the fingerprinted glass

and constant humming

of movement and silence

in their endless dance,

because you love like this –

bittersweet heart-in-mouth.

You cannot do anything else;

no space forms for anything else

in disappearing tarmac behind

and knowledge of the gap between

possibility and reality.

In the Spanish, or possible French Pyrenees, this house up on a hill, the snow-capped mountains behind, presented an unimaginably picturesque site. It looked as if a postcard had been pasted over the car window.

You get the most peculiar sense of deja-vu sometimes when you’re travelling, especially when driving and there isn’t time to examine the feeling further – perhaps it’s a result of our constant exposure to information, so we see much more, but I’d like to think it’s just a connection to a landscape, to a place – like it’s ok to leave your heart there, half-way across the world.

Through the Fields

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In honor of the Monday looming upon us, here is a dog running through the fields, away from its problems (namely, the photographer pointing a scarily large lens at it for documentation purposes only), as no doubt all of us feel like/will feel like doing tomorrow morning.

We encountered this lil’ fellow while chasing what actually was a kestrel and, not, like my last post, a peregrine falcon. This was, however, still in Spain, though no longer in the mountains and rather hugging the beautiful, beautiful coastline. (Costa Brava, anyone?) So many raptors. Seriously, we saw at least twenty every hour, and the most unfortunate thing was that you cannot, in fact, stop your car in the middle of the highway because oh my god that eagle is suspiciously large and is that gold I see on its wings? (Even more unfortunately is that that isn’t a thing that actually happened. Even though the possibility you saw a golden eagle is much better than not seeing any feather of one at all, which is what happened to me.)

Ah, such problems. But nothing, really, like a Monday.