Posts Tagged ‘taxonomy’


July 17, 2017

Birds of Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East. Frederic Jiguet and Aurelien Audevard. Princeton Press. 2017. paperback. 5 X 7.5 inches. $29.95.

This is a more thorough guide than the traditional birds of Europe because it moves further south and east than many other guides and thus is great if you are traveling beyond just western Europe. The text is precise and the range maps fine. However, this book depends on photos for bird illustrations and any photographer must admit that has its limits. No single photo or even two, can show everything you might want in a field guide. Illustrations are thus more…well…illustrative. Here are exact quibbles. The text on Coal Tit says “long white nape patch” yet the photo shows a totally black nape. Text on Azure Tit describes a sky-blue mantle while the photo shows a pale gray one. This may be a printing problem similar to what happened with Sibley’s American guide when it went into second edition and the first runs came out with muddy looking birds that were supposed to be bright, like a drab Scarlet Tanager male. Ooops. That print run was withdrawn and the edition re-printed.

It is instructive to see that the newest range map for Collared-Dove shows it has conquered all of Europe except northeastern Scandenavia. The book is polite about the invasive Ruddy Duck, saying only that it is being culled in Britain and France. There the Ruddy is an existential threat to its cousin, the endangered White-faced Duck. Americans need to broaden thei nomenclature as the lingo here in British. Loons are “divers.” Horned and Eared Grebes are “Slavonian” and “Black-necked.” The Common and Velvet Scoters have finally been taxonomically split from our White-winged and Black Scoters…whew. The Eurasian Teal is now split from our Green-winged. The book does not disclose that the Mandarin Duck has dense populations now in some London parks. It simply tells you there are breeding populations spread around western Europe for this Asian species.

If I’d been editor of this book I would have added a single line at the top of the page with the pratincole photos: “These are some of the coolest birds you’ll ever see, anywhere!”

The book covers 860 species and the index has both Latin and English names for each species. Each entry includes a description of the bird’s vocalizations.eurobirds-1eurobirds2eurobirds3

Hoatzin A Name?

October 2, 2010
The Hoatzin was unmissable at Sani Lodge. The bird is unique. It has no peers. It does have spiked feathers atop, a loud hissing voice that sounds like the largest reptile warning you off. It does climb slowly but nimbly in small trees with branches barely able to support its weight.  It is pheasant sized. As you canoe about the lake and riverways at Sani Lodge you encounter small pods of Hoatzin in the trees, bathing along the riverbank, sleeping on limbs. We never saw one fly but I am told their wings do function.
They’re herbivorous, dining on the rich variety of plant leaves in the ever green forest of the Napo River and similar tropical habitat.  They also like some of the abundant native fruits.
It’s Latin binomial is Opisthocomus hoazin. It’s family name: Opisthocomidae. There is just one species in that family. Says Wikipedia about the family name: “Ancient greek wearing long hair behind, referring to its large crest.”

Altogether the Hoatzin’s uniqueness is a source of much puzzlement and lack of scientific agreement. DNA has not helped much. Current speculation has them most closely aligned with cuckoos. Or maybe with doves. Or with nightjars. But the reality of the Hoatzin in lowland South America is wondrous to see.

Sani Lodge is a three hour boat ride from the nearest town. That would be oil boom-town Coca. It’s a half-hour plane ride east of Quito. Coca’s about fifty miles straight east of the Andean crest but there are no straight lines or roads so it’s a five hour drive from Quito which is west of the Andean divide.  The boat ride on a motor-powered canoe affords great birding.  Plumbeous and Swallowtail Kites, Swallow-winged Puffbird, Black, Yellow-headed and Carunculated Caracara, Great Yellow-headed Vultures, Drab River-tyrant. This is one of the Swallowtail Kites that hunted in pairs over our canoe along the Napo River.

These are two of the Swallow-winged Puffbirds we saw from the canoe.
The Sani Comune (township of resident population) made a deal with the dreaded oil companies: build us an ecolodge and we will grant you right-of-way to run your pipeline under our land. But to our last breath we will refuse to let you drill or mine in our part of the Amazon lowland forest. Thus the Sani village controls one of the most pristine sections of the Napo River Valley. The Napo itself is a major tributary to the Amazon itself.

Sani land borders huge areas being exploited by European and American oil companies and now the Ecuadoran government oil agencies. Ecuador is still in court trying to recover damages from Chevron for egregious oil spills and ecological damage done in the Amazonian lowlands. But nobody’s going to shut down the wells that are delivering crude crud. Locals in Sani blame oil companies for polluted river water, increasing disease rates and even swamping local canoes with their large river boats. The Hoatzin and locally-owned Sani Lodge can be a part of your next birding trip to Ecuador with Partnership For International Birding and Neblina Forest Tours. Here’s our schedule for next year.