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Finding birds in Paris (or Spot the Bird Île de France edition) Part 1

Let’s deal with this straight away: if you’re a birder tuning in to learn where to find birds in Paris, then, despite its clear title “Finding Birds in Paris”, I’m afraid this two-part post will disappoint.  It is not intended to offer technical advice about how many species of mésange you might see in the Bois de Boulogne (I’ve read that it’s seven, by the way, but personally I haven’t seen more than three), or where to find Tawny owls (I’ve heard le Cimitière du Père-Lachaise, but again, personally, I’ve only heard the soulful cries of Jim Morrison mourners there).

<< Nature is everywhere in the city: signs in the neighborhood parks explain this.

So, this isn’t an advice column.  This is because I’m no expert on the subject — I find Paris both easy and difficult to actually bird on one’s own, and the only advice I have is not news: keep your eyes and ears open, seek appropriate species in appropriate habitat (finding the habitat is usually the trick), and don’t expect to find anyone else with binoculars around their neck nearby to answer questions about where to find bullfinches.  Also, bring an umbrella.

Furthermore, there are no hard-to-detect feathery forms hidden in the photos: this post is only a Spot the Bird in the sense that I declare that Birds are easy to Spot in Paris, especially in May.  Some birds are so common they are virtually unavoidable: you’ll soon tune out the constant, frantic twittering of swifts overhead, the clap of feral pigeon wings (above), and the chirping of crumb-seeking sparrows.  Gulls abound on the Seine and soar calling above parks like le Jardin des Plantes which sit on its banks. Plane trees in the same parks host hungry families of great, blue, and long-tailed tits, as well as singing chaffinch. Leafy poplar tops may sport a magpie, une pie bavarde, or two.

>> Great tit, mésange charbonnière, (Parus major) foraging for nesting material on a stone wall in le Jardin des Plantes.  Yes, it’s primarily blue and yellow, a treat for us norte americanos who are used to our chickadees’ mute gray and buff body plumage, with only their jaunty black-and-white headgear to mark their alliance with more colorful old world family members .

Surrounded by pedestrians and traffic, mallard couples paddle in monumental water features like la Fontaine Saint-Michel, unruffled that Duret’s archangel looks like a cuirassed girl compared to the manly serpent-tailed Satan he’s so righteously vanquishing.  And underfoot, geometric, manicured lawns are studded with starlings, carrion crows, and huge lumbering wood-pigeons (left).

Most obvious in all of these urban niches is the ubiquitous merle, or blackbird, which like its close cousin the American robin, hops foraging in the green blades of parks and gardens, and whose melodic phrases ring through the gray-walled rues from rooftop chimney pots and aerials even before sun-up.

>> Blackbird, merle, (Turdus merula).

Unlike their less closely related namesake the American robin, small european Robins, les rouges-gorges, glide up to perch on low branches and garden walls, keeping a buttonlike eye — somehow keen and blank at once — on everything.

<< European robin, rouge-gorge, (Erithacus rubecula).  E shot this at Giverny, but we saw them in town, too.

But look closely — there are less common species, too.  One of those coots in the park pond may be a moorhen (below, right), one of the sparrows on the lawn a dusky Dunnock.  And check the glowering gargoyles overhead, perched in the involved stony heights of Sacre Coeur, Notre Dame, and Saint-Sulpice: one may be a kestrel, looking down like a sharp-winged, keen-eyed angel (or, according to the chittering swifts, a quick taloned little demon).

Less forthcoming are the flashier birds, the specialty species: golden orioles, firecrests, black woodpeckers, and others.  These require more time and more amenable weather than we had to do a proper search.  Next time!

Fortunately, Paris has other birds to find.  In Part 2 of this post are a few of them — stay tuned.

Special note: many thanks to E.Shock, his zoom lens, and his willingness to share his images!  All the photos above are his, except the billing feral pigeons (which my less effective zoom could handle, since the birds were virtually at my feet).

Posted by Allison on May 18th 2012 | Filed in birding,birds,field trips,spot the bird | Comments (5)

Kea key: spoiler alert!

You probably found the bird already — it’s a kea — but if not below is a partially colorized version of the photo in the previous Spot the Bird post.

This big alpine parrot, its head partially obscured by vegetation, was one of the freeloaders who hang out near the line of cars waiting to pass through the one-lane Homer tunnel.  This guy was on the Milford Sound side of the tunnel (Fiordland, South Island, New Zealand) and had been working the cars fearlessly (see photo below).  In the Spot the Bird photo on the left, he’s deep in the shrubbery, pretending to be invisible. Of course, we’d watching him climb in there, or we’d never would have found him.

(All photos A.Shock)

Posted by Allison on Nov 9th 2011 | Filed in birds,spot the bird | Comments (1)

Spot the Bird!

Me: reminiscing about our trip to New Zealand a while back.  You: trying to Spot the Bird.

It shouldn’t be too hard, but here’s a hint: you’re looking for a parrot.  Now don’t go clicking on the photo to enlarge it right off the bat, you’ll make it too easy!  (And, by the way, it’s a giant file, so if you click twice, you’ll get a very large image of a partially obscured parrot on your screen.)

And on the subject of New Zealand ornithology, if you enjoy a nice kiwi, click here and watch the video.

Update: photo key is here.

Posted by Allison on Nov 6th 2011 | Filed in birding,birds,field trips,natural history,spot the bird | Comments (1)

Spot the bird (easy)

Yes, I realize that this is a very easy Spot the Bird.  Although it was hiding among the lower branches of a mesquite, the bird is very easy to spot, here in the photo.  But, driving past, not so easy.  And it doesn’t think it’s easy to spot.  The bird, a Greater Roadrunner, thinks it is well hidden, lurking like light leaking through leaves, looking for lizards.

<< Greater Roadrunner (photo A.Shock)

I spotted this bird in our neighborhood, where it’s been around recently, causing me to hope it’s taken up residence.  Go ahead, click to enlarge.  It’s even easier to spot.

Posted by Allison on Oct 5th 2011 | Filed in birding,birds,natural history,spot the bird | Comments (0)

A new Spot the Bird… kind of

Well, it’s not actually a bird.  Perhaps these posts should be called “Not the Bird”.

Here is an appropriately faded Old West-y snap shot of a neighbor of ours, taken with my cell phone.  Can you spot the non-avian subject?  It’s a Desert Iguana, posing with dignity as if for a Victorian formal portrait, lurking in the heat of the day under a creosote bush a block from our house.

<< Desert iguana under creosote (photo A.Shock). Click once to enlarge.

These lizards are both camera-shy and fast, and this was the best shot I could get: right after clicking it, the liz shot off across the broiling pavement back to the other side of the road and disappeared.

Desert iguanas (Dipsosaurus dorsalis: “thirsty lizard” with a “notable back”) are fairly large lizards — this one was twelve inches from nose to tail-tip — closely associated with creosote bushes, which provide them with food, shelter, and shade.  I’m always thrilled when I see one in our ‘hood, which is only a couple of times a year.  Unlike our other local lizards who eat other creatures and shun the heat of the day by retreating to shelter and burrows, these pale pinkish, blunt-nosed lizards are primarily vegetarian thermophiles who are most frequently seen active and out in the heat of the day in the very hottest part of the summer.  This one was basking on the edge of our black-asphalt street, swishing its long tail slowly back and forth before it fled the camerazza (me).  Click here for an earlier Three Star Owl post on our neighborhood iguanas, here for more species info, and here for still more info and great photos.  If you’re too blasé to click the second link, you will miss reading about this species’ interesting natural history, including why it eats the fecal pellets of other iguanas, and what its thigh glands secrete.  Really, you need to know, so go ahead and click.

Spot the Bird answer: rock and wren

20110417-021458.jpgTo the right is the photo key to the Rock wren of the current Spot the Bird. Rock wrens rock one of my favorite Latin names in the bird world (along with Upupa epops, the hoopoe): Salpinctes obsoletus. According to Choate, the name comes from Greek salpinctes, “a trumpeter” and Latin obsoletus, “indistinct”, referring to its ringing voice and drab plumage. These contradictory traits explain why the little bird is often heard before it’s seen.  Some of you who wrote to tell me you found it said that after not seeing it for a while “it just suddenly popped out of the picture”.  That’s the way it tends to happen in person with these guys, too.

Below is a rock wren up close, singing its song. You can see its long, de-curved bill, useful for probing rocks and crevices for insects and spiders.  It’s also good for carrying and manipulating small rocks: Rock wrens construct a pavement of tiny flat stones and pebbles leading up to their nest, which is concealed in a hole or crack in a rock.  No one (except the wrens) knows why they do this.  (<< photo E.Shock, taken at Fremont Saddle in the Superstition mountains) One thing the beak does not do is take up water: Rock wrens are thought to get all their moisture through their prey, and don’t drink even when water is available.

Speaking of water, E would like me to add that the rocks in the top photo, along Castle Hotsprings Road, are significantly hydrothermally altered.  You know, subjected to intense heat in a moist environment, either at depth, or nearer the surface, as in a hotspring.  I don’t suppose the rock wren cares, except that the hydrothermal process has left the rock cracked and full of holes, which is just what a rock wren likes.  Click here for a tale about another hydrothermally-altered rock that hosted many organisms.

Posted by Allison on Apr 21st 2011 | Filed in birds,etymology/words,natural history,nidification,rox,spot the bird | Comments (0)

Spot the Bird: rock and wren

It’s been a while since we’ve had a SPOT THE BIRD.

Rock wrens, Salpinctes obsoletus, live among rocks in the arid mountain and desert west.  Here are some rocks.  These rocks are along the Castle Hotsprings Road between Phoenix and Wickenburg, AZ.  There is a Rock wren in these rocks.  If you could hear the wren, it would be singing its spring song which sounds a little like a small mechanized Mockingbird, and also calling “zhe-deeee zhe-deee,” etc (or, if you prefer, “tick-ear”).

Remember, you are looking for a tiny tiny grayish bird among big rocks.  You should be able to click once or twice on the image to enlarge it, although that will make the search a good deal easier.  Answer to be published later.  As usual, no prizes, but I’d love to hear from you when you locate the wren.

(Photo A.Shock)

Posted by Allison on Apr 16th 2011 | Filed in birds,field trips,natural history,spot the bird | Comments (1)

The key is the beak

A while back, I posted the latest Spot the Bird, a shot of a Mexican wetland that contained hard-to-see birds.  It was a tough one.

Here’s the key.  The hidden birds are three Black-bellied whistling ducks, visible in the sea of green only by looking carefully for their bright coral-red bills, a tag of chestnut plumage, and surprisingly, their gray cheeks which stand out more than you’d think.  Enlarge the B&W version of the photo on the left, and look for the color splashes inside the yellow oval.  Two of the ducks are together on the left, and one, the most diffucult to see, is on the far right.

Well, OK, they’re still hard to see. Here’s a color-heightened, tight close-up to help.  Disregard the bright brown clump of leaves in the middle of the field of view.

(Photos A.Shock)

Posted by Allison on Jan 21st 2011 | Filed in birding,botany,natural history,spot the bird | Comments (0)

Spot the Bird: bright beak gray cheek

In celebration of my friend Kate seeing Black-bellied whistling ducks in New Orleans, here is a Black-bellied whistling duck Spot the Bird.

The photo was taken in a coastal wetland in the state of Veracruz, Mexico, in Ocotber of 2008. I was scanning the greenery with binx when I spotted the ducks — I suspect I would never have seen them with the naked eye — and took the picture, hoping it would come out just like this: a photo with birds that are virtually invisible, except for their extraordinary bill color. (If you don’t know what a BBWD’s bill color is, click on the link above to Kate’s photo to make the search easier.) I’ll post a photo key later, but in the meantime, don’t forget to click to enlarge. By the way, the head count is three ducks, as far as I can tell.

Posted by Allison on Dec 29th 2010 | Filed in birds,field trips,natural history,spot the bird | Comments (1)

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