Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Birding Vietnam (part IV)

And on  my list, we move on to the babblers, bulbuls, and barbets. (Okay, I'm skipping a few, for the sake of alliteration. I'll get back to those in part V.)

Babblers! They are not found in the New World (unless introduced): they show up on Wikipedia specifically as the "Old World babblers," or Timaliidae, a family of passerine (or perching: three toes forward, one back) birds, the largest order (Passeriformes), with 5,100 species (out of 9–10,000 species in the world total). As for the babblers specifically: 53 species, in nine genera. We saw the puff-throated, Abbott's, buff-breasted, scaly-crowned, and golden babblers, the pin-striped tit-babbler, and the limestone wren-babbler, and heard a few others. They are diverse in size and coloration (though most are rather drab), and tend to be characterized by soft fluffy plumage.

Scaly-crowned Babbler (Malacopteron cinereum). Photo by Daniel Koh
The Vietnamese Cutia (Cutia legalleni) is a babbler too:
it was one of the final birds of our trip, and greatly gratifying:
a lovely little thing. Photo by Allan Lewis
Bulbuls (family Pycnonotidae) are also passerines, with 150 species in 26 genera; also only Old World, through Africa and Asia. Species we saw included the black-headed, black-crested, light-vented, sooty-headed, red-whiskered, streak-eared, puff-throated, stripe-throated, flavescent, ashy, mountain, black, and chestnut. I marked many of these with an asterisk. Here are the three I flagged with exclamation marks or circles on my checklist—meaning, I got a good look and they filled me with delight. (The first entry below is an hour-long video of a red-whiskered bulbul singing—I think it's meant as a meditation aid. Though that said, we saw plenty of red-whiskered bulbuls in cages on the streets of Da Lat, enjoyed for their song. The poaching of wild birds, whether for food or their music, is a big problem still in Vietnam.)

Stripe-throated Bulbul (Picnonolus finlaysoni). Photo by Tom Backlund
Chestnut Bulbul (Hemixos castanonolus). Photo by Marcos Wei
And finally, there are the beautiful barbets, who are listed in my check list as Capitonidae, but a glance at Wikipedia suggests that the barbets have been divided into various geographical groups, such that my Vietnamese Asian barbets can proudly call themselves part of the Megalaimidae (meaning "large throat") family. (This bird taxonomy business is exhausting. So many of the birds we saw on our trip had, Susan explained over and over again, been "split" from a previous designation, based on some minor attribute: a different song, a longer tail, a chin stripe, an eye ring, etc. My feeling is, you could just keep splitting all of us until you get to the individual. Don't there have to be some reasonable limits? Ah, but that's a question for another post.)

Here are a few of the barbets we enjoyed watching through our binoculars or hearing from a distance in the shady forest:

Lineated Barbet (Megalaima lineata). Photo by Subharanjan Sen
Golden-throated Barbet (Megalaima franklinii). Photo by Lawrence Neo
Coppersmith Barbet (Megalaima haemacephala)
Susan talked about the onomatopoeic qualities of the barbets' calls—which, by the way, are sung with a closed beak: it's like Tuvan throat singing, only much more melodious. Here's what some of them say, when translated into English:

Yellow-crowned Barbet: Someone took my bra! Someone took my bra!
Indochinese Barbet: Big fat buddha . . . big fat buddha . . .
Coppersmith Barbet: tink . . tink . . tink . . tink (like a metalworker working metal)
Blue-eared Barbet: a Coppersmith on amphetamines
Bornean Barbet: on a double dose of amphetamines
Red-vented Barbet: on pot, "doot . . . doot . . . doot . . ."
Necklaced Barbet: wow! wow! wow! wow!

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