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Birds in the ‘Hood Part 2

Philippine Shrike

Lanius cristatus lucionensis


It’s wintertime, and the brown shrikes are here. The Philippine shrike, Lanius cristatus lucionensis, which breeds in eastern China and Korea in summertime have arrived in their winter quarters (in the Philippines, among other tropical Asian countries) for their annual migration. This one in the neighborhood is a male of the species (females have barring on the belly and flanks). It was perching on one of the branches of the large dita tree across the street, so I quickly got the spotting scope and attached my camera and hoped it would stay still and pose for some pictures. I had to increase the ISO because the bird was in the shade, so there’s a lot of noise in the picture. It’s still not very sharp, but oh well, such is life. I chose this picture because it shows the bird’s long bristles (they look like eyelashes), which I find very cool. This picture also shows his greyish crown (a distinguishing characteristic of the subspecies), white eyebrows, orange flank and, of course, the signature bandit-mask.


Of course the shrike isn’t the only bird with a bandit-mask. Casual observers can mistake a brown shrike for a yellow-vented bulbul (called palago in these parts) from afar. Here are two pictures of the two of them together:



In the upper picture, the shrike is in focus. In the lower picture, the yellow-vented bulbul is in focus.

Lanius cristatus lucionensis was first described by Brisson in his 1760 publication Ornithologia sive synopsis methodica sistens avium divisionem in Ordines, Sectiones, Genera, Species, ipsarumque Varietates, and called it La Pie-grieche de Luçon with the binomial name Lanius lucionensis. According to him, in the Philippines the bird was known locally as cabeçote [cabezote in Spanish].




La Pie-grieche de Luçon

Voyez Pl. XVIII. Fig. 1.

Lanius superne griseo-rufescens, inferne albo-rufescens; pectore fusco diluto transversium striato; macula pone oculos fusca; rectricibus griseo-rufescentibus, lateralibus lineola transversa, fusca apice notatis & albo-rufescente terminatis …. LANIUS LUCIONENSIS.

Les Habitans de l’Isle de Luçon l’appellent CABEÇOTE.

Elle est a peu pres de la grosseur de notre Pie-grieche rousse. Sa longueur depuis le bout du bec jusqu’a celui de la queue est de sept pouces cinq lignes, & jusqu’a celui des ongles de six pouces une ligne. Son bec depuis son crochet jusqu’aux coins de la bouche a neuf lignes & demie de long; sa queue trois pouces une ligne; son pied dix lignes & demie; & celui du milieu des trois doigts anterieurs, joint avec l’ongle, huit lignes & demie. Les lateraux sont un peu plus courts; & celui de derriere est un peu plus long que ces derniers. Elle a dix pouces dix lignes de vol; & ses ailes, lorsqu’elles sont pliees, s’etendent jusqu’au tiers de la longueur de la queue. Le dessus de la tete, la partie superieure du col & le dos sont d’un gris tirant sur le roux. Le croupion & les couvertures du dessus de la queue sont roussatres & rayees transversalement de brun. De chaque cote de la tete est une tache longitudinale, brune, placee au-dessous & derriere l’oeil. La gorge & le ventre sont blancs. La partie inferieure & les cotes du col, la poitrine, les cotes & les jambes sont d’un blanc-roussatre, varie de petites lignes transversales, d’un brun clair. Les couvertures du dessous de la queue sont d’un blanc-roussatre; cette couleur etant separee du gris-brun par une petite ligne brune, tres-etroite. Les grandes plumes de l’aile sont d’un gris-brun, & ont leur bord exterieur roussatre: les moyennes sont de la meme couleur que les grandes couvertures. La queue est composee de douze plumes d’un gris-tirant sur le roux: toutes les laterales sont terminees d’un blanc-roussatre.. epare de l’autre couleur par une petite ligne transversale, brune. Les deux plumes du milieu de la queue sont plus longues que les laterales, qui vont toutes en diminuant un peu & par degres jusqu’a la plus courte. Autour de la base du bec sont quelques longs poils bruns, tournes en-devant, & roides comme des soyes. Le bec, les pieds & les ongles sont gris-bruns. On la trouve a l’Isle de Luçon, d’ou elle a ete apportee a M. de Reaumur par M. Poivre.

(The inhabitants of the island of Luzon call it CABEZOTE.

It is roughly the size of our red-headed [woodchat] shrike. Its length from the tip of the beak to the tail is seven pouces and five lignes, and to the nail six pouces and one ligne. Its beak from its hook to the corners of its mouth is nine and a half lignes long; its tail three pouces and one ligne; its foot ten and a half lignes; and the middle toe with the nail, eight and a half lignes. The inner and outer toes are slightly shorter, and the hind toe is slightly longer than the inner and outer toes. It is ten pouces and ten lignes in flight; & the wings when folded, extend to one third of the length of the tail. The crown, the upper part of the neck and back are a reddish grey. The rump and upper tail coverts is reddish brown and striped transversally with brown. On each side of the head is a longitudinal mark, brown, placed below and behind the eye. The throat and belly are white. The lower part and neck, breast, flanks and legs are a reddish white, variable barring of light brown. The under tail coverts are reddish white; this color is separated from the grey-brown by a small, very narrow, brown line. The large wing feathers are grey-brown, and their outer edges reddish: the middle coverts are the same color as the major coverts. The tail is composed of twelve feathers of a reddish grey color: all laterals have a reddish white tips .. a small brown transverse line separates the different colors. Both the middle tail feathers are longer than the laterals, which are slightly decreasing by degrees to the shortest. Around the base of the beak are a few long brown hairs that project outwards, and are stiff as bristles. The beak, feet and nails are grey-brown. It is found in the island of Luzon, from where it was brought to Mr. Reaumur by Mr. Poivre.)


  • Brisson, Mathurin Jacques. 1760. Ornithologia sive synopsis methodica sistens avium divisionem in Ordines, Sectiones, Genera, Species, ipsarumque Varietates.

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Birds in the ‘Hood Part 1

I’m not a birder but I do observe birds on occasion. I’m fortunate enough to live in an area with lots of trees and shrubbery still, so there are lots of wild birds to see (and hear) other than the feral pigeon and the ubiquitous Eurasian sparrow. A pair of peregrine falcons have actually nested in a cell tower in the neighborhood for years now. But that’s a story for another post.

Olive-backed sunbird Cinnyris jugularis

A few months ago, my father heard a bird singing at the backyard and told me to take out the camera and take a picture. It was perched on a guava tree and feeding on the guava flowers in bloom. It was quite hard to focus so I had to make do with dark, blurry photos. A couple of weeks ago, I heard a similar tune again in our backyard, but this time the bird was perched on a pink velvet banana, feeding on its flowers. So I quickly took out my camera and hoped the bird won’t fly away while I prepared to take pictures. The resulting photo was much better, but still not the best. Upon much Googling, it turns out to be a male olive-backed sunbird (Cinnyris jugularis) based on the metallic blue coloration on its throat, and the bird from a few months ago was a female (no metallic blue throat coloration). I waited for a few weeks until I heard the familiar tune again and saw that a male sunbird was feeding on the nectar from the neighbor’s hibiscus flowers. Finally I got a photograph decent enough for posting.


The olive-backed sunbird was first described by Mathurin Jacques Brisson in his 1760 book Ornithologia sive synopsis methodica sistens avium divisionem in Ordines, Sectiones, Genera, Species, ipsarumque Varietates, in which he called it “Le petit grimpereau des Philippines” (small tree-creeper of the Philippines), with the scientific name Certhia philippensis minor, which means exactly that – a small tree-creeper of the Philippines. He mentioned seeing an exemplar not live in the wild but stuffed inside the cabinet of a certain Father Aubry. The units of measure he used in his descriptions – “pouce”, “ligne” – were old French units that correspond to ~27.07 mm and ~2.256 mm, respectively.




Il est beaucoup plus petit que le precedent. Sa longeur depuis le bout du bec jusqu’a celui de la queue est de trois pouces huit lignes, & jusqu’a celui des ongles de trois pouces six lignes. Son bec depuis sa pointe jusqu’aux coins de la bouche a neuf lignes de long; sa queue quinze lignes; son pied six lignes; & celui du milieu des trois doigts anterieurs, joint avec l’ongle, quatre lignes & demie: les lateraux font un peu plus courts; & celui de derriere est presqu’aussi long que celui du milieu de ceux de devant. Il a cinq pouces huit lignes de vol; & fes ailes, lorsqu’elles sont pliees, s’etendent jusqu’aux deux tiers de la longeur de la queue. Les parties superieures de la tete & du col, le dos, le croupion, les plumes scapulaires, les couvertures du dessus de la queue sont d’un gris-brun. La gorge est marquee d’une violet fonce. La partie inferieure du col, la poitrine, le ventre, les cotes, les jambes, les couvertures du dessous des ailes sont jaunes. Les plumes de l’aile sont d’un gris-brun. La queue est composee de douze plumes: les huit du milieu sont d’un brun fonce: les deux plus exterieures de chaque cote sont de la meme couleur, & terminees de blanc-jaunatre, cette derniere couleur coupant obliquement la plume la plus exterieure de chaque cote. Le bec, les pieds & les ongles sont noiratres. On le trouve aux Isles Philippines, d’ou il a ete envoye a M. l’Abbe Aubry, que le conserve dans son cabinet.

[It is much smaller than the previous one. Its length from the tip of the beak to the tail is three pouces and eight lignes, to the nail is three pouces and six lignes. Its beak from the tip to the corners of its mouth is nine lignes long; its tail fifteen lignes; its foot six lignes; and the middle toe together with the nail four and a half lignes: the lateral toes are slightly shorter; and the hind toe is nearly as long as the middle toe. It is five to eight pouces when in flight; and its wings when folded, extend to two thirds of the length of its tail. The upper part of the head and the nape, the mantle, the rump and the uppertail coverts are gray-brown. The throat is marked with dark purple. The lower part of the neck, breast, abdomen, sides, legs and underwing coverts are yellow. Wing feathers are gray-brown. The tail is composed of twelve feathers: the middle eight are a dark brown, the two most exterior on each side are the same color, and they terminate into yellowish white, which obliquely cuts the exterior feathers on each side. The beak, feet and nails are blackish. It is found in the Philippine Islands, from where it was sent to Father Aubry who keeps it inside his cabinet.]


The olive-backed sunbird was also mentioned by Carl Linnaeus in his 1766 book, the 12th edition of Systema Naturae. This was the last edition of Systema Naturae, and the species of birds included in the 12th edition (one of which was the olive-backed sunbird, which he named Certhia jugularis.) was double that of the 10th edition.



Certhia. Rostrum arcuatum, tenue, subtrigonum, acutum.

Lingua actua.

Pedes ambulatorii.

jugularis 7. C. subgrisea, subtus lutea, gula violacca, recticibus duabus extimis apice flavis.

Certhia philippinensis minor. Briss. av. 2. p. 616. t. 32. f. 5.

Habitat in Philippines.

The genus name Certhia came from the Greek word κέρθιος (kerthios), which occurred in Aristotle’s work Historia Animalium VIII:

ἔστι δέ τι ὀρνίθιον μικρὸν ὃ καλεῖται κέρθιος· οὗτος τὸ μὲν ἦθος θρασύς, καὶ οἰκεῖ περὶ 30δένδρα, καὶ ἔστι θριποφάγος, τὴν δὲ διάνοιαν εὐβίοτος, καὶ τὴν φωνὴν ἔχει λαμπράν.

[And there is a certain little bird called kerthios; in character this bird is bold, and dwells among trees, and feeds on woodworms; as to intelligence, it lives well; its voice is clear.]

The species name jugularis is derived from Latin and means “of the throat; -throated”, probably referring to the metallic throat coloration in males.

Its current genus name Cinnyris, was first used by Georges Cuvier in 1817 in his book Le règne animal distribué d’après son organisation : pour servir de base a l’histoire naturelle des animaux et d’introduction a l’anatomie comparée. Cuvier grouped sun-birds in one genus, Cinnyris. The genus name was derived from Greek κιννυρις (kinnuris), which was mentioned by Hesychius of Alexandria to refer to a very small bird. He called them souï-mangas in French, from the Madagascar dialect for “eat sugar”.


Les Souï-Mangas (2)

N’ont pas non plus le queue usee; leur bec long et tresgrele a le bord de ses deux mandibules finement dentele en seie; leur langue, susceptible de s’allonger hors du bec, se termine en fourche; ce sont de petits oiseaux dout les males brillent au temps des amours de couleurs metalliques et approchant de l’eclat des colibris, qui’ils principalement en Afrique. Ils vivent sur les fleurs dout ils pompent le suc; leur naturel est gai et leur chant agreable. Leur beaute en a fait apporter beaucoup dans nos cabinet; mais le plumage des femelles et celui des males pendant la mauvaise saison etant tout different de leur plumage brillant, ou a peine a bien caracteriser les especies.

(2) Cinnyris, nom grec d’un tres-petit oiseau inconnu. Souï-manga signifie, dit-on, mange sucre dans un jargon de Madagascar.

[The Sunbirds (2)

Don’t lean on the tail; the edges of their long and very slender beak are finely serrated; the tongue, which is capable of protrusion, terminates in a little fork. They are small birds, the males of which have most brilliant metallic colors during the season of propagation, approaching the hummingbirds in beauty; of which, in this respect, they are representatives in the Eastern Continent, being found principally in Africa and the Indian Archipelago. They subsist on the nectar of flowers, which they suck up; are of a lively disposition, and sing agreeably. Their beauty renders them a great ornament in our cabinets; but the garb of the female sex, and of the male in winter, is so different that the species are not easy to characterize.

(2) Cinnyris, Greek name for an unknown small bird. Soui-manga means, how they say “eat sugar” in Madagascar dialect.]


  1. Brisson, Mathurin Jacques. 1760. Ornithologia sive synopsis methodica sistens avium divisionem in Ordines, Sectiones, Genera, Species, ipsarumque Varietates.
  2. Linnaeus, Carl. 1766. Systema Naturae 12th edition.
  3. Aristotle. 4th century BC. Historia Animalium Book VIII.
  4. Aristotle. 1965. History of animals, translated to English.
  5. Cuvier, Georges. 1817. Le règne animal distribué d’après son organisation : pour servir de base a l’histoire naturelle des animaux et d’introduction a l’anatomie comparée.
  6. Cuvier, Georges. 1854. Animal Kingdom arranged after its organization: forming a natural history of animals, and an introduction to comparative anatomy, translated to English.

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A hopeful sign

Pantala flavescens on a basil plant

Pantala flavescens resting on a basil plant

Today I spotted a Globe Skimmer (Pantala flavescens) in the front yard, resting on a Mrhani basil plant. The Globe Skimmer, also called the Wandering Glider, so named because of its migratory behavior. It is considered an obligate ITCZ (Intertropical Convergence Zone) migrant, traveling thousands of kilometers following the ITCZ rains and breeding in the pools created by the rainfall. So if one Globe Skimmer has been spotted, it means there are others that came with it, and it also means that the rains are coming as well. I would certainly hope so, as this year’s El Niño has been difficult for the farmers especially. The rainfall would be a welcome respite.


The Globe Skimmer is a dragonfly in the family Libellulidae and one of only two species in the genus Pantala. It was first described by entomologist Johan Christian Fabricius, a Danish student of the Swedish father of taxonomy Carl Linneaus, in his book Entomologia systematica emendata et aucta: Secundum classes, ordines, genera, species, adjectis synonimis, locis, observationibus, descriptionibus published in 1798, where it was then named Libellula flavescens.

P_flavescens_1 P_flavescens_2

LIBELLULA. Labium trifidum: lacinia dorsali minutissima. Antennae tenuissimae, filiformes.

L. flavescens. alis hyalinis: stigmate niveo, corpore flavescente.

Habitat in India Dom. Daldorff.

Statura praecedentium. Caput flavescens oculis magnis, fuscis. Thorax flavescens , immaculatus. Abdomen compressum, flavescens linea dorsali nigra. Alae albae stigmate marginali niveo.

The original genus name Libellula comes from the Latin word “libella”, which refers to the builder’s tool called a “level”, based on the horizontal position of the dragonfly’s wings; and its species name flavescens means “to become yellowish or golden”, referring to the coloration of the females and immature males. Its currently accepted genus name Pantala is derived from the Greek words “panta”, which means “all”; and “ale”, which means “wandering or roaming without home or hope of rest”.


Fabricius JC (1798) Entomologia systematica emendata et aucta: Secundum classes, ordines, genera, species, adjectis synonimis, locis, observationibus, descriptionibus. 283 – 285.

Fliedner H, Martens A (2008) The meaning of scientific names of Seychelles dragonflies (Odonata). Phelsuma 16: 49 – 57.

Hobson KA, Anderson RC, Soto DX, Wassenaar LI (2012) Isotopic Evidence That Dragonflies (Pantala flavescens) Migrating through the Maldives Come from the Northern Indian Subcontinent. PLoS ONE 7(12): e52594.