Readers’ wildlife photos

August 26, 2014 • 5:01 am

The readers have come through with a bunch more pictures, so I’m set for a while, although be aware that due to an upcoming trip (more later), posting will be light Thursday through Monday.  But today we have some lovely bird photos taken in China by reader Bruce Lyon. His notes are indented:

In June I was able to visit the remote Kuankuoshui Nature Reserve in Guizhou Province in south central China—an area that few westerners get to visit. My Chinese colleagues Wei Liang and Canchao Yang have been studying brood parasitic cuckoos at this site for the past decade and they kindly gave me the opportunity to visit their study area. The habitat was gorgeous—hilly Karst limestone clothed in many places with primary forest. It was also packed with birds.

Below: Typical primary forest habitat at the Kuankuoshui Nature Reserve. Bamboo is the typical understory growth in the forest.


When I travel, I enjoy learning about the taxonomic relationships of the birds I encounter but a bunch of the birds I saw in China appear to be difficult taxonomic cases. Part of the problem is that ornithologists create wastebin families to deal with unresolved taxa and it seems that several of the birds I saw belong to groups that have either only very recently been resolved or remain to be resolved. John Harshman, who appears to be a regular reader at this site, compiled the Tree of Life page for these birds so he can set me straight if I am too far off the mark on the systematics.

Below: An Ashy-throated Parrotbill (Paradoxornis alphonsianus). According to Wikipedia, the genus name Paradoxornis —‘paradox bird’— reflects the difficulty ornithologists have had in figuring out the true relationships of parrotbills. Recent molecular genetic evidence puts them in the Sylviidae, which includes the Old World Warblers.


Below: Ashy-throated Parrotbills have an interesting egg color polymorphism: some females lay blue eggs, others lay white eggs, and some lay pale blue eggs. This polymorphism appears to a defense against brood parasitism by the common cuckoo and my colleagues provided evidence for disruptive selection for egg color (birds with extreme egg colors are favored while birds with intermediate colors are less successful at reproduction). An Ashy-throated Parrotbill nest with blue eggs.


Below: My favorite birds in China were the laughingthrushes (family Leiothrichidae), a taxonomic group with peak diversity in China. These guys remind me a little of jays. All three laughingthrush species I saw live in groups and I suspect they are cooperative breeders, where full-grown non-dispersing offspring help their parents raise the next batch of kids. Below is a Red-tailed Laughingthrush (Garrulax milnei). This species is often found in bamboo and, like many laughingthrushes, is a pathetic flyer.


Below: A cuddly pair of White-browed Laughingthrushes (Garrulax sannio).


Below: The Red-billed Leiothrix (Leiothrix lutea), another member of the laughingthrush family, was one of the most abundant forest species and lives in pairs, not groups. This species loves bamboo for nesting.


 Below: White-collared Yuhinas (Yuhina diademata). This species lives in large groups and I commonly encountered them along the edges of roads through the forest.



12 thoughts on “Readers’ wildlife photos

  1. Since the blue eggshell color (as I just learned – somethng I probably shouldda wondered about long ago) comes from the zinc chelate of biliverdin, a product of heme catabolism, is there an element of dietary status involved in egg color?

    1. Excellent comment. There is a growing literature on egg color serving as some sort of a signal to males, and the dietary link you suggest has been made. Googling “blue eggs signal” on Google Scholar will pull up a bunch of these papers but here are a couple to get you started.

      Moreno J., Osorno J. L. 2003 Avian egg colour and sexual selection: does eggshell pigmentation reflect female condition and genetic quality? Ecol. Lett. 6, 803–806.

      English PA, Montgomerie R (2010) Robin’s egg blue: does egg color influence male parental care? Behav Ecol Sociobiol. 65: 1029-1036.

  2. Bruce, nothing wrong here. But it’s an interesting coincidence that you show a yuhina, since that group featured in one of my favorite taxonomic oddities. The white-collared yuhina really is a yuhina, but the superficially similar white-bellied yuhina turns out to really be a vireo, and so has been given its own genus, Erpornis. Movement from one superfamiliy to another is not extremely uncommon in passerine systematics, especially when starting from a wastebasket group like “Timaliidae”.

    For those not all that familiar with bird systematics, this is something like deciding that some species of macaque is really a lemur.

  3. Beautiful birds! All of them new to me. Thanks for the concise and erudite descriptions. I’ve been to China once: a beautiful country, fantastic people and an overall mind-blowing experience. Alas, most of my time was in cities…only trip “out” was to the Great Wall. Would have loved to do more touring in the countryside, and your photos make me wish I had…maybe some day.

  4. For me, Darwin’s entangled bank just became more tangled, delightfully so. This series of photographs begins in beauty and ends there, too.

    I like (love!) them all. I can only imagine seeing the ashy throated parrotbill in morning’s or evening’s low light or better in a fog.


  5. I am going to Mauritius for a wedding in a few months. I’m beginning to think it behooves me to go and spend a fortune on camera equipment in order to take photos sufficiently fabulous to deserve a place here. Haven’t got time to learn how to use it though.

  6. The Red-tailed Laughingthrush reminds me of a Pitohui, where the colour scheme is thought to be aposematic due to the bird being poisonous. Any chance of toxic leiothrichids?

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