Readers’ wildlife photos

September 18, 2014 • 5:42 am

Reader Bruce Lyon sent us a big selection of lovely bird and butterfly photos. His notes are indented:

Here is one last selection of photos from my June trip to the Kuankuoshui (KKS) Nature Reserve, China. I will include a couple of insects this time.

Below: A spectacular Mrs. Gould’s Sunbird (Aethopyga gouldiae), named after the wife of the famous 19th century bird painter John Gould. Since this is a male sunbird, I guess it is a Mr. Mrs. Gould’s Sunbird. Sunbirds are nectarivores (eat nectar), which makes them the ecological equivalent of hummingbirds in the Old World. I find it interesting that many sunbirds have iridescent plumage, just like hummingbirds, and in some species this shiny plumage is found on the throat and crown as it is in many hummingbirds. This seems like a case of convergent evolution to me. In both groups, males are often much more colorful than females, which suggests that plumage is likely favored by sexual selection. I am puzzled as to why sexual signals would be so similar in the two group—what is it about nectar eating or foraging that favors this specific type and configuration of conspicuous plumage?

Aethopyga gouldiae IMG_4448

Below: Another male sunbird reaching for nectar.

Aethopyga gouldiae IMG_4246

Below: A female sunbird.

Aethopyga gouldiae IMG_4368

Below: This Black-throated Bushtit (Aegithalos concinnusis) is a congener of the much duller American Bushtit familiar to people in western North America and also the more dapper Long-tailed Tit of Europe. All three of these species live in large groups and are cooperative breeders.

Aegithalos concinnus IMG_3083

One taxonomic group that is well represented in China is the bulbuls (Family Pycnonotidae), which occurs throughout Asia, the Middle East and Africa.  According to Wikipedia, the Asian members of the family tend more often to be found in open habitats, while in Africa the bulbuls tend to be rainforest birds.

Below: Brown-breasted Bulbuls (Pycnonotus xanthorrhous) were very common in the open areas like tea plantations. These birds seemed feisty and I often saw them bickering with each other.

Pycnonotus xanthorrhous IMG_2688adj

Below: Brown-breasted Bulbuls like to nest in tea bushes and have gorgeous eggs.

Pycnonotus xanthorrhous IMG_3108

Below: Another very common open habitat bulbul, the wonderfully named Collared Finchbill (Spizixos semitorques). Apparently these guys eat a lot of fruit; perhaps that explains their unusual beak.

Spizixos semitorques IMG_2697

Below: One last bulbul, this time the forest dwelling Mountain Bulbul (Ixos mcclellandii). I love the shaggy look on these guys—I guess it is part of the rugged mountain look.

Hypsipetes mcclellandii IMG_3075

 A couple of butterflies. Below: A dense group of blues flushes up from bird droppings on a road.  These blues were very common along the roads and invariably occurred at bird droppings, where I suspect they were going for some nutrient like sodium. According to Wikipedia, the blues, are in the subfamily Polyommatinae in the family of gossamer-winged butterfly family Lycaenidae.


Below: This male and female butterfly chased each other for ten minutes and at one point climbed to at least 500 feet, perhaps even 1000 feet, and then plummeted back to the ground. It was a spectacular display. It seemed like the yellow one (male?) was chasing the white one. My colleague Magne Friberg suggests that the species is likely to be the Lesser Brimstone (Gonopteryx mahaguru).


Bruce adds this: “If anyone is interested in seeing the entire annotated collection of some of the best of the images from my China trip, they are posted in a Picasa album.

22 thoughts on “Readers’ wildlife photos

  1. Thanks for the link to the Picasa album–China is captivating.

    Such a specific placement of precisely sized dots on the Lesser Brimstone: all four are orange and on both the white and yellow specimens with the top two dots being smaller than the bottom pair.

    1. Agreed. These are marvelous. The butterflies and the eggs. Oh my god, the eggs are reminders that Au and Pt are just elements on a table, but life can make the real gems.

  2. Very nice photos Bruce! Thanks for sharing. I love the photo of the blues the most. Great in-flight capture and bokeh effect, etc. Lovely!

    Can you discuss the equipemnt used?


    1. I used my bird setup — Canon 500 mm lens with 1.4 teleconverter = 700mm. I used my new full frame sensor body Canon D6 bought specifically because image quality is good at high ISO settings (film speed). The butterflies were shot at 4000 ISO on a foggy day in the woods! To get the photo I lay my camera on the road, prefocused on butterflies perches on bird droppings, then threw a clod of dirt towards them to flush them and then blasted away on rapid fire. I took about 100 photos of different groups of butterflies, which yielded only two good photos.

  3. Great pics.

    what is it about nectar eating or foraging that favors this specific type and configuration of conspicuous plumage?

    Could just be coincidence. Or maybe it draws attention to beak length and shape? I can imagine how that might be a credible signal of fitness for nectar-feeders. The bright patches on throat and head might be “hey baby, check out the length of my beak…”

    1. Among the Australasian bird family Meliphagidae (Honeyeaters), the most sunbird-like species in morphology and habits are the Spinebills, which are also among the most strongly patterned; but rather than gaudy iridescence they have a colour scheme more like the Bushtit shown above.

      (Who else did a double-take on reading ‘Bushtit’?)

    2. Evolution often uses existing patterns or approaches. It may be that the “look for colors!” inclination connected to finding food is easily re-purposed for mate selection.

      1. That was how I always imagined the colors in flower/fruit picking birds. (E.g. my guess was that parakeets and similar also “go for color”.)

  4. Wonderful pictures. If I had a camera like that I would be out all weekend.
    The similar bright colors in birds might come from convergent evolution due to similar pressures during sexual selection. First, they can see these particular colors very well due to their diet requirements. These colors also stand out from the green forest background so they can be seen at distance.
    There is speculation that having colors similar to their food source (like flowers in this case) might drive sexual selection in this particular direction. I am not sure how to put it, but I think the basic idea here is that it might first trigger attention from the opposite sex b/c animals think about food all the time. Then, with the right kinds of behaviors and songs the interest is sorta redirected to ‘other’ things if you know what I mean.

    1. That makes some sense. If your brain is wired for ‘look for purple’ because of your food source, then you might also pay more attention to purple-feathered suitors.

      So now the question is, why are human males attracted to hourglass-shaped females rather than beer bottle-shaped females? 🙂 Kidding, kidding…

      1. I am on thin ice here, but my impression is that human sexual selection has a lot more speculation and less experimentation than sex. sel. research in other animals.
        In any case, the consensus has been, far as I know, that sexual selection has shaped both male and female humans. Having an hourglass waist in females is thought to mean youth, and it also accentuates the hips. Big hips mean good child bearing ability.

      2. Unfortunately, in the US, most beer is now sold and consumed in Al cans. Does that explain the continuing expansion of abdominal fat in both sexes?

  5. Yay! More terrific birds from China! Thanks Bruce for the usual great commentary and stellar photos.
    The two butterfly pics are a real treat. The Lesser Brimstones almost look like an animation.

  6. I would be shocked if those Sunbirds weren’t a favorite of Chinese royalty — whether kept caged, or gardens planted specifically to attract them.

    Nice job capturing all of them, Bruce!


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