Collared Finchbill – Most Devoted Bird Parents?

It’s always a pleasure to discover that a new species of bird has moved into one’s garden to start a family. Such was the case earlier this year when a pair of collared finchbills (Spizixos semitorques) established their residence in one of the trees near my house, thus becoming regular sight throughout the day. These are very pretty birds, medium sized (around 20 centimetres from head to tail) with green bodies, black heads and white “collars” which give them their name. They are skilled fliers, quite noisy at times and, like their bulbul cousins, are not particularly… Continue reading

Hand-Raising Grey Treepie Chick

Following my dramatic (and heartbreaking) encounter with the Grey treepie (Dendrocitta formosae) three years ago, I kept hoping to find an opportunity to take a good photo of this stunning predator. The chance finally presented itself earlier this week. But it wasn’t exactly as I envisioned it; instead of sighting the bird in a not-too-distant place and in a good light, as one always hopes with any wildlife, I chanced upon one helpless little baby treepie right on the side of a paved road while I was riding by on a bicycle!

Of course, I had never seen… Continue reading

Brief Encounter with Oriental Ratsnake

With 50 species of snake, many of which are endemic, Taiwan has to be one of the best places to visit if you are a herpetologist or if you simply enjoy observing these fascinating, if sometimes dangerous, animals. They are plentiful here, especially during the warmer months, and also highly elusive. As such, your best chances of seeing one, sadly, is on a paved road or a freeway, flattened to death by speeding vehicles. That said, once in a while you might get lucky and spot one in the wild, although this is likely to be a very brief encounter,… Continue reading

Solomons Cockatoo Eggs Fail to Hatch

I bought a pair of Solomons cockatoos (Cacatua ducorpsii) in December 2010. At six months of age, they were still babies and I continued to hand-feed them for several more weeks. By the time they were fully weaned, my aviary at the back of the house was finished and soon I was able to introduce the parrots into their new home. They seemed to settle in very well, enjoying the space that allowed them to fly short distances and the perches which let them investigate the surrounding farmland through several large windows. They also loved each other a… Continue reading

Rwak-Rwak, White-Breasted Waterhen

“Where could the fish go?” I was quietly wondering after numerous attempts at counting the koi fish in the fish tank located in one corner of the front yard. It’s a small concrete vessel, about 80 centimetres tall and with a diameter of about one metre. I keep a few colourful koi in there; they are lovely – always keen to emerge from the depth and open their mouths whenever the feeder appears in their sight. I had three of them for several years, but a few months ago I added a dozen more, mostly small ones. Unfortunately, some of… Continue reading

Spotted Dove as Pet?

It is the second time in less than a year that I am hand-feeding a lost Spotted dove (Spilopelia chinensis) chick. The first time it happened was after a powerful typhoon blew the helpless baby bird to my neighbour’s garden where it sat still, wet and confused, waiting for a predator to have an easy meal. I used a mixture of soft millet and special powder for lories and lorikeets which I dissolved in water, heated up to 40°C and fed to the bird’s beak with the help of a long, narrow syringe, twice a day. I repeated… Continue reading

Victoria Amazonica Water Lily

The tropical world is filled with incredible plants, some quite astonishing in shape, colour, size and behaviour. One of the more extraordinary among them is Queen Victoria’s water lily (Victoria amazonica). As the flower’s latin name suggests, it originates in the Amazon region, but it has since spread to many parts of the tropical world where it is often cultivated in botanical gardens and other large outdoor bodies of water. It was even grown successfully in England, in the 19th century, in a pool heated by coal-fired boilers. The large white flower was then presented to… Continue reading

Foudie Rouge

One of the most spectacular birds I observed during my recent trip to the Indian ocean island of Réunion was the Red fody (Foudia madagascariensis). Because of the bird’s striking red colouration I mistakenly assumed that it was a member of one of the parrot families, but later I had a chance to observe it more closely and I noticed that it lacked some of the characteristics that many small parrots share. Nevertheless, it was a great sight to witness this unusual species in the wild. They are plentiful in all parts of Réunion (even at altitudes of… Continue reading

Kahili Ginger or Longose Jaune

For any amateur botanist who has travelled around the tropics, it becomes abundantly clear that the vast majority of ornamentals can now be found in virtually any country, territory or island of similar climate. This is, of course, great if their presence is limited to people’s gardens and public parks, but once they spread and become an invasive species, to the detriment of the endemic local flora, that’s a very different story. Here on the Indian Ocean island of Réunion, one of the most widely represented invasive plant is the stunning Kahili ginger (Hedychium gardnerianum). Known locally by… Continue reading

Long-Tailed Shrike

Every morning at precisely 5:30, a harsh, loud rattling call of a long-tailed shrike (Lanius schach), gives us an untimely wake-up call. Standing on a branch of a tall tree just outside our first-floor bathroom, this bird is the earliest riser as it makes a quick tour of its territory. There it announces, in no uncertain terms, that this piece of land is its personal hunting ground and completely off-limits to any other member of its species. Personally, I don’t find the natural call of a shrike too unpleasant, but it certainly is a far cry from the… Continue reading