Friday, 22 October 2010

Snowy egrets

Snowy egrets (Egretta thula) are small herons found throughout the Americas, from the Great Lakes to Argentina. The first problem is to distinguish them from the very similar Great and Cattle egrets. Seen as photos they look almost identical, but Snowy egrets have black bills and legs with yellow feet whilst Cattle egrets have yellow bills and grey legs. It's also a question of habitat as Cattle egrets follow cattle in pasture, snapping up disturbed invertebrates, whilst Snowys feed by water. Great egrets also feed in water, but they are quite a lot bigger, up to a metre in height as well as having yellow bills.

A Snowy egret in Cachoeiro de Itapemirim, ES, Brazil

Snowys are fairly sociable and will commonly flock with other "heron types" throughout their range. In the Mata Atlantica, for example, they can be found with Little Blue herons, and Great egrets as well as others. Although the group may appear to all mixed together they're probably after different foods - a study in mangrove swamps found Snowys to mainly eat shrimps and guppies while Little Blues ate crabs. Having said that, predation of fish farms in the US is equally effective by both! Snowys and Greats separate by depth, Snowys sticking to shallow water - they hate swimming! When they were observed swimming in a pond in Florida, apparently tempted by lots of prey fish, it made the wildlife press.

A Snowy egret and Little Blue heron

They hunt by plodding around in shallow water, catching whatever moves, though as mentioned above they will raid fish farms given half a chance. At night they roost in colonies with other herons on wooden platforms built in the tree tops. Snowys used to be quite endangered from hunters after their feathers for hats, but nowadays they are protected and flourishing.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Sounds of the Forest

Walk through the Mata Atlantica and you will be aware of the wild life around you, the birds, monkeys and insects, by sound more than sight. Calls to warn of intruders, defend their territory, or find a mate. Mankind, being of an inventive and devious nature, has long used this to his own ends. The Puri indians, one of the tribes inhabiting the Brazilian state of Espirito santo when the Portuguese arrived, used wooden whistles to attract birds and monkeys to the pot, and were adept at imitating the calls, or even the sequence of calls as two birds get closer to each other.

At the start of the 1920s a local amateur hunter, Maurilio Coelho, encountered these Indians when working in his day job for the electricity company, and got to know them well. They taught him how to make various whistles, and as importntly, how to use them. The whistles he then made were so successful that in 1903 he openned a factory in the city of Cachoeiro de Itapemirim and people came from miles way, even distant Rio, to buy. Business plummeted when hunting was prohibited, but one of Maurilio's grandsons is continuing to make the whistles, one of which can be seen above, and is renovating the factory and reopenning it as a tourist attraction.

The best wood apparently comes from the Ipe tree, a catchall term for several members of the Tabebuia genus. These are large shrubs or trees noted for their durable and insect resistant wood, which makes good decking, and whistles. Finding them is not a problem as at this time of year they are bedecked with clusters of large yellow flowers and are visible from miles away even in dense forest.

Friday, 8 October 2010


This is the Jacutinga (Pipile jacutinga). It's about the size of a small turkey, but unfortunately the resemblance does not end there. Their meat is highly prized, and not being over endowed with survival instincts, they are very easy to catch. Once common in southern Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay, heavy hunting has reduced numbers considerably and they have disappeared from many states such as Bahia and Espirito santo. In Paraguay even protected areas have been hunted out due to a shortage of wardens.

One of their strongholds is the Igussu park in Brazil and Argentina, where this one was seen. They are forest birds, preferably by rivers where they hunt small invertebrates, so whether this one was drinking or eating is unclear - a bit of both probably. The major part of their diet though is forest fruit, especially from palms. They are reportedly also very fond of laurel berries.