Tale Feathers! Leucistic Cerulean Kingfisher?
Tale Feathers! Leucistic Cerulean Kingfisher? Beautiful Anomalies. This post of Tale Feathers deals with something a little bit different. Nonetheless, we think very unusual and interesting. ManButur recently just returned from a trip to Lombok island. What was expected to be primarily a landscape photography trip, ended up with some very exciting surprises.
See them in Nature. Hear them in Nature. Understand and respect them in Nature.~ManButur Suantara
Hunting Landscapes Catching Leucisms
The trip to Lombok Island with My Trip Indonesia together with Didik Putradi, Putu Arditya and Imran Putra Sasak was primarily in search of landscapes, mentoring several photography enthusiasts. There were some birds they were hoping to find (such as the five-colour Munia). But instead caught some interesting discoveries. This involves understanding first, a little bit about Nature’s tendency to have some freak anomalies. One of these is a condition that naturally occurs amongst birds called Leucism.
Leucism (/ˈluːsɪzəm, -kɪz-/) is a wide variety of conditions that result in the partial loss of pigmentation in an animal—causing white, pale, or patchy coloration of the skin, hair, feathers, scales, or cuticles, but not the eyes.It is occasionally spelled leukism~Wikipedia
What is Leucism?
Leucism in simple terms is that of a mutation in the genes of an animal. In birds this abnormal condition reduces pigmentation. It prevents the melanin component of the cells to be properly transferred to the feathers and skin. What does this mean? it means that birds appear to be white or faded in colour than their natural colouration, sometimes they can be mistaken for being an albino. However, one main point of difference that you can immediately see is in the eyes. If the eyes remain natural colour (not red) this is one indicator that the discolouration is from Leucism and not Albinoism.
You can see in the image, the difference between Albino and Leucism. Leucissm does not affect the pigmentation in the eyes.
The cerulean kingfisher (Alcedo coerulescens) is a kingfisher in the subfamily Alcedininae which is native to parts of Indonesia. With an overall metallic blue impression, it is very similar to the common kingfisher, but it is white underneath instead of orange.
You can see in the images above, how these two birds are strikingly different. They are both Cerulean Kingfishers. However, the effect of Leucism on the bird that ManButur and friends discovered showed a beautiful dappled turquoise effect in the plumage. No Leucistic Cerulean Kingfisher has ever been photographed so far. We also don’t know if they have been sighted before. The Cerulean Kingfisher is native to parts of Indonesia, so this anomaly is truly quite rare in Nature.
You might say that it made ManButur’s trip facing all that bad weather, worthwhile. Amongst the group, everyone wanted to capture the best image of this rare find. They did not simply see just one bird, but there was a pair.
It was interesting, that ManButur recalls that some behaviours he noticed, was that the Leucistic Cerulean Kingfisher was being targeted and chased by his normal counterparts. Looks like some behaviours in the natural world are very close to home. In general, species in nature do not accept differences very well.
Beauty at a Cost
We may see that the difference in this bird’s plumage is something of beauty, but in Nature, it comes at a cost that threatens survival.
So maybe we can draw a general conclusion, that they have already learned to protect themselves more carefully. Their colouring also takes away their ability to camouflage themselves. They are easier targets for predators.
“When I take the photograph of these Birds, both of which are Ceruelean Kingfishers,. I noticed that it was easier to get closer to the normal variant. The Leucistic variant was a lot harder to get a closer photograph. They seem to show more defensive behaviour. Perching in areas that provide better cover, compared to their normal relatives.ManButur Suantara
Memories from the trip
” We had less than one more day left in our trip. After a lot of bad weather, we agreed to drive around through areas in Lombok. These areas were locations that are known habitats for the Five-Coloured Munia bird. We thought it would be good to do some exploring and possibly get some new images for our collection. “
“First, a Brahmini Kite grabbed our attention. There was slight rain and we thought that we take a few shots of the Kite. We were waiting for the moment for the Brahmini Kite to catch a fish from the lagoon as this seems to be their hunting ground. We then spotted there were three Brahmini Kites.”
“During this time, we can hear the calls of the Cerulean Kingfisher. However, because we have plenty of images already of this bird, we were not paying attention to them. Until there was one Cerulean Kingfisher that caught our attention. A Kingfisher was being chased by another Kingfisher. When we looked closer this is when we noticed the incredible sight before us.”
“Is this a Kingfisher? what type of bird is this? it was jaw-dropping” After capturing a few shots we checked our images to try and determine the identity of the unusual-coloured bird. We were discussing this for hours. While we were following and waiting for the Kingfisher to appear again in the rain. “
“It was when we inspected the images a lot closer later, that we were able to agree that in our opinion we captured images of the Leucistic Cerulean Kingfisher. This conclusion is based on its body size, bird call and also the white behind the ears that you can still see. This is a typical marking of the Cerulean Kingfisher.”
Leucistic Cerulean Kingfisher
The group of awe-struck photographers, including ManButur, Didik and Putu and Imran agreed that this is very likely the Cerulean Kingfisher with the Leucistic Pigment condition. By process of elimination, there are only two kingfishers species native to this area. one being the Cerulean Kingfisher, and the other is Blue-eared Kingfisher. There are migratory visitors such as the Sacred Kingfisher (Australian Kingfisher) and the Collared Kingfisher Both of these species although located there, are substantially bigger compared to the Blue-Eared and the Cerulean species.
Considering these facts and that the Blue-eared Kingfisher have a full brown belly, looking at the pigment visible on the kingfisher sighted, we agreed that it is very likely a Leucistic variant of the Cerulean Kingfisher.
Wildlife Photography and Bird Enthusiasts aid in Conservation.
Photographers and their communities often pool together information on central platforms. Sharing information brings to light many discoveries about different species. Identifiers, behaviours, locations. This data is useful for researchers to understand changes in the environment. Specifically for Shorebirds, you may wish to look into http://www.whrsn.org. This stands for the Western Hemisphere Shorebirds Reservation Network. A great source of accurate information.
In Indonesia we share a lot of information with other countries through platforms such as ‘Burung Laut Indonesia‘ (Seabird Indonesia) and E Bird. These platforms and programs make it possible for even hobbyists to register and record sightings etc. The ability to place information in a central location makes this powerful globally.
This occurrence during ManButurs‘ latest trip with My Trip Indonesia, is a perfect example of how photography plays an increasing role in wildlife documentation and studies. Especially in bird migration and habitats. Being a part of a potential discovery is something you can not plan for but is very exciting for everyone involved.
Special thanks to My Trip Indonesia for making this adventure possible. The beautiful photography captured by ManButur Suantara supported by equipment from Sriwijaya Camera Denpasar.
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