21 December 2013

Interesting Heron update – Sabkhat Al Fasl

Further to my post on the interesting heron I photographed at Sabhat Al Fasl on 16 March 2013 I have received the following comments from various people I have contacted and I thank them for replying to my question. I will not include their names as there are differences in opinion and I have not asked permission to publish their comments.

“I have had a long look at your heron and my initial thoughts about how dark and maroon the back looked has been tempered by the rather thin and broken streaking on the head and neck. I haven't seen these well for a while, but my memories of IPH are that the streaks are broad and dark and more prominent across the whole head.  There is also often a very obvious dark line across the lores, which yours hints at, but is not quite prominent enough. If I was on a committee, I would say that the bird might be IPH, but as there are discrepancies between it and my impression of IPH I would not accept it. It might well still be, but based on this one image, am not sure”.

“Your heron certainly looks like an Indian Pond Heron and is too dark for a Squacco. Was it taken in late spring as the bird is obviously in breeding plumage? I don't think the lack of streaking on the breast is a problem in breeding plumage, nor the lack of a dark line through the lores. They are field marks in winter plumage, but not so obvious in summer. The bill looks rather long and pointed though, but still I would go for and Indian Pond Heron”.

“I think it an Indian Pond heron based on the loral area shape and size amongst other features”.

“Annoyingly, your bird has no crown streamers that should be pure white in summer plumaged IPH and black tipped in Squacco Heron. Apart from the very dark back (but I guess some SHs could come close to this, especially late evening – it looks like the sun was low when you photographed this bird) there is nothing really suggestive of IPH here – little or no loral bar for example (a few IPH in full breeding plumage in OBC images have this very reduced, but not all) and the neck streaking, seemingly on a buffy tinged ground colour does not seem excessively heavy compared to the adjacent SH. So, in conclusion, I agree with you – I do not think this is a safe call for IPH, especially as a rare vagrant. However, I would not be certain that I would put it down as a definite SH either; would want to evaluate the back in much better light before doing that. An interesting bird.”

This could be IPH; I don't think I would like to say for sure on the basis of this image. Certainly it appears too dark for SH but I wonder what my bird (darkish backed SH) would have looked like if photographed at dawn instead of full sunlight. Given that it was taken in mid-March, I guess that an IPH that has moulted its mantle and scaps, but is yet to moult the neck feathers would look like this. From what I recall, the Alula reference suggests that the neck is moulted last (?) If the neck has started to moult, this may explain why the streaks are maybe not as heavy as they might be as well. I agree that the loral bar does appear to be rather weak or non-existent on some bp IPH so the weakness of that in your bird may not be a problem”.

“looks OK for Indian Pond Heron to me”.

“it looks good, especially dark upperparts and the bonus that you have direct comparison with a Squacco Heron. Apparently there is quite a variation within the species as regards overall streaking and therefore, in particular, the prominence of the loral line”.
Interesting Heron
I sent a message to Mike Jennings the coordinator of the Arabian Breeding Birds Atlas, asking if he had any records of Indian Pond Heron for Saudi Arabia as he has a database of (mainly breeding) birds in the country, to see if he knew of any records. Mike kindly checked his database and did not have any Indian Pond Heron records for Saudi Arabia.  However as it is not (yet) a breeding species his recording has not been 100% thorough and a quick check of other sources shows that in his 1981 checklist of Saudi birds, he rejected a record from 1976-7 by Warren in the Gulf and sent me the paper detailing this record which does not, in my opinion, positively identify the bird seen as an Indian Pond Heron. I do not know of any other records of the species for Saudi Arabia.    
Indian Pond Heron
Jens Eriksson sent an excellent photo of an Indian Pond Heron from Salalah, Oman taken in early May for comparison to my bird and Nitin Srinivasamurthy also took a nice photo of an Indian Pond Heron in India in mid-February at Kumarakom, Kerala, India and kindly allowed me to use it on my website, as always the copyright of this photograph remains with the photographer Nitin. As a result of being able to use these two photos I made a compilation photo of the three birds and as they are taken at slightly different times, mid-Feb, mid-March and early May so I could see how the moult may progress. This does make the bird in Saudi Arabia look a lot more like an Indian Pond Heron than my initial impression as it fits in perfectly between the two other images. The paper on identification of Squacco, Indian and Chinese Pond Herons by Frederic Jiguet (Alula 3-2006 – 114-119) states that the neck feathers are the last to be moulted and the back and mantle the first, so maybe this is why the neck streaking is not quite as thick as I expected? And some summer plumaged IPH have very reduced dark loral strip like the Saudi Arabian bird such as the photograph from India shown below. As Indian Pond Heron would be either a rare vagrant or a first for the country (although they have occurred in UAE & Kuwait) the photograph of the bird I took is not sufficient to claim this as a definite record of the species. This bird certainly has some of the features of an Indian Pond Heron but for me personally I will need to find a really classic example for me to claim a first for Saudi Arabia. I will certainly keep my eye out for other interesting birds when I see any Squacco Herons in Saudi Arabia.