Monday, May 4, 2009

Plain Chachalaca

I wonder if this bird takes umbrage at the moniker we've saddled it with. Most people would. Who wants to be known as a "plain jane".

But that's what we call Ortalis vetula: Plain Chachalaca. They are not without charms, however. Not the least of which are VERY loud vocalizations that can veer into the realm of annoying at times, as you shall soon see.

The chachalaca above was just photographed this afternoon at Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, deep in the Rio Grande Valley of south Texas. It's very Mexican down here, and the bird life reflects the tropical nature of the area.


This Plain Chachalaca was rather tame, allowing close approach. Sometimes, they can be quite difficult to observe as they clamber about branches in dense vegetation, especially in Central America where a meal might be made of them. In protected lands, like here, they become much bolder. The chachalaca is but one of many bird species that barely nip into the U.S. - the Rio Grande Valley specialties. This region is an absolute must-visit locale for serious birders.
These turkey-like beasts belong to a tropical family, the Cracidae, which encompasses guans, curassows, and, of course, chachalacas. Long of tail, plump of body, and capped with a tiny head stuck on a pencil neck, Plain Chachalacas are strange lookers. Odd actors, too, clambering about the branches in a very arboreal lifestyle.


You'll generally hear chachalacas long before you see 'em, as evidenced by the above video. The stud on the branch is duetting with another bird, and often many chachalacas engage in a loud, disharmonius shouting match. These tidal waves of chachalaca'ing sound ring through the thickets, drowning out the voices of quieter singers, sometimes to the irritation of birders.

On the banks of the mighty Rio Grande River, just a stone's toss and two jumps from the spot where I photographed and video'ed that chachalaca. I saw many other Mexican specialty birds, nd even managed some decent photos of a few. I'll stick some of those here later.

Tomorrow, it is off to Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, where, among other hot commodities, I hope to view the very rare - in the U.S. - Masked Duck. If I do, and photos are obtained, you may be sure that the tiny duck will later swim on this blog.

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