Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

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[Mystery bird] Pygmy Batis, Batis perkeo, photographed near the Pangani River Camp, Tanzania, Africa. The photographer writes: “I was incredibl[y] lucky to get such a good view of this little fast-moving guy. He actually responded to pishing, and sat there exposed for 10 seconds or so, allowing photographs in the late afternoon sun!” [I will identify this bird for you in 48 hours]

Image: Dan Logen, 13 January 2010 [larger view].

Nikon D300, 600 mm VR lens, ISO 400, 1/250, f/6.3, Exposure Compensation 0.

Please name at least one field mark that supports your identification.

Review all mystery birds to date.


  1. #1 Adrian
    March 13, 2010

    Back to Batis. This time a male, the ID of which lies in the width of the breastband and the eyebrow.
    Congratulations on your new blog Grrl, although I’m not au fait with the genetics it’s very interesting.

  2. #2 David Hilmy
    March 13, 2010

    slightly homophonic, but “Darwin’s grab bag” works for me!

    as for the ID, I think my alluding to Batman above- the “caped crusader”, is somewhat misleading as I would expect the males of that species to show some rufous and have a larger breast band, but I like the absence of a white eyebrow… I also don’t want to get “mixed” up with another which I think would show a shorter tail, and the “sister” would show a long and distinct white supercilium and narrower chest band, so I’m kinda gravitating towards the one that sounds like it would very probably taste just like chicken if used by the Finns against the Red Army tanks in WWII…

  3. #3 Adrian
    March 13, 2010

    Hello David, looks like the two of us again. Yes I think it’s the “explosive” one as well.

  4. #4 David Hilmy
    March 13, 2010


    Although the choices from this genus are rather limited for Tanzania, this has been one of the hardest to get a grip on because of the paucity of information, written especialy, but also photographically- there seems to be a lot of variability within species and a lot of current debate as to whether they actually have the speciation down as with other genera…

    and I thnk we should more properly (for John’s sake) refer to how the prologue of the specific “quites” the Knight’s Tale…

    “This Absolom, that jolif was and gay,
    Gooth with a sencer on the haliday,
    Sensynge the wyves of the parisshe faste;
    And many a lovely look on hem he caste,
    And namely on this carpenteris wyf.”

  5. #5 Adrian
    March 13, 2010

    Hello David, I’m having second thoughts on the ID of this one. I can’t find any “molotovs” with red in the eye, they are all pale yellow. I think it may be the other bird from last time. Also the tail looks short, but the comparison is difficult to make.

  6. #6 David Hilmy
    March 13, 2010

    hmmm, I understand that there is some variation within species with respect to eye color based upon geographical distribution, so I’m not sure it’s a hard-and-fast rule, plus I have come across multiple references to the male “molotov” having orange eyes, the impression of which you get here (although upon enlarging, it appears to be a deep yellow-amber iris with a red peripheral margin)

  7. #7 David Hilmy
    March 13, 2010

    so do you think perhaps this might be another mini Italian Job– sì, o “perché no?”

  8. #8 Adrian
    March 13, 2010

    Si David, I’m looking at the last one and this appears more compact, the only description I can find states ” restricted white eyebrow sometimes indistinct or absent…. breastband wider at sides and narrowing in the centre, eye orange-yellow.” This group is proving more problematic than I thought, I suspect that the current taxonomy will change soon.

  9. #9 David Hilmy
    March 13, 2010

    I agree, I think this one photographed in Kenya is our guy but as you can see in this photo (with chestnut smudges and white nasal patch) also from Kenya, the coloration is either variable or we have two different species…

  10. #10 Adrian
    March 13, 2010

    Nice photo David, I think that’s our guy. I can’t find any info on subspecies for this though, so I don’t know what geographical variation occurs.

  11. #11 carel
    March 13, 2010

    The boldness of those white eyebrows can also vary with freshness of plumage–another nasty complication of IDing this genus. While birding in Africa, didn’t Freud once remark, “Sometimes a Batis is just a Batis?”

  12. #12 David Hilmy
    March 13, 2010

    hmmm, I wonder what Sigmund would think of your use of the word “id”? Perhaps “without a sense of time, completely illogical, primarily sexual, infantile in its emotional development, and is not able to take ‘no’ for an answer”? LOL!

  13. #13 Adrian
    March 14, 2010

    I think Grrl is sat in her alter-ego costume laughing her socks off!! (Please don’t release the Ninja Parrots).
    After a (near) sleepless night with this one I can only conclude it’s Pygmy Batis, although I could be easily convinced it’s something else, perhaps even Chipping Sparrow.

  14. #14 Adrian
    March 14, 2010

    As a postscript I’m amazed at how many of the Google images are mis-identified, about the only Batis pics you can rely on are Chin-spot.

  15. #15 Kim Birmingham
    March 14, 2010

    OK David, I think I got most of your clues this time: “sister” being the Pale Batis (Batis soror) and “mixed” up being the Forest Batis (Batis mixta) and the “batman, caped crusader” as the Cape Batis, but I need help with some of the other stuff!

    the prologue of the specific “quites” the Knight’s Tale

    it would very probably taste just like chicken if used by the Finns against the Red Army tanks in WWII

    so do you think perhaps this might be another mini Italian Job

  16. #16 Adrian
    March 14, 2010

    Welcome Kim, I didn’t get the Chaucer reference either, I was thinking about Heath Ledger’s film.
    The Finnish ref is to Molotov (inventor of the petrol bomb)= “molitor” = Chin-spot.
    mini italian job = perche = perkeo = Pygmy.
    You have to remember David seems to be able to switch between any number of languages.

  17. #17 David Hilmy
    March 14, 2010

    Good morning Adrian and Kim- on my way to plan for planting a 2-acre wildflower meadow this morning (weather permitting- actually, not quite right, I don’t mind any weather- you get wet, dry off; you get cold, warm up- but our so-called cousins over here haven’t quite figured out the comfort vs needs thing yet, so my hosts may postpone!)

    As for Chaucer, well that was when we were considering Batis molitor as a possibility for this ID… the Knight’s Tale was the first of the Canterbury Tales and the tradition was that to thank or “quite” the story-teller, one would provide another story, so the second story-teller was a rather drunk miller- molitor is Latin for “miller”

    the translation would go something like this:

    “This Absalom, who was jolly and gay,
    Went with a censer on the holy day,
    Censing the wives at the parish feast;
    And on them many a loving look he cast,
    And especially on this carpenter’s wife”

    the subtlety (read: eccentricty of Hilmy!) is supposed to also demonstrate the play on words that Chaucer often used- the “censer” and “censing” all the wives, as I feebly attempt to do, if only for my own amusement!

    by the way, the Italian Job caper involved minis to reiterate the “perché no?”/perkeo ID…

    Adrian, when they finally put my brainchild into field mode (many years ago I thought of starting up a company that would be able to go anywhere in the world, take a few cells of any organism, and on site and via sateliite, plug into GenBank or some such other repository, and immediately sequence the species of whatever was found and then cross-reference it with a biometric measurement via photographs and then log it all in to a peer-reviewed “central library”), taking a look at this genus (and Lanius!) might finally clear up all the confounding IDs that are out there…

    what also doen’t help is that the so-called “list” of Tanzanian species cannot possibly be accurate with so many mis-identified birds, and with a species that in Dan’s own words he was “lucky to get such a good view of this little fast-moving guy”, there is certainly some difficulty; further, a lot of “non-Tanzanian” Batis species look like close fits too!

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