That Saturday, there was a cacophony of birds in my garden. As I went out I saw a White-throated Kingfisher (Halcyon smyrnensis), a paradise flycatcher (Terpsiphone paradisi) and a pair of Chestnut-tailed Starlings (Sturnus malabaricus) were having their own private hunting party. So I picked up my Canon EOS 1D Mark IV fitted it with Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS USM & Canon EF 2X II Extender and climbed the top floor of my hospital from where I could get a good canopy view of these birds. Daylight was harsh and through the tree canopy there was patch of dark and bright light sprinkled all around these birds.
As I waited for these birds to come near me I was also worried of blown out highlights and very dark shadows of the canopy making a proper exposure a very big hurdle. Fortunately the longer magnification I gained using the 2x convertor on 300mm gave me a better reach towards the birds. After about half an hour of waiting I gained the confidence of these birds so that they could approach me closer. I used ISO of 800 to 1250 as the dark areas were not lit well. My aperture was wide open (when using 300mm & 2x extender) at f/5.6 and the speed was above 1/250th. I was supporting this rig using carbon fiber Monopod.
I found a Chestnut-tailed Starling (Sturnus malabaricus) reaching close to me and I took several photos. Most pictures had bad light sprinkled all around the bird, so had to reject it. This harsh light resulted in over exposing part of the bird and those under shadow were underexposed creating a unusable mosaic pattern. No amount of post processing can salvage those photos. Bright mid noon sunlight was really a bad time to take good photos.
The Chestnut-tailed Starling or Grey-headed Myna (Sturnus malabaricus) is a member of the starling family of perching birds closely related to Myna’s. It is a resident and partially migratory species found in wooded habitats in India and Southeast Asia. Even though the species name Sturnus malabaricus refers to the bird from Malabar region (western coast of India), It is a resident of north-eastern India and migrates to south only during the winter. The sub species Sturnus malabaricus blythii is resident in Malabar region and is often treated as a full species, the Malabar Starling (Sturnus blythii) thus increasing confusion.
There are three subspecies of the Chestnut-tailed Starling:
- Sturnus malabaricus malabaricus: It is the nominate species. North-eastern India, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and north-western Burma.
- Sturnus malabaricus nemoricola: Southern China (incl. Taiwan), Burma, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia.
- Sturnus malabaricus blythii: Western Ghats in India.
The bird I had on that day was Sturnus malabaricus malabaricus. It is resident in North-eastern India and sometimes migrates to south India during winter during its non breeding season.
Sturnus malabaricus blythii is sometimes considered a valid species, the Malabar White-headed Starling or White-headed Myna (Sturnus blythii), instead of a subspecies of Sturnus malabaricus. As Sturnus malabaricus malabaricus only visits the range of blythii during the non-breeding period of winter, the two are not known to interbreed.
The adults have a total length of approximately 20 cm (8 in). They have grey upperparts and blackish remiges, but the colour of the remaining plumage depend on the subspecies. In the nominate subspecies and blythii, the underparts (including undertail) are rufus, but in nemoricola the underparts are whitish tinged rufus (especially on flanks and crissum). The nominate and nemoricola have a light grey head with whitish streaking (especially on crown and collar region). In blythii, the head and chest are white. All subspecies have white irides and a yellow bill with a pale blue base. The sexes are similar, but juveniles have whitish underparts and just chestnut tips to the tail feathers.
The Chestnut-tailed Starling’s nest is typically found in open woodland and cultivation. The Chestnut-tailed Starling builds a nest in hole. The normal clutch is 3-5 eggs. Like most starlings, the Chestnut-tailed Starling is fairly omnivorous, eating fruit, nectar and insects. They fly in tight flocks and often rapidly change directions with great synchrony.