Turnix suscitator ‘blakistoni’?

Yesterday morning saw me visiting my local patch, Cho Lae since very early morning. I intended to look for snipes and other migrants which might show up around the open, recently ploughed plots close to the road which had been attracting some interesting birds. However, I found only 1 “Swintail” snipe which flew out quickly and didn’t come back after I tried to approach and no new nor interesting migrant. I did, however, find a nice pair of Barred Buttonquails feeding in the open ground along with Spotted and Zebra Doves. The pair was generous enough to let me approach with my car slowly until I was only about 10 metres away from them.

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First view of the Barred Buttonquails pair feeding with a Spotted Dove

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Then I could get some really nice close up views. Here’s the female.

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Female shows large black patch on throat and breast.

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Male lacks the large black patch but has slightly more rufous-tinged upperparts.

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The female showing the back side. Note bluish-grey legs which have no hind toe.

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I photographed the pair as they moved along the open ground and disappeared into thick dry grass, then I realised that there was another female Barred Buttonquail calling from the other side of the road. Then, funnily, I spotted a lone male came running hopelessly across the vast area of open ground looking for the calling female. It took me quite a while to finally spot the calling female. Turned out it was standing pretty close to the car.

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The second female Barred Buttonquail; possibly ssp. blakistoni

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Note the more rufous-tinged upperparts, particularly on the hind neck.

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The neck is inflated when calling, a very interesting behaviour to watch.

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Another shot showing the back side which is noticeably more rufous than other female Barred Buttonquails I’ve seen in Thailand.

After checking photos that I took of the second female bird, I was curious to see how the upperparts seem to be noticeably more rufous-tinged than the first female, particularly on the hind neck. The first female, as same as any other female Barred Buttonquails that I’ve photographed in northern Thailand (subspecies T. s. thai), shows greyish-brown hind neck and colder brown upperparts than the second female.

According to Craig Robson’s guide to birds of Thailand and South-East Asia, the subspecies T. s. blakistoni, which has been recorded in NW Thailand and found in northern Indochina, has more rufous-chestnut above and buffier below in both sexes than the subspecies thai which is the most widespread subspecies in Thailand. Looks very much like the second female belongs to this taxon.

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The ‘blakistoni’ Barred Buttonquail while calling

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It even stopped and posed for a while before continuing to walk further along the corn field. Note the pale buffish wing coverts contrasting greatly to the dark flight feathers and darker, more rufous scapulars and mantle.

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Showing the plain underwing. Not sure if the underparts are more buffy as described by Robson or not.

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Again, showing a nice profile view

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Right: most likely subspecies blakistoni; left: subspecies thai. Note the more rufous-chestnut hind neck and upperparts in blakistoni and colder greyish-brown in thai.

I checked images of female Barred Buttonquails photographed in Thailand which I have collected throughout the years and found that nearly none of them shows the same shade of rufous-brown upperparts as in the second female that I saw, except one (probably immature) odd-looking female from Chiang Rai. This individual from Chiang Rai also shows very buffish underparts including the breast, similar to what Robson describes.

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Most likely another ‘blakistoni’ Barred Buttonquail from Chiang Rai. Black markings on the throat suggest female-type, probably an immature. No idea why it has much more black markings on the head and upperparts than usual though. Photo by Wattana Choaree.

While I was watching the second female walking further away into the corn field, it suddenly stopped and began to fluff its feathers up and spread the wings to make itself look bigger. Out of the blue, an immature Long-tailed Shrike dropped in to catch the buttonquail! Luckily, the buttonquail was slightly faster and flushed quickly before the shrike could grab it. I was stunned by the scene as I never thought a shrike would be so brave enough to prey on buttonquails which are roughly about the same size or even larger than the shrike itself.

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Fluffing up to make itself look bigger before the shrike dropped in!

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The foolishly brave immature Long-tailed Shrike (ssp. tricolor) that tried to catch buttonquails. Note pale juvenal feathers on the crown and dark scales on mantle.

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Another stunned male Barred Buttonquail which was flushed by the shrike.

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A closer look of the immature Long-tailed Shrike

The shrike didn’t just stop there. It then flew to the other side of the fields where the first pair of buttonquails was staying. It perched briefly on a look-out branch then swooped down quickly on the grassy area where a pair of Barred Buttonquails immediately flushed up and fled in different directions. Another lone male buttonquail also flushed and landed shortly on the open ground nearby. It looked completely stunned and seemed undecided whether to run for cover or try its best to stay still. Finally, it slowly crept into the grass and stay under the shades until the shrike decided to move further away. It was such an exciting and very interesting scene to witness!

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