Thursday, February 15, 2018

Aplomado where it belongs

We spent a decent portion of the first morning in the Antisana Reserve, a high-elevation (~11,000 feet) above-the-treeline area where we checked a few places for Andean Condor.  We saw some guano washes, but no condor.

Ecuadorian Hillstar is another specialty of the area though..
 The male has a blue-purple head setting off a white collar.  Our birds were female types.  The scenery at the pull-off for them was pretty sweet though.

And a close-up of the chukirawa (spelling?) flowers that the Hillstars favor.

We continued on to the Antisana reserve stopping for a few Paramo Pipits along the way.

Upon reaching the reserve we stopped for a bathroom break.  Jose mentioned it could be a good spot for Tawny Antpitta.  He was right.

A Many-striped Canestero also left the thicket and wandered out into the open.

A Chestnut-winged Cinclodes felt a defect in the roof of the building was close enough to an open tussock on uneven ground to build a nest.

 Did we mention that this was a good place to see Tawny Antpitta?  This hour doubled the number of antpittas I'd seen in my life.  Tawny apparently is a lot less skulky than are most of its relatives.  In its defense they were pretty common up there; we heard a lot of them, probably 5-10x as many as we saw.

Here's a pair of the larger Stout-billed Cinclodes at the opening to their nest burrow.

Finally it was time to leave and head for lunch (it was almost 2pm after all), but Jose's sharp eyes spotted another bird perched off the road.
It's an Aplomado Falcon.  They've been re-introduced in south Texas, but I've never seen one there (or anywhere else, despite their presence in the bird books for every country I've ever been aside from Canada).  While it felt a little odd to start South America in these cool high elevations there were birds everywhere; the cinclodes, sierra-finches, as well as Plain-colored Ground-tyrants were very common.  It made sense there'd be a medium sized falcon therefore.  "Aplomado" apparently means "poised" or "self-confident" in Spanish.  While I hate to anthropomorphize animals as much as the next guy, it seems fairly apropos here.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

the Bird Continent

I returned a few days ago from a trip to Ecuador, my first ever experience with South America.  It was a fun trip, as always saw some great things, missed some others, would love to go back with more time blah blah blah.

We went with Tropical Birding, led by Jose Illanes who was one of the better guides I've worked with.  This trip focused on high elevations and the mid elevations on the west slope of the Andes.

We flew into Quito, which sits at 8000 feet of elevation.  What to do but start driving even higher the next day?

We started at a pull-off as we ascended a fairly rough rain-gouged road that the bus struggled to ascend in places.  The first chat- and tit-tyrants started appearing as did Plain-colored Seedeaters.  I had trouble learning the seedeaters and I was actually fairly proud that I was able to identify the first one I found (technically this is one from a little later in the morning who sang an electric little buzzing song that would have been fun to have recorded.)

Great Thrush is one of the most common birds just below the treeline.  They're about double the size of our robin, but shaped pretty identically.  Come to think of it they seemed a lot less vocal than our robins, but maybe I was too overloaded with new scenery/birds/sounds to really pick them out.

We broke above the treeline into the Antisana area, about 11,000 feet above sea level.  Carunculated Caracaras were quite common.

In some ways it felt kind of odd to start the trip with these birds; a person visualizes tanagers and hummingbirds and antbirds when they think of the tropics; the birds were much different here high above the tree line.  This is male and female Plumbeous Sierra-Finch

Cinclodes nest in burrows on the tundra, otherwise they seemed to fill even more of a robin niche than the Great Thrushes as they worked about the short grass probing presumably for insects.

Andean Lapwing was a neat little variation on the Southern theme.

Finally a fly-over Black-faced Ibis, another above-the-treeline Andean specialty. 
We saw a few foraging (like ibises) at a pretty good distance, but the two flyover birds came much closer.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

county lifer!

It's actually been over 2 years since I've seen a county lifer, so I was pretty excited to hear that Mary Jo had found a Barrow's Goldeneye between the piers a couple days ago.  This was a bird that I did not expect it to take over a decade to find in Berrien, but we'll see how the next 10 years goes.

The bird was distant and not easy to photograph during a light snow storm.

I didn't see any sign of hybridization, the crescent seemed nice and narrow, the head large, with a vertical forehead and elongated ruff at the back of the head, nice geometric white squares in the extensively black upperparts, and of course the spur dropping down from the back between the breast and the side panels.

And who knows, maybe a King Eider will drop in next!

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Far From Land

What better way to slowly work my way back into blogging than a book review?

This one is FAR FROM LAND, The Mysterious Lives of Seabirds, by Michael Brooks.

Let's talk about what this book is.  What it is is an about 200 page review of Seabird Biology divided into 10 chapters on topics such as migration, breeding biology, feeding habits, etc.  It focuses mainly on tubenoses, penguins, auks, and pelagic terns; basically colony nesters who feed out in the ocean.

Seabirds are difficult birds to study for obvious reasons, but there has been a huge expansion of knowledge over the last decade or so thanks to miniaturization of tracking devices.  This book summarizes many of these papers in very readable prose.  Did you know frigatebirds can sleep with one side of their brain at a time (and occasionally both sides!) while flying?  Do you want to learn about Ashmole's Halo and how it applies to the distance birds can reach feeding areas from their colonies?  This book is a wealth of information giving background on a set of birds we don't know a ton about.

What it isn't is an identification guide.  There's also fairly limited illustration.  My honest guess is that sales of this book would be doubled with photographic eye candy.  It's mostly illustrated with well-done black and white drawings, as well as figures showing migration tracks of tagged birds and the like.  That being said I'm sure that cost would go up with a ton of glossy color photos as well; clearly the publishers felt this was the best marriage between information and shelf appeal.

Who is interested in this book?  Any birder who's working their way through slow winter months may enjoy reading a section of a chapter and getting a little birding fix, especially if they are interested in learning more about birds rather than just passively looking at them.  It definitely should appeal to the birder who is planning on a pelagic and wants to be able to put the birds in better context than just ticks on a list. 

This book will be available for purchase in March; Princeton Press provided me a review copy.

Saturday, January 20, 2018


Should hold more birds than 2017.

I think my blogging hiatus is mostly over.

I honestly haven't gotten out much more in 2018 than I did last fall, but I've got a few photos at least, mostly from CBC owling.

First though was a Snowy from early December.  It was one of those uber windy days where New Buffalo was scoured clean and so field checks were in order.  My eyes were scanning a quarter mile out and I drove right past this bird sitting just off the shoulder as it sheltered behind a little rise.

Next up two birds from CBC owling.  I can't remember the last red morph that I've seen (though I usually don't make a ton of effort to see calling birds; this one flew right in).

This Barred didn't call at all; there was enough light for it to be visible as it flew in as well though.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Pheasant Cuckoo

Pipeline Rd is one of the best places to see Rufous-vented Ground-Cuckoo, a chunky roadrunner class bird of intact tropical forest.  Even so, it's rare there.  Some years a family group will be cooperative, most not.  Its cousin Pheasant Cuckoo isn't much less rare.  Imagine my surprise then when we heard a fairly unearthly charrrrring mechanical growl coming from the underbrush on the final morning not long after our pre-dawn arrival.  I had no idea what it was, and honestly expected it to be a mammal.  I was flabbergasted to see a displaying Pheasant Cuckoo.

The bird would walk about giving a charrrrr call and mechanically rattle its wing and tail feathers, occasionally dashing about to grab an insect.
It was big enough to be hard to fit into the entire frame as I uber-cautiously tried to work my way into lanes where I could (mostly) see through the vegetation.

The bird was still displaying when we left in the early afternoon heat for the airport, a fitting denouement for another last morning in Panama.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Northern shrike ... in greenery???

Yesterday Tim and I were standing at the end of the pier when he announced with just a touch of both incredulity and disgust in his voice, "There's a shrike on top of the overlook tree."  I've looked at that distance before, it's about 600 yards as the falcon flies on GoogleMaps.  The proportions seemed like it was probably a Northern, but I started running down the pier while he tried some long-distance digi-scoping.

A minute, a quarter mile, and two inhaled bugs later it became clear it was a Northern.
I've never seen one with green leaves visible.  The bird took off and flew directly over me south out of sight maybe a minute or two later.

 The narrow mask and long bill rule out Loggerhead unfortunately.  This was the first Northern eBirded at Tiscornia in 15-20 years and by far the earliest I've had one in Berrien.  Interestingly eBird showed this fall's most southerly Northerns to be this bird along with one in Illinois and one in Ontario at about identical latitudes, all appearing yesterday, so clearly they were moving a little.

Moving up a size in the bird of prey chain, merlins are around most mornings in mid-late October.
This is a montage of a single bird, though there were 2 on at least one morning.

A size or two bigger?
I think this was Hannah's life Peregrine Falcon

I'd love to see the next size bigger occupied by a falcon, but just a redtail.
Maybe next time...