Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Ambiguous Grebe is apparently contagious.

It's that time of year.  The vultures are flying.  The blackbirds have made any attempts at shrike surveys impossible.  And the grebes are molting.  Some of the Horned Grebes are pretty much still in full winter plumage.
But very soon there will be plenty of muddy-faced birds that people will try to turn into Eared Grebes.  Look at the bills.  Horned has a fairly thick bill that tapers evenly at the tip (and that tip at close range is pale).  Eared's is much thinner with an upturn and is black its entire length.

Anyway, this swan threw me for a second.  It was just too cold to stand at Tiscornia and so I pulled up to the boat launch at North Lake at Grand Mere.  It has a plain black bill without a yellow pip but with a (fairly prominent at some sun angles) salmon gape line.  A trumpeter, right?
 It just didn't look right however and I actually pulled out Sibley to confirm I was remembering the facial feathering correctly.  In the above pic the interface between the bill and the feathering takes an abrupt downward turn while in the below pic the forehead is fairly curved.
 In Trumpeter the bill is longer and more sloped, the bill interface is angled smoothly rather than bending down, and the forehead is quite pointed.  This is a Tundra Swan that lacks the yellow bill pip.  It still has some grayish feathers in the wing coverts and is likely a first spring bird.  Trumpeter is also very similar in size to Mutes, this bird was a size smaller.

No such identification problems with male wood ducks.
 Twenty-five degree air above water in the 30's did not make for great photo conditions, there was a lot of heat shimmer even at close range.

Some flyby mergs in New Buffalo.

Finally a Red-shouldered that perched nicely along US-12.  Somehow it was well into fall before I found one last year.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Pescadores y amigos

We took motorized dug-out canoes to the birding location on the 4th day of the trip.  As the canoes could only accomodate 4 of us (plus a poleman for the front of the boat for when the river got too shallow for the outboard in the back).  Our guide was in the 2nd boat, I was in the back of the first.  The boat operator was pretty good at spotting birds.  He only spoke Spanish however.  I picked up some new words pretty quickly, words like...

Pescador, which translates to fisherman, applicable to both Ringed Kingfisher, as well as...


Amazon Kingfisher.


We saw at least 2 kingfishers scarfing fish down...


Carza turned out to be the name for long-legged waders of which there were plenty.


I didn't catch the name for Neotropic Cormorant.

I suspect Southern Lapwing would have fallen into the "Pajaro" (generic small bird) category.


This "Pajaro" was pretty good, only the motorman was seeing it initially and was indicating it was low down, the front of the boat then found the Pied Water-tyrant, the only one of the trip.

There was a Yellow-headed Caracara (Agula, I think the word for eagle, applicable to any raptor) above it.


Finally a fun "Carpentero," Crimson-crested Woodpecker.


Wednesday, March 15, 2017

El Salto road Blue Cotinga

We did a couple roads on the back of a half-truck type vehicle, basically a flatbed truck with a bench facing out on each side with a railing surrounding.  It was a pretty good set-up and allowed us to cover some road edges much quicker than we could have walking.  The birds also allowed a much closer approach; they saw us as a part of the truck and permitted a remarkably close approach.  We drove within feet of this White-necked Puffbird.



And even closer to a Roadside Hawk we didn't see until it was on top of us.

We did do some walking and it was on foot when a male Blue Cotinga appeared atop a tree.  The first one was a young male, and a nearby Blue Dacnis caused a little confusion when the two-bird theory turned out to be true.  A full adult Blue Cotinga then popped up and quickly absorbed the attention of the telescopes.  One of Rhoda's digiscopes...
A couple of us had briefly glimpsed a Blue Cotinga on the very first day and as localized as it was on the first Panama trip I was surprised we got another crack at it.  It turned out we'd see one most days though.

Cathy spotted this next bird.

It's a Streaked Xenops.  The Costa Rica book describes it as rare and the Panama book as very rare so I was really excited to see it.  I certainly didn't expect it.  I suppose though there's a ton of birds that are uncommon and you'll have your share of luck on a couple.

Not quite as rare would be Three-toed Sloth.
 He peeked over at us when Domi quietly whistled Harpy Eagle which would have found a pollen-dusted sloth quite appetizing.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Michigan Ivory

We rotated through Hurley hospital in the down-trodden section of Flint during residency and I still can't believe that 10 or so years later an Ivory Gull, of all things, is still hanging out maybe 2 miles away.  I've never been outside that long in that area and not heard gunshots, probably the combination of it being 17 degrees out and the insulating effects of the U of M Flint campus where it was found.  I'm going to forgo the obvious Flint water jokes (they were actually fine before they started piping in water to avoid having to purify the river water) and bask in my second ever Ivory Gull.

Is that bill sweet or what.

We drove up and arrived at 8:30 on Satuday to find out that an eagle had flushed it about 30 minutes before.  We hung out where it had been, walked a few miles up and down the river, scoped an up-stream reservoir, and eventually left after about 4 hypothermia-inducing hours.  We were 45 minutes down the highway when it was posted as being re-found.  I thought it was too late at first as I had to work at 6pm, but we did the math and figured if we turned around immediately we'd have 30 minutes with the bird.  It was a good 30 minutes.

We saw it take flight within minutes of arriving.


It then settled down in a sheltered corner next to the sidewalk and, paying no mind to the gathering herd of 2 legged caribou whose dominant vocalization appeared to be a constant low-level barrage of click, Clic-Clic-Clic, clickclickclickclickclickclick, slick-slick, CLICK shutter fire, started bathing and preening.

It would use its bill to shovel water down either shoulder.


I can't believe I cut the wingtip off the last one.  Every other frame out of 50 or so bathing series pics has the full bird.

Fluffing its feathers revealed a nice study in how birds fold their wings.

One last portrait of an incredible bird...

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Canopy Camp Hummers

While Canopy Camp had a lot fewer hummingbird feeders than some of the mid- and high-elevation places I've stayed in the tropics, it had a few more than many low-elevation locations that have none!  It can't be easy keeping the feeders from molding immediately in that kind of heat and humidity.  I'm not sure that I really kept track of the total number of hummers we saw visiting the feeder, but there were definitely some interesting ones.

Black-throated Mangos were quite common.  I can't think of any North American birds that have a dark stripe down the ventral midline the way female and young mangos do.

This is Blue-chested Hummingbird.
 In the past I'd only seen this bird perched high up in Costa Rican trees and had never seen one down low.

The somewhat similar Sapphire-throated Hummingbird doesn't occur any farther north than Eastern Panama.  The notched tail isn't visible in this pic.
I don't think I've ever seen a hummingbird with a bill that thick.  I never thought a hummingbird would remind me of a Willet, but if that's possible then this is the bird to do it.  We only saw a couple and only right in camp.

Blue-throated Goldentail is another bird I'd only seen in Costa Rican treetops.
 You wouldn't know it from the first pic, but this is another bird that you can blow off as a Rufous-tailed with just a glance.
You can see why with it perched given the bright pink bill and rufous rump.  The bill is shorter on the goldentail though, and obviously there's the blue throat.  The perched pic is a digi-scoped one Rhoda took, full-frame digi-scoping can still give superior results to cropped in SLR pics.  There'll be more digi-scoped pics in future posts.

Finally only the 2nd time that I've seen Long-billed Starthroat
It wasn't common enough to get any full-frame pics, but was fun to see nonetheless.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Kestrel vs Savannah Hawk

As we left the teak farm our driver spotted another of our targets, a Savannah Hawk.  I believe this is a fairly widespread species in South America, but was a new genus (Buteogallus) for all of us.  It acted like a Buteo but was much longer legged (and maybe smaller headed?) with much differently shaped wings and tail.

It was teed up atop a snag Redtail-like.  See anything over its right shoulder?  It didn't.



The hawk is tracking the kestrel with its eyes.

the kestrel peeled off pretty quickly though...

While the Savannah Hawk curled back to a more distant snag.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Flycatcher fest

Flycatchers might be the defining bird of our neotropics.  My understanding is they're found only in the New World and include the most number of species of any family.  So maybe it wasn't terribly surprising that on our first teak farm walk we found a bunch of little ones right next to each other.

First up Fork-tailed.  While some of these are among the harder ID problems out there this one can be confused with only 3 birds, Scissor-tailed, escaped Whydahs, and birds with garbage trailing from their legs.
 This one has no garbage trailing from its legs.  I guess that means it's a Fork-tail.

I have one bad pic of the next 2 birds in the same frame as the Forktail that I didn't include.  Here's a medium sized flycatcher with a yellow-belly and a titmouse-like crest.
 It's a Yellow-bellied Elaenia.  Elaenia seems to be a catch-all description of a bunch of birds.  Some of the sub-groups are extremely difficult to separate.  The confusion species for this one is Lesser Elaenia whose belly is less yellow and whose crest is less impressive (it also stops in central Panama).

One of the kiskadee class...
It's medium sized, smaller than Kiskadee or Boat-billed.  You can get a sense of the rusty flight feathers of this Rusty-margined Flycatcher, but they're not super obvious.  It's song, a weak insipid weeeeahh, is a pretty common one in Panama and worth learning.

This is a harder one (2 pics)

With the suggestion of a weird-shaped short but slightly down-drooped bill and a weak crest, this bird is Southern Beardless Tyrannulet.  Less seems to be the operative description of this bird, less down-drooped than a Bentbill, less crested than Yellow-bellied Eleania, less facial patterning than a Sooty-headed Tyrannulet, etc.

Finally another subtle species whose high thin "few-breeooh" is another song worth learning.
 Very short stubby bill, somewhat generic grayish flycatcher face, has wingbars (just barely visible in this pic), this little bird is Yellow-crowned Tyrannulet.  Tyrannulet is an even worse catch-all name for small generally very short-billed flycatchers that don't seem all that related to each other.  Of course the alternative is to make the genus name the common name.  And while that may make it easier to understand the relationships between some of the birds it definitely won't make it easy to roll the name of a somewhat unfamiliar bird off your tongue in the field as anyone looking at a bush-tanager, errrrrrr, chlorospingus will tell you.  And there's more than one bush-tanager, errrrrr, chlorospingus in Ecuador.  Better get practicing people, better get practicing...