Monday, August 22, 2016

Sunrise shorebirds

A young Ruddy Turnstone was at the end of the pier this morning just as the first sunrays touched the pier.

I'm not sure what to make of the gray feather towards the back of the lowermost row of scapulars.  Most shorebirds turn gray in the winter, if this was a dunlin you'd just say there it's one feather down on its way to winter plumage; turnstones don't turn gray though.

There were some peeps on the pier last week, though that day dawned cloudy.
This is a juvie Least Sandpiper
ID points are the neatly tapering slightly drooped bill, warm foxy tones in the upperparts, and white bracing in the scapulars.  Oh, and the pale legs.  When in doubt cheat and just check the legs.

Like this bird.  Pale legs.
Palish.  Whoops.  Better not cheat.  That bird is a very young Semipalmated Sandpiper whose legs aren't as dark as they'll be in a couple more weeks.  Note how its bill doesn't taper as much as the Least's (this bird's bill is on the short side for a Semi btw, again a very young bird).  It has much less intensity of color in the upperparts.

Here's another Semi from that same flock (whose feet at least are also still pretty pale)

Same bird closer.  This one has a little more color in the scapulars than the first bird did, but nowhere near what the Least has.
You can see the semi-palmation of the toes.  (Western Sandpiper has it too).

I had hoped to get close enough to this group to get a good tight shot of the variation of several birds' scapulars, but they woke up and started feeding before I could manage it.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Sharp-tailed Sandpiper

An adult (!) Sharp-tailed Sandpiper was found at Muskegon a few days ago, the first bird I've chased in Michigan in a couple years, probably since the Berylline and Costa's Hummers, and my first chase since the Ivory Gull this winter.  And just like with the Ivory Gull, the first thing I saw was Phil Chu.  Phil was clearly good luck, both times the bird appeared within minutes.  My first look was my closest look, it moved back quickly while getting others on it, but even if I'd gotten shots off initially it was probably too dark to matter.  Eventually the sprinkles cleared enough that I was down to the distance as the major hindrance to pics.

Here's the bird in the middle with 2 pecs back in front of the weeds
The pics are a little too distant to show all the fine points.  The Sharp-tailed seemed to have a slightly thinner blacker straighter bill and a little bit smaller a head.

In some lighting the pale eyebrow stood out.  The cap was the darkest part of the head, a brown ground color with some rufous and dark highlights.  With good looks through the scope it did have a thin eyering though a lot of birds have a suggestion of an eyering.  The facial marks coalesced somewhat more densely in the ear coverts to give a line through the eye as well.

You can get a sense in the next pic of how the breast coloration grades smoothly into flank chevrons.  The bird's back bracing seemed a little narrower to me than the pecs with the lateral ones buffier than the pecs.  The bird had redpoll like streaking to the undertail coverts, something I haven't noticed before in American shorebirds.
Legs were gray-green a little duller than the pecs.
With a tattler in the Sleeping Bear area a couple weeks ago, this bird now in Muskegon, surely the next step in the pattern is a decent rarity in Berrien, yes???

Tuesday, August 9, 2016


I've been fortunate to have seen a lot more hummingbirds over the last 5 years than I would have predicted.  Some are very common, some less so.  Generally though, if you go to the right elevation, the hummer you're looking for will be there if you put some time in at the feeder or floral landscaping.  There's some exceptions, mostly some of the hermits that don't visit feeders, but the Sicklebill (and I suppose the Lancebill too) take this to another level.  You not only need to be at the right elevation, but you have to be at the right flower.  They're just not easy to find.  On our very first trip our guide Steven heard a couple as they zipped past making their rounds from one isolated heliconia at just the right stage of past-its-prime to another.  No one came close to seeing one that trip though.

On my last full day I left the family to relax at Hotel Bog and drove to Braulio Carillo National Park.  It was a big contrast from some of the much more touristy waterfall locations that feel more like themeparks.  Where La Paz had concrete sculpted fencing crafted to look like a boutique wooden fence, Braulio had naked cliff edges.  It was really green though and it's large enough that the possibility for uncommon forest birds exists.  I found a few tanager flocks, mostly Emerald and Carmiol's but didn't have a ton of luck initially.  After a few hours of circling the trails occasionally playing a Lattice-tailed Trogon tape I was phone in hand when a curve-billed fairly long-tailed hummingbird flew up to some heliconia next to the trail and disappeared.  It was really dark and with the phone in one hand I couldn't pick up the bird one handed.  I started jamming stuff into my pocket to scan better and then another hiker, the first I'd seen all morning, appeared.  The bird suddenly flew off and I realized it had been perched on the flower the whole time.  SHOOT.  That's what sicklebills do.  I settled in hoping it would come back.  15 minutes passed.  Then another 10.  Another hiker appeared, and this time they flushed the bird from its hidden perch to one I could see.  Sure enough, a sicklebill.

 This was probably the most memorable bird of the trip for me.  Its call actually was fairly distinctive, somewhat of a cross between a Red-breasted Nuthatch and a Rubythroat.

There were a few other interior forest birds about, this is a Ruddy-tailed Flycatcher.

Stripe-throated Wrens were very common and it took me a while to get a handle on their highly variable vocalizations.  They're very much of the typical stay-in-the-tropical-gloom flavor of wren.

Braulio Carillo was a fun place to visit; I would be very curious to see how much turnover there is in the birds one you visited repeatedly.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

the Lion bird of La Paz

Late in the trip we spent much of a day at the La Paz waterfall gardens as we worked our way back to San Jose.  This site had a little of everything, hummingbird feeders, an aviary, monkey house, a few restaurants, a fairly extensive trail system I would have like to have explored further, and oh yeah, really impressive waterbirds.  This site would count as upper mid elevations, and had somewhat similar birds to what we encountered in continuous rain at Tapanti a few years ago.

Looks at a number of species, even given limited time, were much better this time though.  I've always thought Prong-billed Barbets looked like they have lion manes.

Slaty-backed Nightengale-thrush is another bird I only saw in really awful light at Tapanti.  This one came up to our feet.

Spangle-cheeked Tanager is one of my favorite Costa Rican birds, this was the best look I've had of one since my lifer Spangle-cheeked on my first Costa Rica trip.

A slightly different elevation meant different hummingbirds.  Purple-throated Mountain-gem was a lot more common here.

These are my first useable Black-bellied Hummingbird photos, another upper mid elevation specialist.

Staying here would have been prohibitively expensive with the whole family, but if I ever go back with a very small group, I think I would return here.

Monday, July 25, 2016


We only stayed one night at our 3rd motel (I should have made reservations sooner than I did) and I was awake before sunrise to walk the trail down to the river.  A paraque was attracted to the light along the drive up to our room (I should have gotten up sooner to check for other buglight birds, a solid low- and mid-elevation strategy in the tropics; there were a few ant-tanagers about as well).

It was mostly edgey second-growth stuff so I didn't have a lot of hope for an antbird, but after about half a mile I heard a Thicket Antpitta singing.  Unlike at Arenal, it wasn't dug into utterly impenetrable vegetation, this jungle was merely dense.  With a nice slope down from the trail I knew I couldn't get lost and I started creeping down, one step at a time.  The bird was very difficult to locate and somewhat ventriloquial, I was having a lot of time judging how far it was.  However, the vegetation seemed to thicken further in and I assumed the bird would probably be amidst it.  I continued an extraordinarily slow approach; the only way I could have gone slower was if it could have shot back.  At one point an Ant-tanager abruptly flew up with every apparent intention of landing on me, between the adrenaline of an oh-so-close antpitta and the non-zero possibility of encountering a venomous snake instead, I was so keyed up it felt like I jumped a foot.  The feargasm doubled my heartrate for a few seconds for sure.

Suddenly the antpitta worked its way past, mostly concealed by the leaves and disappeared.  I picked it up again a little further in and maneuvered with difficulty between leaves to get a mostly clear shot.  It was hand-focus only; too dark and too much vegetation in the foreground for auto-focus to work, but I did end up with one manageable image.

After the Panama Streak-chest Antpitta, this made the 2nd visualized antpitta for the year, the only two in my life.

With some combination of relief and elation I made my way back to the family for an open-air breakfast.
 A few Orange-billed Sparrows were working about, and Scaly-throated Hummingbirds were about, a plain species whose ID was difficult for me the first few trips to Costa Rica.
It's a relatively big hummingbird with a fairly short bill and some pale edging to the throat.

Friday, July 22, 2016

El Cocorro was Brilliant

Last post from the El Cocorro hummingbird garden.  When we stopped there at the very end of our trip 4 years ago it was raining, lightly initally, and heavily by the end.  We didn't stay long and I was disappointed by not being able to stay longer.  So the late afternoon/early evening sun when I returned there this spring was probably the photographic highlight of the trip.

Green-crowned Brilliant is another of the mid-elevation hummingbirds fairly common in Costa Rica.  I think this is the northern-most of the Brilliants.  The male has a fairly distinctive posture with a somewhat almond-shape head and relatively short bill.
 With the right light a little blue throat patch lights up, as does the green crown.

The female has a more speckled appearance that could be mistaken for a female Jacobin
The white stripe between the malar and the cheek is a good mark for her.

The immature male has an orangey malar stripe (and throat)

The Brilliants had a fairly distinctive feeding posture.  Sometimes they would hover like most hummingbirds, other times they would somewhat perch with beating wings as they curved their body around the lip of the feeder.
I don't know if they adopt that posture when feeding on actual flowers.

Monday, July 18, 2016

another big Shorb

Because you can't play Pokemon all the time can you?
I mean eventually your phone runs out of batteries.
Unless you have an extra battery pack.  Then you can play for hours.
But I definitely don't know anything about that.

I had 3 adult avocets fly calling past the pier and land on Silver this morning.  By the time I'd posted them and walked back down the pier there were 3 more nicely chestnut-headed birds on the beach.
 I was assuming it must be the same 3 birds circling back though it seemed odd I didn't see them fly back in, but Kip ended up seeing 7 birds so they likely were a new group after all.
 I worked around them and out into the water to wait for a beachgoer to flush them for the flight shot at the top.

I walked up to Klock hoping for a Piping Plover but had to settle for another mildly worn adult Willet.  I didn't realize it at the time, but the Willet flock from earlier in the month was the largest ever in Michigan for eBird.
and the b@st@rd Yellow Team that currently owns the Tiscornia Pokemon gym is forewarned.  They will be evicted.