Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Of butterflies and Golden-cheeks

About 2 years ago my director told me he was sending me to a conference that occurred late last April.  I can't say I was super excited when he first brought it up; who wants to leave just as migration is getting good?  Then he mentioned it was in San Antonio and let's just say I became a considerably more interested.  

I managed to get a morning flight arriving the day before the conference to give me a chance to bird in the afternoon.  Lost Maples State Natural Area is one of the better places to find Golden-cheeked Warbler and I headed straight there from the airport.  I arrived in the heat of the afternoon and not surprisingly butterflies were a lot more apparent than birds.

Hairstreaks are one of my favorite kinds of butterflies, they're very small but quite ornately marked. 
Of course the problem with hairstreaks is that while a ton of species exist, an amateur is almost certainly going to find Gray Hairstreak, no matter where they are in the country, or at least that's been my experience.  The two "larger" ones are indeed Grays, but there's a smaller species present as well.

This is Juniper Hairstreak, which was a lifer for me. 
 Kaufman shows them to be pretty widely distributed too though.

Next up is Gulf Fritillary, a species that even shows up in Berrien some years.

I kept climbing higher up some pretty rocky trails getting into smaller and smaller paths and then started hearing a Golden-cheeked.  I climbed up on a big boulder to gain some elevation as I looked up the slope.  As luck would have it the bird came flying down practically to me, somewhat pre-occupied by a big green caterpillar it snagged.




I considered myself pretty luck that the only one I found gave terrific looks!

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Need one last present?

Or have some credit from returning the knickknacks and chotzkis that you showed up in your stocking?  Well, here is the latest from Princeton Press (pics of my free review copy)...




I was fairly intrigued by this book.  I very much enjoyed Pete Dunne's Hawks in Flight, a book written in chapter style that relies as much on the description to create an image of the bird as it does the illustrations, probably more so than any identification book I've encountered.  In this day and age of SLR photos however, it's unlikely many bird books will ever be as successful as that one with it's huge ratio of words to pics.

This book tries to encompass some of the description, while still showing pics of most ages of most of the species.  Dunne italicizes a lot of the pearls and key points in many of the paragraphs and I think that brings out his style when he does.  When he isn't italicizing it feels like it bogs down somewhat and becomes more general.

Here's a sample page...

The photographs that are chosen are excellent, but sometimes feel a little random which I think is because they're essentially all Karlson's photos.  For example, in the Sabine's Gull chapter they spend a couple paragraphs discussing one of Karlson's photos that was also in Howell and Dunn's gull book with regards to aging.  I don't see any way this discussion takes place if Karlson isn't overwhelmingly accounting for the photos.

If you're looking to finally take the plunge and learn the gulls, it's a lot more readable than either the Howell and Jon Dunn book or the even more ponderous Olson and Larsson.  If you already have 2 or 3 gull specialty guides on your shelf, I'm not as sure this is going to add as much.

One significant drawback in my mind is that the authors spend very little time on potential rarities.  I recognize that the chance that any of us is going to find a Slaty-backed Gull isn't particularly high, but I would have given that species an equal amount of content as the common North American ones since a lot of more advanced birders are going to be looking for them.

There is a quiz section in the back of the book which is fairly entertaining.  I don't like that they don't give the location of the quiz photos however.  Withholding that piece of info feels at odds with their goal of focusing on the regularly occurring species.

Overall this is a well-done book and I think a lot of people who want to tackle learning the gulls will find it exceedingly helpful.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

What's better than 3 owls?

It's CBC season, and with CBC's come owling.  This morning I struggled with noise from I-94.  Yesterday I had all 3 locals by dawn.  But there would be more than 3 owls for the day since Kip found Long-eared's at Dayton Prairie.  He found FIVE long-eared's at Dayton Prairie.

I circled back with Hazel, the birds were still there mid-afternoon.  At first I could only see one, though there's a bit of flank from a second visible in this view.

Moving 30 feet left along road's edge brought the rest into at least reasonable view.

The 5th bird is mostly blocked but just visible behind the 2nd from the left in the front row.

As for today's CBC?  Highlight was ...
a Turkey Vulture

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

End of Ecuador

As we headed back to Quito, Jose pulled us off onto a little side road to pick up a few last dry scrub birds.  (We'd have gone farther but the bus got stuck.  We ended up pushing it out at one point!).  We learned a batch of seedeaters, this one was new for the trip; look at the tail's underside for the identity of this female

 It's a Band-tailed.

Not all the birds were completely new, a few Vermillion Flycatchers enjoyed their winter haunts.
Unlike the Blackburnians who trade wet jungle for spruce forest, the Vermillions seemed to be in similar habitat to where we would find them in the southwest.

Though there's fewer Tufted Tit-Tyrants in our Southwest.


Golden Grosbeak was a bird I saw a few times flying up from the roadside from the back of the bus; here the whole group got to see them, if somewhat distantly.

We saw a few Blue-and-yellow Tanagers here as well.

The final birds I'll leave you with?  A pair of Peregrines, what else.
If you hunt birds for a living it makes sense you'd head to the Bird Continent for the winter.

And speaking of which, maybe that makes sense for birders too ... give it a few months ... stay tuned.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

last hummingbird pics

A few last birds from Angel de Paz, hummingbirds, what else?

Violet-tailed Sylph is not an easy bird to photograph.  The tail is so long it's hard to keep the bird in focus, or even in the frame for that matter.  And while this may not come as a surprise, hummingbirds frequently don't hold still very long.  There were reasonable opportunities at Angel's though.


I liked the little dashes of rain in this pic of Andean Emerald.

Brown Inca wasn't really ever common so it was nice for them to appear at close range

Same for Speckled Hummingbird (the sexes are alike) and look like female mountain-gems
I try not to use birds perched on feeders, but this was by far my best pic of this species so let's make an exception

Saturday, December 1, 2018

a Vampire bird

We ate lunch at Angel's and enjoyed the activity at the feeders on the railing's edge.  Check out the bill on Toucan Barbet...

We saw several species of brush-finch on this trip.  These towhee like sparrows tend to skulk in the thickets, but the feeders were too much for this White-winged Brush-finch.

We'd enjoyed portrait looks of Flame-faced and Golden-naped Tanager the day before, but who would refuse even closer looks?


I had expected based on eBird bargraphs for Blue-winged Mountian-tanager to be a very common bird on this trip; I think we only saw them a couple times.  But they saved the best looks for last.

Finally, if brush-finches are skulkers, they're nothing to compared to spinetails.  This Azara's Spinetail was lurking about in the thicket beneath the balcony and I just caught it as it raced through a little opening, definitely my clearest pic of any species of spinetail


Friday, November 23, 2018

at the Murrelet Peak!

Tim and I have joked a lot over the years about being at the "peak" for whatever fill-in-the-blank heretofore unseen rarity you want to invoke.  Since it's never been seen at Tiscornia, you're always at peak time to see it!  Data don't lie.

Of course some birds, even if off course, do fall into patterns.  August 24 and November 14 are two classic Tiscornia days.  November 14 was the date Tim found probably the most chased murrelet in the state back in 2009.  Observance of "Murrelet day" the next year was rewarded with a Franklin's Gull, and then better yet a Black-headed Gull 2 years later.  August 24 has had Hudwit in multiple years.  And now November 20th gets added to the list.  After the original murrelet hung around for a week and a half Tim had another on November 20th a few years later (and his Say's Phoebe appeared November 20th even farther back).

So enter the 20th a few days ago.  We were standing on the dune and Tim yelled "Alcid! Alcid! Alcid! Over the river water ... Ancient Murrelet!"  And so it was.
Despite pretty extreme distance the camera still picked up the pale bill, and black cap and wings contrasting with the gray back.

Dovekie and Long-billed Murrelet have dark wing linings

What will the last week of the count bring?  Besides mergansers of course?  Stay tuned...