Sunday, March 31, 2013

What am I?

Nothing says Happy Easter like bad photos of a runty cormorant.

Rhoda and I had this bird a few days ago fly north past Tiscornia amongst a small group of Double-cresteds, my first of the year.  It was immediately apparent that the 2nd from the front bird was markedly smaller.
Unfortunately we were on the dune rather than a quarter mile closer at the end of the pier.

Now it's the lead bird.  There's no arguing that it's markedly smaller.

A Neotropic Cormorant would have a proportionately longer tail.

It certainly looks smaller headed (second in line).

Its bill seems to disappear a lot more than the bird in front of and behind it.

In a lot of the pics it seems like the body angles up more than the other birds on average, whether this important (or real) or not I'm not sure.

I also never spent a lot of time with it in the scope, as soon as I noticed it being small I started blasting away.  You can either study what you can't prove or prove what you can't study.  There's plenty opportunity to choose wrong (especially if there's no right answer).

In 2008 (the year there was a Neotrop at South Haven) I had a small cormorant fly by Tiscornia in the fall and I've been looking for them since then;  out of probably 1000 birds since this is the first small one I've encountered.  I've looked sporadically on line for other reports of these, I suppose I should go to a library with a BNA account and see what it says.  Per eBird most Neotropics aren't out of Texas at present though there's scattered birds at the longitude of Indianapolis in Nebraska and Colorado if I remember right.  I'd be a lot more hopeful if this was May or if I'd been that quarter of a mile closer.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Winter Waterfowl

These guys will hopefully be leaving soon so I'll start here with March's back log of local pics.

There have been a few more Long-tailed Ducks than the last couple years hanging out along the piers.  They have a bewildering array of plumages and moults.
I got mostly confused trying to age and sex these looking at the Sibley plates and was reduced to pulling out Pyle.  It says something that Pyle is more technical than any medical text that I own.  Pyle (as best as I can tell from the figure, the text is just waaay too dense) uses the shape and color of the longest scapular as a good place to start with aging and sexing this species.  On the lead bird, these are dark, relatively pointed, and edged with rufous making it an adult female in breeding plumage.  On the trail bird the longest scap is fairly (but less) pointed, brown with a buffy pale concave margin, making it adult female in winter plumage.  I think.
One of the omnipresent WW scoters is in the foreground.

I'm not sure if this next one is rattier because it's in the process of moulting or if it's a first spring bird.
No problems with the winter male.  For whatever reason they don't tend to come in as close though.

Finally a mess of (mostly) Redhead.  It feels like there's been a lot more of them this year, but that may just be my memory.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

now Exotic is a bad word

The New Buffalo yuck duck flock has reared its ugly head.  It would appear that someone bailed on their waterfowl flock or had damage to their enclosure as there's been some new appearances in New Buffalo.  I found this Ruddy Shelduck dead on the beach.  I toed it over and it was unbanded.  If it had a potentially traceable band I would have checked the wings and rear toes closer, but the default is obviously that it was an escape.

There was blood on the breast and a hole in front of the eye, my guess was someone plinked it with an air rifle, but I suppose a Great-horned Owl might have homed in on those bright white wing patches.

Later in the week someone found a Barnacle Goose there as well.  It took a few days for people to confirm that it has been pinioned (tip of the wing clipped so it can never grow primaries on that side), a guaranteed escape.
It's been hanging out with the local Canadas.  They don't harass it as much as they usually do with other geese, maybe they're more attuned to random looking birds.

 Aside from these birds the NB harbor hasn't held a lot of interest. There actually have been good numbers of gulls on the ice in the inner harbor but I haven't seen much more than a few Lesser Black-backs.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

The end

One month ago today right about now we boarded the flight in Miami to come back to Chicago.  A lot of it seems like yesterday and a lot seems like ancient history practically.

At any rate, on our final evening we arrived at our San Jose hotel with about 40 minutes of daylight left.  Reportedly Steely-vented Hummingbird could be found there as well as Ferruginous Pygmy-owl.  I was hoping for one last crack at Blue-crowned Motmot which I'd missed at Hotel Bougainvillea.  Probably half the group joined Mike, Rhoda, and I as we tried to wring a few last birds out of the trip, checking bamboo stands for screech-owls, anything vaguely flowering for hummingbirds, etc.  Rhoda found the motmot in the last light.

It would disappear then reappear on a different branch, generally with a bug each time.

It swished its tail a lot more actively than did the other species we saw on the trip.

The final totals?  Out of 335 species recorded by Steven as seen or heard on the six days of birding I counted 310, a little over 300 of which I saw.  Close to 200 were lifers; there were also about 40 more neo-tropic species that I'd seen before in Belize but never in North America.  Out of 29 species of hummingbird I saw 27 and photographed 24.  We saw 5 trogons (including Quetzal), 4 motmots, 4 toucans, 5 owls, over 20 tanagers, a wood-quail, Lovely Cotinga, Bellbirds, and the BABY bird.  I took around 7000 pics, about 2% made the blog.  I don't know when I'll go back, but go back I will; there's a lot of middle elevation and Pacific slope habitats we never reached.  I'm still spending a lot more time looking through the Costa Rica book than I do Sibley.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Hummers in the rain

After leaving the Hanging Gardens we started the bus ride back to San Jose for our flights out the next day.  About halfway back we stopped at the Cocorro Hummingbird gardens.  It was raining pretty steadily as we arrived but the feeders were remarkably active.  Clearly we were in a different part of the country and a different elevation from where we'd been since basically all the birds were new. 

Almost immediately Mike spotted a Purple-throated Mountain-gem.  I had expected them to be a lot more common over our trip.  There were 1 or 2 males here and they didn't come in very often.

Green-crowned Brilliants were the dominant species.  The females and young males most notable feature was a white (or buffy) malar.

Despite the rain one of the males' gorget lit up showing where the name comes from.

One of the key species here was Coppery-headed Emerald, a bird with a super-restricted range, a narrow elevation band exclusively in northern Costa Rica.
The emeralds' small size made identification of the females fairly easy.

Green Hermit was at other end of the spectrum, huge in comparison...
The hermit and Violet Sabrewing dwarfed the other species.  Perhaps their size made them less maneuverable since they mostly stayed away if any of the smaller species were about, definitely the opposite from what I would have expected.

Finally a bird that you'll have to take my word is a female White-bellied Mountain-gem, I didn't see any males.  It didn't have the buffy underparts of the White-throated Mountain-gems we'd seen at Savegre.

The rain wasn't warm (and the camera had my raincoat).  The group lasted about 30 minutes before people started getting cold.  It was definitely a place that it'd be nice to see in sun. 

Friday, March 22, 2013

Mixed flock at last

Following breakfast we bussed to the nearby Hanging Bridges site, a park with a series of suspension pedestrian bridges over gorges in the jungle.  It was heavily visited by various eco-tour companies, not just birders.  We didn't see a ton initially, until we took a "shortcut" bypassing a couple of the bridges to get to a quieter area.  We'd seen a White-faced Capuchin fairly quickly (it was raining and I didn't take the camera out for it), but one of the group spotted this Spider Monkey high above us.  It was feeding on some sort of pod and dangling by one leg and its tail.
I was surprised by its size, bigger than a Howler Monkey.

We didn't go much further before Steven heard a Green Hermit calling.  It took a little time to find to find a window for a view before he appeared in front of me.
This big hummer was high on my want list.  They're big enough to carry small geo-locators, an OSU group has used them to show how forest birds won't cross open areas to get to fragmented islands of habitat even if it means long detours through forested corridors to get to an area that could easily be reached by zipping across an open area. 
As part of its display it would open its bill to reveal a pink gape.
It reminds me of a Discovery Channel swordfish of all things.

A troop of Howler Monkeys provided a third monkey of the walk.

After seeing a high Rufous-winged Tanager the jungle suddenly erupted with birds working their way past fast and furious, the mixed species flock prized in the tropics.  Slaty Antwren held still long enough to get a remarkably sharp pic for 1/60th of a second.
Streak-crowned Antvireos are fairly uncommon, the pic's pretty mediocre at best.
Plain Antvireo and Tawny-capped Greenlet slipped past without a photo.  I was excited to finally see a Foliage-gleaner, this one's Buff-throated, a bird that materialized about 6 feet away.  For a bird that looked about the size of a catbird, it moved like a kinglet.
There were a couple Dusky Antbirds and the rest of us finally got reasonable looks at the puffs of smoke known as Tawny-faced Gnatwren.  They're so fast that Steven mentioned he's never managed a pic of one.  Warren and I took that as a gauntlet thrown down.  We tried hard.  Rhoda spotted some movement low in the brush moving towards us and I blasted away through the view-finder ...
... to find a Song Wren, another bird that's an iron-clad bugger to get a look at.  This pic is lightened a lot, it stayed deep in the gloom.

We got a much better look at Scale-crested Pygmy-tyrant, only glimpsed the day before.
It lowered its crest after a second or two.

A Sulphur-rumped Flycatcher came by as well.  It looks more like a warbler than a flycatcher.

Finally a Black-headed Nightengale-thrush, a bird I've actually seen in the Rio Grande Valley

This was a spot where having a guide very familiar with the birds made a huge difference.  Steven basically called them out immediately based on the call and feeding style.  It would have been hard to figure the birds out as individuals and many would have gotten by if I was by myself, but knowing what bird to look for made it much easier for the ID features to snap into place (and if you hadn't studied the book to know what to look for you were pretty much out of luck, there was no time for explanations of each bird).  I think this flock was one of my favorite parts of the trip.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Mulligan morning

Our final morning dawned with light rain.  We spent the couple hours before breakfast working to pick up various birds that had been missed by various people.  We started at the tanager tree that Mike had found the day before.  The flashlights helped again as Emerald Tanager re-appeared.

This bird was called out as a Bay-headed Tanager.  The book says that even immatures will be decently blue underneath though; I'm not totally convinced this bird isn't a Rufous-winged.

A Black-faced Solitaire was a surprise.  It's generally more of a high elevation bird and one that we heard many times in Savegre but struggled to obtain the single obstructed view we had of it in the highlands.  Here it was in the open and a lot lower.

We then walked back down to the valley overlook where (remarkably) Bellbird and Lovely Cotinga were again (very briefly and distantly) visible.  The cecropias again were the main perches, here's Baltimore Oriole, Lineated Woodpecker, and Pale-vented Pigeon (not a montage).

A Crimson-collared Tanager perched at a quarter of the distance of our view at La Selva.  I'd like to quarter that again though.

I was proud of myself for recognizing the song of Slaty Spinetail from the day before (granted it was in basically the same brush pile but still).  It was a skulker that would make Ammodramids ashamed and virtually impossible to get an unobstructed view of.

With that the rain started up again.  A Bananaquit popped up quite close to the trail, a species I was hoping to get a good shot of. 

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Arenal afternoon

At lunchtime some of us headed back out, spreading out through the landscaped courtyard in what alternated between light drizzle and borderline showers.  Rhoda and I were trying to pull out individual euphonias and Bay-headed Tanagers when Mike ran up saying he'd found a flock of tanagers in a fruiting tree we hadn't encountered.  There were a handful of Bay-headed Tanagers.  As we looked for a patterned green one we found an unpatterned green one, a Rufous-winged Tanager.  After a few minutes an Emerald (the green patterned one) appeared, but the flock moved on fairly quickly.  A couple of Chestnut-mandibled Toucans materialized in the tree, somehow we didn't even see them fly in.

A pair of Crested Guans had no problem making Attila in the courtyard.

I made one last circle back halfway through the garden to get back to an Ohia-like tree that I wanted to photograph but had no time double-timing it to the tanager tree.  A few Oropendolas had moved in which was a nice bit of serendipity
They would plunge their heads pretty deep into the flowers, I'm assuming going for nectar but I suppose they could have been looking for bugs or even some part of the flower itself.

In the afternoon we bussed out to a road through different habitat with the initial targets being Dull-mantled Antbird and Keel-billed Motmot.  Steven wasted no time on getting on the antbird, a denizen of dark moist ravines, and pulled it in surprisingly close and touched it with his torchlight to make it actually visible.
It's the closest I've ever come to seeing a Black Rail.  The motmot quickly followed.  You would think that since Keel-billed Motmot and Broad-billed Motmot are named for different structural characters that there'd be a big difference in them.  Steven's take is that Keel-billed is just a color morph of Broad-billed.  The bird was really high and in the light rain the pics were kind of weak.

We had some other nice birds along here, highlighted by Russet Antshrike, several heard-only Thicket Antpittas, and Plain Xenops, but they were frequently very high with a ton of contrast between the bright background and the shadows of the canopy even once the rain stopped.  I didn't really get a look at Yellow-billed Cacique, Buff-something Foliage-gleaner, or a couple others that were mainly silhouettes or occasional movements in the leaves.  A Gray-headed Kite perched up nicely though.  Apparently the last time that Steven had seen one on this road was also leading a Sarett-organized trip.