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...

Sunday, November 18, 2018

What's better than TWO antpittas?

Three more of course!

We'd actually seen this first species (though not as close) early in the week at Guango, Chestnut-capped Antpitta.

 After waiting our turn we were led down a narrow (muddy) trail to look down into a ravine holding Ochre-breasted Antpittas.
 Two of them in fact.
These tiny birds were fairly charismatic, standing still on branches and rotating their bodies while keeping their heads still.  This is another bird that's possible in a lot of places in Central America, but much more likely here.

Moustached Antpitta was our final species.
We each had no more than a few seconds to look down on this shy bird.

So there you have it, 5 species of antpitta in one day.  Honestly I'm not sure what I thought about it.  I guess it's no different than seeing birds come in to feeders, but it was almost too easy (and there were way too many people) to see these very uncommon birds.

In case you're wondering where Blackburnian Warblers get their awesomeness, well they winter in the same trees that shelter antpittas
I'm not used to Blackburnians being the easy birds to photograph (though didn't get the shutter speed cranked back up as far as it needed to be for warbler movements).

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

What's better than 1 antpitta?

Two antpittas of course!  Well let's come back to that.

Antpittas are the star of the show at Angel de Paz and we did very well.  The first one in the line-up was arguably the most impressive, Giant.  While I've seen photos of Giant Antpittas right at the trailhead Angel walked at least a couple hundred yards up the (very muddy, steep, and only occasionally stepped) trail before he started making calls and chucking snake-sized night crawlers into the brush.  His body language was looking a little concerned about the bird showing at all, but ultimately this (seemingly football sized!) bird worked its way out of the drizzling gloom.

A tall burly European with a really loud shutter started hammering away at this point.  I was worried it wouldn't come out (and Angel was motioning and quietly asking him to stop which was either ignored or not understood).  The bird did come out on the branch though.  Gotta love the muted shutter setting of my camera though!

It was so big I had a really hard time fitting it in the frame.  These aren't cropped.

Honestly I almost like the pic of the bird mostly obscured in the brush the best.

But crowds don't go to Angel's to see one antpitta.  I'd only seen 3 species of antpitta in my life before this morning, but number 4 was the next bird I photographed, a Yellow-throated Antpitta.
This bird was viewed from a fenceline along the road looking down into a ravine that Angel chucked earthworms into.

With that we were ushered up to the visitor center to allow the crowd snacks and a bathroom break.  A Red-billed Parrot teed up briefly along the road.

There was more activity right next to the lot with nice views of a Golden-bellied Flycatcher.

One of my most-wanted birds for the trip was alongside the lot too, Strong-billed Woodcreeper.
This species is in all the Central American books but is quite rare there and this was our first real chance to see one.  It didn't disappoint.

Sunday, November 4, 2018


Well this was a crazy bird.  I'm not sure where this bird breeds in Eurasia or where it winters, but it's definitely something I don't expect to see outside of Newfoundland blogs.  So I was pretty happy that Adam and Scott re-found this bird in Washtenaw after rumors of a bird surfaced the day before (C'mon Washtenaw!  You couldn't have beaten Lansing to this bird???).

 We were there at daybreak (along with 50 of our closest friends).  The bird was too.
The orange legs (and to a lesser extent orange base of the lower mandible) really stuck out.

It tended to forage with its neck extended and held straight.

It was pretty successful at extracting some pretty good sized prey items from beneath the water's surface and spent a decent amount of time resting (and digesting?).

The bird in flight had a pretty impressive white stripe extending dowitcher-like up its back.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Birds of Central America

Want to get ahead on your Christmas shopping?  Because if you're in the market for a present for someone who will go (or honestly has gone) to Central America I've got your answer (in the latest of offerings from Princeton Press who kindly provided me a free review copy):

The book, about the size and weight of big Sibley is in my opinion the best book I've ever seen for Neotropic birds, in this case Central America (which for this book excludes Mexico).  But while I've never been to Guatamala or Nicaragua (and may never get to those places), it's really nice to have those birds in this book.

The book is laid out in what I would consider to be the traditional field guide fashion with maps and description facing the birds

The illustrations are really well done.  It's not easy to capture the gestault of a bird, but this illustrator (I assume Dale Dyer) succeeds, which is no easy task with some of the weird neotropic flycatchers that just don't look like anything else.  But since not everyone here has had the joys of seeing flatbills and elaenias I included a plate here that shows one of our spring heralds that every knows well.

My photos aren't as sharp as replications of these plates deserve, and apologies for the glare.

I've immensely enjoyed just flipping through the book because the illustrations are really accurate, and bring back memories of seeing these species whose names start to run together after a while.

I did have a couple of quibbling points with the book:
  1. The upper right hand corner of the plate has a number which represents how close to life size the illustrations are.  Overly accurate calculations amuse me and I don't really buy that every bird is exactly 19% of life size or 23% or 58% as those numbers would apply; I would have rounded those off.
  2. The descriptions start with an overview of the range, at times this gets really into the weeds with lists of locations where uncommon or rare birds were seen.  You wouldn't know from the text that the Darien of eastern Panama is the best place to go to see a Harpy Eagle; instead the book lists places where it's been seen (including the relevant literature citations!) which would probably be better placed in a summary book rather than a field guide.  The pips included on the range map which pertain to those records are similar size to the little area you can hopefully expect to be shown one prospectively.  Sibley does a better job of separating vagrant records from core range in his book.
  3. I would have saturated the illustrations a tad more; maybe that's just a result of eyes that grew up on the best Eastern Peterson edition and then have mostly looked at Sibley plates since, but the figures could pop even more.
  4. Taxonomy gets confusing as anyone who has tried to compare eBird checklists with older field guides.  In situations where there have been recent splits or lumps the author places a superscript number that refers to an addendum at the end of the book explaining the split or the lump.  I would have placed those in the text, or at least included a line (National Geo style) stating "formerly known as ..." to make it easier to figure out which names goes to what bird. 
Those minor points aside, this is probably my favorite book that I've reviewed for Princeton Press and one that I would unequivocally recommend.  It will be interesting to see if this book can become the new standard for guides treating South America to reach for.  I would love to have a book like this one to prep for this winter's return to Ecuador.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Angel de Paz

We spent our last day at the Angel de Paz refuge, a location where a farmer (Angel) started tossing worms to some birds he saw in the underbrush of his farm.  He mentioned this to someone who told someone who somehow flagged onto a guide's radar that he was feeding antpittas.  One group led to another group led to entire tour buses dropping off groups at his farm.  I would guess his main revenue stream is birders at this point.  There were a lot of birders.

We started at daybreak at a Cock-of-the-Rock lek.  The sounds were somewhat intermediate between a manakin lek and displaying oropendolas.  It was pretty dark and the birds were mostly quite distant.  Group after group of birders filtered into the blind and you couldn't really move without losing your ability to see much of anything.  There were cock-of-the-rocks though.

We spent probably 30 minutes as an overcast day slowly broke.  Just about the time when there was getting to be enough light to not be really pushing settings farther than is ideal we had to move on to the next birds.

Which were some perched nightjars viewed briefly through a scope, and then a family of Rufous-breasted Wood-quail enticed out of a gloomy thicket with a plantain.

I think the chicks mowing into the plaintain in the next pic are pretty funny.

There was a spontaneous Beryl-spangled Tanager seen distantly as we walked back out to the road.
The pic is pretty rough.

On the way out we grabbed a couple more minutes with the Cock-of-the-Rocks with a little better light, but we didn't have time to linger long.