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.

Sunday, October 21, 2018


Because who hasn't wanted to know what would happen if you crossed a whip-poor-will with a kagu?

We spent an afternoon driving to a narrow cave-like ravine which is an Oilbird roost.  These were just crazy birds, they looked to be the size of Cooper's Hawks, but are goatsuckers that feed on fruit.  Jose briefly shined his light on the low bird.
Apparently they're falcon-like in flight and can range 40-50 miles out into the forest to find preferred fruiting trees.

There were more of these otherworldly birds perched higher in the crevasse.

When a Guayaquil Woodpecker looks mundane you know you've seen a heckuva bird.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Leucistic Herring Gull (I think)

Tim and I had this odd gull at Tiscornia while checking the flock for Mew Gulls yesterday.  At first glance I thought it was the first Glaucous of the year, but it was actually too white ... but had some dark primaries.  Ultimately we settled on it likely being a Herring Gull missing some pigment

It has an adult bill, and an adult Glaucous (or Iceland) would have a light gray mantle.  It also has the triangular head of a Herring rather than the heavy-jawed rounder head of a Glaucous.  The eyering is orange.

As it takes off it looks like the secondaries are fairly normal, but the primaries have markedly reduced both gray and black pigment, and there's some rows of secondary coverts that are basically white

A view of the underwing shows it's molting its primaries; P10 probably isn't visible from above.

P9, P8, and P7 look therefore to have dark pigmentation.  I'm assuming the piebald mantle and wing coverts argue for a pigmentation rather than a hybridization cause, though the markedly reduced number of primaries with dark ends might be a point in the hybrid column.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Moss-backed Tanager

After spending a few hours at the large feeder set-up in Mashpi we took in a much smaller one that was tucked into the woods for a few other species, first among them Moss-backed Tanager.  But before the Moss-backed's came in there were other birds to look at.

My best Flame-faced Tanager of the trip up to this point

There were certainly other birds about, White-throated Quail-dove here.

As well as Crimson-rumped Toucanet

Black-winged Saltator (one of the individuals in the header pic)

As well as Thick-billed (I think) Euphonia.

Finally, a Moss-backed Tanager
These were small chunky tanagers with fairly unique blue faces.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

baby Lyre-tailed Nightjar

As we left the main site at Mashpi, Jose took us to the entrance of a very expensive rainforest resort (whose name escapes me but apparently has appeared in National Geographic).  Amazingly, atop one of the buttresses of the main gate (and they definitely weren't going to let us inside) was a nesting female Lyre-tailed Nightjar.

A female Lyre-tailed Nightjar with a baby no less.   The chick snuggled back out of sight underneath the parent's feathers fairly quickly though.

We continued on to another smaller feeder set-up that was tucked more into the forest and actually had a nice little flock of insectivores work its way through.

I don't think I've seen a Red-faced Spinetail without rain.

Same for Scaly-throated Foliage-gleaner (though maybe that doesn't really count since I've only seen that species on this trip).

Here's a Wedge-billed Woodcreeper disappearing up a tree.
 This was a bird that was quite common on our very first trip to Costa Rica several years ago but that I've seen only infrequently since.

Finally a Black-and-white Becard.  I'd seen the (not black-and-white) female in Costa Rica; the namesake plumage was a first for me.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Franklin's Gull

A straight west to east jet stream didn't help the waterbird flight today as it pushed a long front a county or two to the north that walled off any southbound birds.  It probably did contribute to an influx of Franklin's Gulls with multiple birds seen in the last day or so in the county.  Before today it'd been 3 years since I'd seen Franklin's in the county.

 The brown wing coverts would indicate this is a first fall bird.

Here's a montage of it taking flight.

We actually had 6 species of gull on the St Joe lakefront with flyby Bonaparte's at Tiscornia, the Franklin's at Jean Klock, and both species of Black-backed gull at Silver...