Sunday, April 28, 2019

April snowstorms bring ...

lots of migrants? 
Probably not so much.
I was working through the snow the last 2 days so sadly no pics of spring birds and flowers in the snow.
The April migrants are about to give way to the full flood of May (except for sapsucker.  I can't find one of those for anything this year) so I figured time to put up the highlight pics from the last couple weeks.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet might be my favorite early spring migrant.  Who can't enjoy it's riotous eee-eee-eee-burble-eee-burble-eee-burble-eee... song bursting forth from a tiny little birdlet.

I was soooooo close to getting the full ruby-crown...

While White-throated Sparrow is probably the other major vanguard species of late April, it's always worth trying to improve Yellow-rumped Warbler pics.
Definitely not as good as last year's Yellow-rumped Warbler.

And we're not the only one to notice all the White-throated Sparrows.  I bet they make a major portion of Sharp-shinned Hawks' diet in migration.

Not much a sharpie could do about a turkey though.

Finally a view of a Sandhill pair.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

the flight of a thrasher's life

Imagine yourself as a Brown Thrasher, placidly enjoying a tail wind as you migrate north on an April night; what could you be thinking about?  Would you consider unique themes and variations upon the Song Sparrow and Towhee vocalizations you'd absorbed on the way north?  Maybe reprise a Wood Thrush phrase from last year?  Get ready to show off a unique piece-de-resistance like the White-breasted Wood-Wren you learned in the tropics?  (I swear I heard one mimic that sound this morning at Floral).

Would you have an odd sense of disquiet as dawn slowly broke ... but no song emanated from the oddly blue substrate below?  Nothing to sample, nothing to mimic?  With mounting panic you'd turn around and fly for shore.  How would you feel in that warm morning light?  Every morning of every week of every month of your (imminently close to infinitely shortening) life you'd welcomed the dawn with a couple hundred of your 9000 songs to be sung.  This morning, however, it's lighting you up in cream and near-crimson, contrasting you against the cold grays and blues of the water below.

And your flight will not go unnoticed.

Seven sets of eyes marked your flight.  Four atop the dune were a combo of brown, hazel, and blue, and they would passively watch; some rooting for (and some against) your escape.  Three sets of yellow would actively seek your death, shrieking all the while, as they attempted to cut you off from the sheltering trees and force you into the water, and ultimately swallow you whole. 

I thought the thrasher was done for.  After a couple passes by the gulls it dipped down to the surface, its tail touching the water, its legs searching for purchase.  Most passerines forced into the water will never rise from it, but this bird did.  I know that OH SHIT jolt of adrenaline (I remember headlights suddenly materializing before me, a fraction of a second before the impact of my car crash last winter).  Perhaps a similar jolt when it found that water wasn't shelter from the screaming gulls bearing down allowed it to get airborne again, somehow dodge 2 of the 3 back-to-back, fade the 3rd a few seconds later and frantically get back to land. 

The bird's bill was open on half my pics.  Could it have been singing the whole time as the gulls howled like wolves?  More likely it was desperately trying to oxygenate muscles strained to the breaking point.  But could it have learned a new song?  Is somewhere a thrasher composing a horror story ballad of screaming gulls and crashing waves?  Let me know if you hear it.  I'd like to think that subconsciously it is.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Piping au naturale

Earlier in the week someone found a non-banded Piping Plover at New Buffalo.  After an unsuccessful half-hearted attempt was made to see it in a windstorm yesterday a return was made today.  The bird wasn't apparent initially.  A few of us started walking up the main beach and came across the well-celebrated dark-mantled hybrid, and possible Chandeleur Gull, in the gull flock.  I was slow getting settings off of yesterday's overcast and didn't get them straightened out until the bird was settling back down as we worked our way north.

There's actually a partial Slaty-backed like string of pearls on a couple of the feathers with a very small mirror on P10.  Kelp Gull is often guessed as one of the bird's parents, a guess supported by the small P10 spot. 

A look at the heavy gony angle and weird yellow-gray legs.

On the way back to the car a walker suddenly put the Piping into motion.  It must have been invisibly hunkered down on the walk out.

I walked ahead of it and sure enough the bird walked up towards me.

While the bands are necessary for researchers to keep track of the birds, it was fun to see one without them.  This one's narrow breastband completely encircles the throat.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Torrent Ducks!

Last year we worked pretty hard for a Torrent Duck.  We did see a bird very distantly, and mostly obscured by vegetation half-asleep on a rock.  Pretty much the epitome of Better-View-Desired.  After leaving Guango without one this year we took a walk along a different stream on the way to San Isidro.  We were in luck pretty much right away with a female.  It was distant and half-asleep, but at least not obscured by the vegetation!

We walked a bit farther and came upon a pair of birds.

It was pretty impressive how they navigated the rushing rapids.
Often they would swim pretty close to the edge of the river in some of the calmer eddies, but as often as not they would also be swimming and diving in the foaming rapids as well.  At one point the female was half running atop the water to cross one of the surging currents.  They seemed to mostly let the current take them down the stream until they reached some of the boulder-strewn rapids where they would use the boulders as bases to take foraging swims before eventually flowing further downstream.  Presumably they fly back up river at that point, though we never saw the birds in the air.

We did have some other birds along this walk, but no flocks, and we worked pretty hard for brief glimpses of a few new tanagers.  Butterflies were more cooperative, some familiar (in genus at least) to us at home, and others not.

This is a Heliconian of some sort

I would guess this is a sister of some sort, but that's a guess

This might also be a Sister, or maybe some kind of tropical wood-nymph?

This looks a lot like a Painted Lady though the open spots at the back of the hindwing are a little different than ours.

Finally some sort of Sulphur

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Gray-breasted Mountain-toucan

The rain stopped eventually, and after the morning's hike some of us went up a side trail to see if we could find more birds.  Some of the group saw a couple species of fruiteaters that weren't very cooperative.  We did find a Gray-breasted Mountain-toucan at eyelevel though that was probably one of the photographic highlights of the trip.

 There were a few Mountain Caciques as well.

Friday, April 12, 2019

right there! right there! right there!

So you want to bird the tropics do you?  Visions of tanagers and toucans dancing in your head?  Well, it may not be quite so easy...

We'll come back to this...

The full morning at Guango was a fairly frustrating one.  We awoke to pretty steady rain and after hanging around the lodge in the dusky pre-dawn hoping for it to brighten for what felt like a really long time we headed out.

A few flycatchers teed up, first Rufous-breasted Chat-tyrant (can you see the sprinkles?)

Then Smoky Bush-tyrant (there's more... and they're more of light rain than sprinkles)

After about a mile's walk we did find a good sized flock ... across the road ... high in the canopy ... into the rain.  It was hard to see and identify birds, which was doubly frustrating knowing how fun of birds they were.

Here's a crop of a bird I missed when I got sick last year, Hooded Mountain-tanager.

Of course it's a lot easier to get on the bird when you spot it.  I found this Red-hooded Tanager way up the slope (of course it's uncommon enough that I didn't study it and couldn't remember its name.  I was reduced to calling out Yellow body Red head! Yellow body Red head!)

There were a lot of tanagers in the flock but lighting, rain, and distance meant I didn't manage many pics.  This Powerful Woodpecker flew 10 feet a couple snaps later and utterly disappeared in some misty vines and try as I might I couldn't get back on it despite others being able to see it.

The other way that it's frustrating is that the guide frequently gets on the bird when it flashes out into the open, calls it out, the bird flies farther away, but the flicker of its motion can just be seen, often being circled by the laser pointer.  This is one of the Tufted-cheeks, it's Right there! Right there! Right there!
I didn't count it.

I did eventually count Citrine Warbler, a bird that would appear and disappear in the identically colored greenery with ease.

And even though Lacrimose Mountain-tanager isn't green, it disappeared pretty easily too.  It took a while to get satisfactory looks.

After about an hour the flock dissipated ... and then the sun came out.

Monday, April 8, 2019

"Prairie" Merlin

It's that migration time again and there's new birds around!  Diversity is a warm relief after a winter of grinding for local items of interest.

This Merlin teed up at Tiscornia a couple days ago.  It was noticeably pale.

I couldn't remember in the field what the criteria where for the plains subspecies, but knew it had to do with the spread tail and the wing patterning.

As it turns out (per Wheeler's Raptors of Eastern North America) "Boreal" Merlin (the one we usually get around here) has 3 or 4 pale tail bands, "Prairie" has 4 or 5...
This bird has 5 (plus the terminal band).

The other big mark is that in the underwing the pale spots cover more than 50% of the feathers in "Prairie:"

As a comparison here's a more typical bird from Tiscornia some time in the past:
There's some other minor points.  As in the photo above "Boreal" Merlin can show thick black spikes in the white terminal tail band that "Prairie" does not.  I have a lot of pics of "Boreal" individuals that don't seem to show that; more of a helpful if there feature, but not as helpful if not present.

If accepted this will be a 2nd state record (though I need to dig up another one we had a few years ago in the spring, and I've seen Tim's pics of another bird in the south county), so they're probably more common than people realize, but are really hard to document unless you have birds frequently teeing up the way they do at the beach.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

More mixed flock fun

This was honestly one of the bigger, more diverse, and fairly accessible flocks that I've encountered in the tropics.  Usually when you get on a group the birds move very quickly through, and frequently are very high in the canopy; this group moved along the powerline cut edges providing views as them both came and went.

Pearled Treerunner (along with the redstarts) were pretty common core members of any flock.  They move fast though, so pics were tough.

A family group of Rufous Wrens popped up in the understory.
 Birds would sing (and counter-sing) from inches apart at times.

We saw each of the next three birds in the same place last year, but they were more cooperative this year.  First Blue-and-black Tanager,

next a Rufous-breasted Flycatcher

and finally Gray-hooded Bush-tanager.  Like the wrens, the Bush-tan's seemed to form their own little sub-group within the flock as opposed to the Treerunners and Whitestarts which were mixed throughout

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Guango mixed flock 1

We worked our way back from the (Andean) potoo towards the lodge along a wide swath cut for a powerline.  We walked it in the morning last year and found it to be quite birdy.  We got into a bigger flock this afternoon.

We stopped for a couple Plushcaps (a quite range-restricted burgandy-colored finch with a yellow cap) but my pics were terrible.  A couple other thicket dwellers started to pop out though, led off by Pale-naped Brushfinch.

There were a few Slaty Brushfinches too.

Fairly quickly canopy birds started appearing, led (as usual) by Spectacled Redstarts

They were followed by a lot of different small birds working the mid and upper levels: tyrannulets, treerunners, and a few different tanagers and warblers.  Capped conebill is lumped in with the tanager tribe, but they act (and are shaped) far more like warblers. 
I don't think I actually identified this bird in real life, I just followed some motion out of the tree, took a couple snaps as it paused and then flew, and moved on to trying to track the next bit of movement.

Next is another tanager tribe member, a Black-cheeked Hemispingus (formerly Bush-tanager)
Irritatingly it has a cleaner supercilium than does Superciliaried Hemispingus from 2 posts back.

Any decent flock has to have a woodcreeper or two, this is Montane Woodcreeper, the most common species of that elevation