Saturday, May 1, 2021

sometimes they come to you

 I had to sleep all day today and when I got up it was warm and windy.  I spent a couple hours weeding garlic mustard in the park next to my house thinking I might come across one of the elusive catbirds or rose-breasted grosbeak or May thrushes that were blowing up my eBird needs alerts while I slept.

No luck there, but karma rewarded my efforts when I looked out the window after dinner and saw a young Summer Tanager following an oriole to the oranges on my feeder.

It sat long enough for me to grab the camera that lives in front of the window, blast half a dozen frames, realize the settings were completely buggered, crank the ISO up, blast another 5 frames ... and gone.  I think I can count on one hand the number of times I've encountered Summer Tanager in Michigan without actively seeking it out and maybe once where I didn't find it by hearing it first.

A few other pics from mornings earlier in the week.  This parula would have been a sweet pic if it had poked its head out a little further.

And this Black and White would have been fun if it had come into the redbud in the foreground

This Solitary Sandpiper in the stream at Kesling though was a decidedly more photogenic setting than their typical poop pond habitats.

And finally a montage of a kestrel that hovered in front of me in the dunes while hawk-watching earlier in the week...

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

They're looking at us

 and we're looking at them!  Some of them at any rate.

I led the BBC outing this morning, and it started off kinda slow.  Topinabee, and to a lesser extent Weiser Road, didn't have a ton of activity.

The Niles Riverwalk on the other hand did have migrants.  Dawn spotted this Black-and-white Warbler who looks to be peering back at us...

Continuing the black-and-white theme, my county annual Red-headed Woodpecker was the next bird we saw.

We checked the hawks that flew over after a decent push of broad-wings yesterday.  One was indeed a broad-wing (though the pic is actually from yesterday).

Finally a look at one of the Yellow-rumps I saw as I walked back.

Next week, Chikaming!

Monday, April 19, 2021

Colima Pygmy-Owl

I suppose I could have titled the post My Most Frustrating Great Look at a bird ever.

Evening of Day 3 found us in some dry forest scrub after spending the afternoon driving east towards the border of Oaxaca and Chiapas.  Alex found a couple of Cinnamon-tailed Sparrows, a bird I just could not get a decent look at.  I kept getting an elbow, branch, or head in the way every time I sort of saw the bird.  It didn't help that the little double malar mark, the field mark I'd learned for the bird, was quite a bit harder to see than I expected.

A western type Redtail soared out
I managed to spot a White-tailed Hawk, a bird I thought might be more common than it was.  This individual was the only one we saw.

I don't remember how I managed to lag behind the group a little, I think Alex started playing a tape at a Ferruginous Pygmy Owl that was really far away and I was distracted by something that seemed closer, but when I caught up they were looking at something.  They said it was the pygmy-owl.  It took forever to find the bird, it was quite close but the same color as the dusk lit surroundings and a bit higher than I thought.  Usually I'm pretty good at looking at the angle of people's bins and gauging where to look, but I was failing utterly.  When I eventually found the bird it looked way different that I expected.  Because it wasn't Ferruginous, it was Colima Pygmy-Owl!  Whoops.  Keep up with the group.

We stayed past dark hoping to hear Buff-collared Nightjar, which maybe Alex heard.  Finally a view of one of the Mottled Owls that came in to the Black-and-White track he was playing.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

shadows of the ruins

 Day three found us at the base of an uphill climb along the entrance road to the ruins at Monte Alban.  It proved to be a popular place for the locals and we were passed by a lot of joggers and bikers out to enjoy some exercise before the heat of the day built up.

It was pretty birdy.  We heard a couple of mimics, but the Blue Mockingbird stayed buried pretty deep (but backlit nonetheless) in the brush.

An Ocellated Thrasher started singing well upslope and we enjoyed much closer scope views of the regional specialty than we did on day one ... and then we found another one much closer!

A couple of us heard a vireo singing right at the gate while it was still dark.  I wish I'd recorded it.  It was either Dwarf or this next bird, Slaty Vireo, which (true to theme this morning) stayed deep in the thicket!  It's a white-eyed blue gray bird with olive highlights on the cap, wings and tail in case the pic doesn't really reveal that.

Golden Vireo showed a lot better.  I tried to learn the vireo songs, but I didn't recognize this one at all when it started singing.

Even Dusky Hummingbird kept sticks in the way!
I expected these birds to be very widespread; I think this morning was the only time we saw one!

This Rock Wren in the ruins themselves was one of my favorite pics from the trip.

And a sample view of the ruins.  I've always been surprised how much freedom people are given to walk about these sort of sites in Central American, but I wasn't complaining.
We were short on time so I didn't really put the effort into attempting to translate the signs explaining the limited amounts known about this location believed to have been constructed and inhabited by the Zapotecs 1500-2000 years ago.  Even the original name of the site has been lost...

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Down the mountain

 We'd spent the morning of Day 2 in the pine forest elevation level in Oaxacan highlands.  We spent the midday there too, trying to find Dwarf Jay, a bird whose breeding range is comparable in size to Kirtland's Warb.  It took some doing.  We would occasionally hear Northern Pygmy-Owls, but they were quite hard to see, and it took some walking around and craning our necks upward at different angles before Alex located the bird.

We drove around a bit and stopped for some activity.  Gray-barred Wrens were again calling form the treetops, but this time Alex was able to bring them down

We found Red (which again wouldn't stop for a pic) and Golden-browed Warblers 

Suddenly Warren and I had a jay fly across, it turned out to be a group of 3 or 4 of the Dwarf Jays, which didn't like to come out in the open at all.

I'm not totally sure what this next bird is.
Alex thought it was a young Golden-browed Warbler, but it's not a plumage that's in any of the books.

With success on Dwarf Jay we headed down the mountain, to a thicket of scrub habitat that potentially could hold Dwarf Vireo.  The Vireo's habitat was flooded by the full sun and heat of the late afternoon lowlands and we didn't see many birds, and definitely not the vireo.  A Myarchid flycatcher appeared above us as Alex was taping for the vireo.

I looked with interest since Nutting's Flycatcher is a bird that just reaches Arizona occasionally, and is differentiated from Ash-throated based on how much dark outer color of the tail wraps around the end of the tail.  On this bird ... it's neither, the tail's mostly dark with some lighter color along the feather shaft.  I realized it was a Dusky-capped Flycatcher, which Alex pointed out was in the background of the vireo tape he was playing.  Well, at least something responded.

Finally a little empid we found.
With the big teardrop behind the eye it's clearly not one of our Eastern empids, and I was suspecting it was Cordilleran.  I forget why Alex said it couldn't be Cordy, but the entirely pale lower mandible eliminates most of the other Western empids ... so, what's left.  Oh yeah, Mexican empids, because we were in Mexico! It's a Pine Flycatcher, a bird that actually lives next to, but not in pines, so perfect!

Friday, April 2, 2021

Oaxacan pines

After watching Fulvous Owls pre-dawn, sunrise found us in some pine forest at pretty reasonable elevation.  The birds had changed over completely from the desert of the day before and Brown-backed Solitaires serenaded us.  They weren't quite as musical as the Black-faced Solitaires in Costa Rica, but they were a lot easier to find!

They mostly didn't come down low, the only one I found at eyelevel was still in deep unlit gloom

We worked pretty hard for a bit to find Gray-barred Wren, but would see it much better in the afternoon, as well as for one of the jays, but it didn't show at all in the morning.  Warblers instead were the star of the morning.

Crescent-chested is a relative of our Parula

Next up is one of my favorite birds of the trip, Golden-browed Warbler

It seemed like an oddly localized bird, a relative of Rufous-capped Warbler.  But unlike Rufous-capped, which ranges from Arizona to Colombia, Golden-browed is limited pretty much just to southern Mexico and northern Central America.

And one more warbler, we had a chance at seeing every member of the Black-throated green group on this trip.  I'd only seen one Hermit Warbler previously, and didn't manage a photo, so I was happy to see this one.
Birds are a lot easier to photograph when they're not halfway up a sequoia!

Would we see the others?  Stay tuned...

Saturday, March 27, 2021


With not a lot doing in the way of migration at Tiscornia this morning, I joined the exodus when an Eared Grebe was reported a bit inland.  I however didn't go look at the presumed Horned and went to walk Whirlpool instead.  Birds were singing, crows were cawing, sandhills were sawing (or whatever they do), and then I heard something croak softly that sounded intermediate between a crow and a sandhill.  It took a second for the sound to register, but when it did I looked up to see a big black bird approaching...

It had to be my county lifer Raven, though the silhouette in the view finder was a little thrown off by its central tail feathers not being fully grown.  If you zoom in you can see the honking big bill

A (considerably smaller) crow started to mob it as it flew away, quelling any worries about the ID.

There reportedly is a nesting pair about 11 miles to the northeast, and Raven sightings have been increasing a lot the last couple years in Berrien ... will we have it at Tiscornia soon???

Friday, March 26, 2021

No ahhhh

 Returning to Mexico, and piggy-backing off of the last post, is Barred Owl's southern cousin, Fulvous Owl.

It was too distant (and lit dimly by flashlights) to see if it's actually warmer colored than ours.

The sound very much had a Barred Owl cadence, but stayed on one pitch, and didn't fall off at the end in the characteristic Barred Owl ending, so no hooo-ahh.  They turned out to be reasonably common since we heard them on a couple different nights, sometimes spontaneously, even though they seem to have a pretty limited range.

Here's Barred's for comparison.  There's a few pips in western Mexico that's currently classified as a subspecies of Barred, which doesn't make a ton of sense given how far apart they are from the rest...

A quick search on SORA doesn't really seem to reveal very much in terms of why the west Mexican ones are subspecies of Barred whereas the east Mexican (and Central American) one is its own species.  (I probably should listen on xeno to see if the other one has a hooo-ahh maybe)

Monday, March 22, 2021


Earlier in the week I was whistling saw-whet in a pine stand.  The wind bit through my clothes, but low in a needle-y knoll there was some (much welcomed) shelter.  And as I whistled, there started to be a little noise in the trees overhead.  It created an eerie feeling, anticipation mixing with the unknown.  Something was there in the night, but what?  Maybe bill clicking, maybe a small mammal, maybe even the saw-whet.  But then 10 times bigger and 15 feet from my forehead, a Barred Owl belted out, "Hooooo-ahhh!"   I wasn't the only one interested in seeing a Saw-whet!  It was a climactic moment.  Though the Barred, as far as I know, flew away hungry.

So today as I was walking some bottomland forest it was again fun to hear Barred Owls, this time calling in the daytime, and quite close.  One soon flushed, but didn't go far, and teed up nicely.

Here it's looking off for the other calling bird.

And now leaning forward to answer.

And lest you think I've strayed too far from the Mexican content promised in the header, Barred has a close cousin south of the border ... stay tuned.

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Cactus oasis

 In the late afternoon of Day 1 Alex took us to walk a little entry road which led ... I'm not sure where.  The gate was closed.   But we found a flowering cactus which was attracting an impressive number of birds.  In my mind orioles are one of the hallmark birds of Mexico.  They have a wide variety of species and we encountered a handful that were new for me.

This is Black-vented Oriole, one of the more common black and yellow species in the south.

Followed by Streak-backed.

Even the House Finches were in bright colors, much brighter than the ones on my feeder.

I don't remember Curve-billed Thrashers in the southwest being this heavy billed, though whether that's because there's an actual difference or because it's been years since I've seen one I don't know...

Finally a look at a female Beautiful Hummingbird.  It's a close cousin to Lucifer, but just like Lucifer I've only seen one female