Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Bulletin 203 - Panama #11 - Raptors and Owl

I was disappointed at how few numbers of raptors that we saw on the 1 week Panama trip. We saw several different species, but usually only 1 or 2 individuals. Several of the really cool looking ones that I had seen on previous tropical trips were not seen at all.

We photographed 3 species of the falcon and caracara family. The smallest (9") was our familiar American Kestrel (Falco sparverius). This species is IDed by the 2 vertical black lines on the head. This is a male as he has gray wings. This is my best photo ever of this species, so I always take their photo even if I have already some good ones.

American Kestrel - male
The Northern Caracara (Caracara cheriway) is a large (23") raptor. It occurs throughout Central America as well as the southern USA (FL, AZ, TX). On our last day as we were driving back on the main highway, an adult was beside the road eating some carrion like a vulture. We pulled over so Lisa could get some photos. Amazingly, the bird started to walk towards our vehicle and got to within 30 feet. Here he is plucking what looks like a lizard from the grass and devours it. The adult is black with a white chest and face, and yellow legs. He looks brownish so it may be the sun on the feathers.

Northern Caracara - adult
Photo by Lisa Kelly-McDonald
Later that day, we saw a juvenile close to the road (maybe 20 feet from us). Notice he has gray legs and the plumage is brown.

Northern Caracara - juvenile
Photo by Lisa Kelly-McDonald
There was an old turtle shell on the ground that got his attention. I don't think there was much nutrition in it. LOL

Northern Caracara - juvenile

The last was the Yellow-headed Caracara (Milvago chimachima). It is smaller at 17" and is IDed by the beige head and breast with brown wings and back.

Yellow-headed Caracara - adult

Some of our hawks are migrants through Central America. We saw a couple of these. On the last day as we were driving down a mountain road, this juvenile Broad-winged Hawk (Buteo platypterus) was on a bare branch at eye level not 25 feet from us. We rolled down the windows of the vehicle and took photos.

Broad-winged Hawk - juvenile
The other was the Northern Harrier (Circus cyaneus). This is a widespread bird in USA and Canada and is easily recognizable by the white rump as it flies low across fields looking for prey. The Panama bird book lists it as a winter resident, but it must be very uncommon as it was a life bird for our guide! In fact he didn't know what it was, but of course I IDed it instantly as I see it many times over the course of a year in Texas. It is a female with the brown color.

Northern Harrier - female
Photo by Lisa Kelly-McDonald
Three other raptors we saw only once and they were flyovers. Lisa with her hand held camera was able to get photos, but with my camera on a tripod, I missed them.

The first is the Swallow-tailed Kite (Elanoides forficatus). This is a 22" bird with a white head and underparts and black back, wings and long forked tail. It is unmistakable. It is also considered one of the more graceful and beautiful of the worlds hawks. It does occur in the USA in east Texas and Florida.

Swallow-tailed Kite
Photo by Lisa Kelly-McDonald
Next is the Common Black-Hawk (Buteogallus anthracinus). This is a 21" all black hawk. It has a single white band on the tail. It does occur in the USA in west Texas and Arizona.

Common Black-Hawk
Photo by Lisa Kelly-McDonald

The last was a lifer for me. The Black Hawk-Eagle (Spizaetus tyrannus) is a 25" crested black raptor. Of course from below, the crest cannot be seen. The bird was way up in the sky, but the checkerboard pattern of light and dark on the wings makes the ID.

Black Hawk-Eagle
Photo by Lisa Kelly-McDonald
The last hawk we photographed was the beautiful Savanna Hawk (Buteogallus meridionalis). This 22" hawk is cinnamon colored.

Savanna Hawk
We did not see any new vultures, but we did see this downy baby Black Vulture (Coragyps atratus) who fell out of the nest. He was on the ground and being protected and presumably fed by the parents.

Black Vulture - downy young
Lisa and I both love owls. I have only seen a single owl in my 4 previous trips to the tropics. Nocturnal birds are so difficult to find. So when the guide told us he was taking us to a house where owls roosted, it was the highlight of the trip. The Spectacled Owl (Pulsatrix perspicillata) at 19" is the largest owl in Panama. The pair were sitting in the open several feet apart on a branch. Here is the male.

Spectacled Owl - male
A short time later, she moved over beside her mate. Lisa got the best photo with both of them looking at the camera. The female is larger and heavier in owls and hawks. She is on the left and her eyes are darker as well.

Spectacled Owl - pair
Photo by Lisa Kelly-McDonald

Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

Lisa Kelly-McDonald

photos copyright 2006 - 2014 David McDonald & Lisa Kelly-McDonald

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Friday, July 4, 2014

Bulletin 202 - Panama #10 - Trogons, Finches, Iguanas

The trogons are a small worldwide family of 43 colorful birds, 2/3 of whom are in the Americas. They are medium-sized birds and have long square tipped tails (except for a few exceptions). They tend to sit motionless on branches until they fly out to snag an insect, or pluck fruit off a branch. Two species just make it into the USA in extreme southeast Arizona.

We saw and photographed 3 species on our trip. The first was the 12.5" Slaty-tailed Trogon (Trogon massena). The male has a green back and breast, red belly, gray tail and wings, and red bill and orbital ring.

Slaty-tailed Trogon - male
The female is duller with the green replaced by gray.

Slaty-tailed Trogon - female

The 9" Gartered Trogon (Trogon caligatus) is one of 3 species split from Violaceous Trogon for those of you unfamiliar with the name Gartered Trogon. The male has a green back, purplish head and breast, yellow belly and eye ring and striped undertail.

Gartered Trogon - male

The female is similar, but the back and head are gray and the eye ring is white.

Gartered Trogon - female

On another occasion, we watched a pair of these trogons attacking a mud nest of Aztec ants. These bell shaped ant nests are in the trees. The pair flew from their perches nearby and landed on the nest. They pulled pieces off to get at the ants inside. Here is the female hanging on the bottom of the ant nest.

Gartered Trogon - female on nest of Aztec ants

The last trogon is the 10.5" White-tailed Trogon (Trogon viridis). It is similar to the gartered Trogon above, but the undertail is all white. The male has a blue orbital ring, rather than yellow.

White-tailed Trogon - male
Photo by Lisa Kelly-McDonald

Some of the nomneclature of birds can be confusing. I find this especially with 4 families, the tanagers, finches, cardinals and new world sparrows. I suppose this arose as the discoverers of the new world species called them as to what they resembled in Europe. And now with DNA analysis, we can more closely find related species and put them in the proper relationship.

Because of that, we can have birds with the similar names, but they are not in the families of the that name. For example, we have birds called tanagers in both the cardinal and tanager families. We have birds called finches in the finch, cardinal, and sparrow families. There are cardinals in the cardinal and sparrow families. There are grosbeaks and buntings in the cardinal and finch families.

We saw 2 members of the finch family on the trip. Both are small bright yellow birds. The first was the Yellow-crowned Euphonia  (Euphonia luteicapilla). This is a tiny (3.5") bird. The male dark above and has a yellow breast and crown.

Yellow-crowned Euphonia - male
The female is dull yellow.

Yellow-crowned Euphonia - female

The other was the Thick-billed Euphonia (Euphonia laniirostris). It is a little larger at 4". The male is all yellow underneath and dark on top. The only one we saw was this juvenile male who has an olive back rather than black. The female is all olive and yellow.

Thick-billed Euphonia - juvenile male

One of the things that has always fascinated me as I have done more reading and research on nature is the geographical distribution of species. Animals of the same genus, tend to be close together geographically. This sort of make sense from a evolutionary perspective, if they evolved from an ancient species. Perhaps God placed these initial species around the globe and let evolution proceed from there or He placed all the different species, no one knows for sure.

To give you an example, there are 11 species of Piranga tanagers of which 5 occur in North America (Scarlet, Summer, Western, Hepatic and occasionally Flame-colored). The other 6 occur in Mexico, central America and northen South America.

The term iguana is very confusing as there is a suborder iguania that includes many primarily arboreal lizards such as chameleons in the Old World, New World iguanas, and anoles. The family iguanidae is narrowed down to New World lizards (anoles, spiny lizards, horned lizards) as well as Madagascar iguanas and a few others. Below that classifiaction is the subfamily iguaninae. There are 8 living and 4 extinct genuses in this family with a total of 47 living species. All of them are in the Americas and Caribbean Islands except for a few. There are 4 species in the Galapagos including the unique marine iguana.

Where it gets interesting is that there are 3 species in Fiji and Tonga Islands in the South Pacific. As well there were 2 more species there, that have gone extinct. These lizards are 6,200 miles from their nearest relatives and this has caused a biogeographical enigma. 2 hypotheses have been proposed to explain this distribution. The first was that some lizards rode debris from South America to Fiji on the South Equatorial Current, sort of like the Kon-Tiki Expedition.

The other is that there was an Old World precursor of the iguanas that spread across the Pacific Islands and also crossed the Bering land bridge into the Americas. However, no fossilized remains of this lizard have been found in the Old World. Also for me, I find it hard to believe a cold-blooded lizard could cross the Bering land bridge in the arctic. My theory is that God has a sense of humor and placed them there to puzzle us humans.

There are only 2 species with the genus iguana. The common Green Iguana (Iguana iguana) is a large lizard common through Latin America.

Green Iguana
Photo by Lisa Kelly-McDonald
We saw 2 other members of the iguanidae family. The Black Spinytail Iguana (Ctenosaura similis) is a large (up to 5') lizard that is gray in color with black bands circling his body. The range is southern Mexico to northern Columbia. Of interest, the Guiness Book of World Records lists this lizard as the world fasted lizard. They can run at 21 mph. We saw this one at the top of a chain-link fence with barbed wire above. We stopped and watched, and were concerned that he may have been impaled on the fence, as he wasn't moving. We got out to help him, and took some pictures. But as we got close to him, he jumped down and ran away.

Black Spinytail Iguana

The second was the Common Basilisk Lizard (Basiliscus basiliscus). This is one of 4 similar species popularly known as Jesus Christ lizards for their ability to run short distances on top of the water. They grow up to 2.5 feet in length. They are brown with a cream stripe on the sides and another on the upper lip and throat. The adults have a dorsal fin and the males have a crest as well. They are able to run on water as they have large hind toes with flaps of skin, that open in the water to increase the surface area of the foot.

Here is a juvenile. Notice he has no dorsal fin, but one can see the flaps on his hind toes.

Common Basilisk Lizard - juvenile
Lisa crawled through some dense brush to get this photo of an adult basking on a branch. He look almost prehistoric.

Common Basilisk Lizard - male
Photo by Lisa Kelly-McDonald

Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

Lisa Kelly-McDonald

photos copyright 2006 - 2014 David McDonald & Lisa Kelly-McDonald

To have these trip reports sent to your email, please email me at the above address and ask to subscribe.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Bulletin 201 - Panama #9 - Antbirds, Ovenbirds, and Rodents

Two families of new world birds may be unfamiliar to most people that haven't spent time in the tropics. The first is the antbirds and their relatives. The other is the ovenbirds. There is a warbler in North America named the Ovenbird, but this isn't related to the family of ovenbirds.

The antbirds and their relatives are small songbirds in 4 different families. They got their name as many of them feed by following army ant swarms and catching insects that fly off to avoid being devoured by the ants on the forest floor. Some of these birds resemble or behave like other birds, so have been named to show their resemblance. Thus we have antshrikes, antvireos, antwrens and just antbirds in the antbird family with 224 species. 3 other separate familes are the antthrushes with 12 species, gnateaters with 11 species, and the antpittas with 51 species. In general the males of these birds are black or gray with various white barring or spots. The females are brown with the white accents. They are confined to Central and South America.

In general these birds are hard to see as they tend to be in dense jungle, however the most likely one for someone to encounter is Barred Antshrike (Thamnophilus doliatus). This cute 6" bird is widespread throughout Central America and can be found in populated areas. They have hooked beaks like shrikes, bushy crests and yellow eyes. We photographed this pair in a town on the main street and also saw another pair by the beach. They are very noisy and pump their tails when calling, so are comical to watch. This bird is a favorite of many birders.

Barred Antshrike - male
The female is a beautiful rufous brown and lacks the barring on the breast.

Barred Antshrike - female
Photo by Lisa Kelly-McDonald

The only other antshrike we saw was the 5.5" Western Slaty-Antshrike (Thamnophilus atrinucha). A pair of them kept flying back and forth, in response to the tape, over the path we were on, but we didn't get any good looks. Another time, at a lodge, where we got many of the hummer photos at feeders, I was watching the feeders and just had my camera set when a dull brown bird flew into the field and I got a single photo. When I showed the guide, he said it was the female of this species. Again, the hooked beak can be seen.

Western Slaty-Antshrike - female

The most common of the antwrens is the 4" Dot-winged Antwren (Microhopias quixensis). Its range is from Mexico to southern Amazonia. This was the only species of antwren we found and we saw it several times. The male is black with a white bar and dots on the wing and white on the tail.

Dot-winged Antwren - male

As expected, the female is similar but gray and rufous.

Dot-winged Antwren - female

The only one named antbird, was found and photographed by Lisa. I never saw it. This is a female 4.5" Spotted Antbird (Hylophylax naevoides). It is IDed by the wide buffy wingbars. The spots are on the breast and not seen in this photo.
Spotted Antbird - female
Photo by Lisa Kelly-McDonald

The other 3 smaller families, antthrushes, gnateaters and antpittas, are secretive birds that walk along the forest floor searching for insects. We did not see or hear any, and in fact, I have never seen any of them in a half dozen tropical trips.

The ovenbird family is another huge tropical new world family of small to medium sized songbirds with 307 species. They are insectivorous and tend to be drab brown or rufous with varying spots and streaks. Many are named for their foraging habits, so we have treerunners, treehunters, foliage-gleaners, streamcreepers, and leaf-tossers. Others are named for plumage characteristics such as spinetails, barbtails, and tuftedcheeks. One group, which behave like woodpeckers by hitching up tree trunks to search for insects, are called woodcreepers. The woodcreepers used to be a separate family, but now are included with the ovenbirds. In general the sexes are similar in all these birds.

The Plain-brown Woodcreeper (Dendrocincla fuliginosa) is all brown except for gray cheeks and throat separated by a black malar stripe. Notice how the tail is propped against the tree trunk like a woodpecker. They fly to the base of a tree and then work upwards probing the bark for bugs. Lisa got the only photos of this bird.

Plain-Brown Woodcreeper
Photo by Lisa Kelly-McDonald

The Cocoa Woodcreeper (Xiphorrhynchus susurrans) has extensive streaking on the breast and back of head and upper back.

Cocoa Woodcreeper

The only other bird in this whole family that we saw was the 4.5" wren-like Plain Xenops (Xenops minutus). This dull brown bird was high in the canopy. It has 2 streaks across the face to ID it.

Plain Xenops
Photo by Lisa Kelly-McDonald

Rodents and especially squirrels are often the most common mammals seen on birding trips. Here is the Variegated Squirrel (Sciurus variegatoides). It is a large tree squirrel with a range from southern Mexico to Panama. It has a dark back and light underside. Here he is taking a siesta.

Variegated Squirrel

The other rodent we saw was the almost tailless Central American Agouti (Dasyprocta punctata). It is a large (7-9 lb) rodent related to guinea pigs. It has shorter front legs than back. Their range is from southern Mexico through to Venezuela and Ecuador. They have been introduced to the Cayman Islands and Cuba. They were quite cute, and when disturbed they made a funny barking noise as they ran rapidly from the danger.

Central American Agouti

When eating, they sit on their haunches.

Central American Agouti
Photo by Lisa Kelly-McDonald

Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

Lisa Kelly-McDonald

photos copyright 2006 - 2014 David McDonald & Lisa Kelly-McDonald

To have these trip reports sent to your email, please email me at the above address and ask to subscribe.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Bulletin 200 - Panama #8 - hummingbirds

With this edition, I have reached another milestone..#200. Looking back at the first one, it was May 2007, after 2 couples I met birding in Galveston asked me to send them some photos of the birds we had seen. I now have over 250 people who receive these bulletins. It is due to you, my subscribers, that publishing these bulletins is a labor of love. Thank you.

I suppose everyone was wondering why I had not shown any hummer photos from Panama. It was because I was saving them for #200. The hummingbirds are a large new world family of birds with 340 species. Most of them are in the tropics. North America has 18 species listed in Sibley, 8 of whom occur just across the Mexican border in Texas or Arizona. The Panama field guide has 59 species! The names of some of these tropical hummers are very imaginative such as sunangel, fairy, hermit, plumeleteer, topaz, coquette, emerald, mango, woodnymph, sunbeam, coronet, mountaingem etc. These are the jewels of the bird world.

So lets start with the hermits. This group of hummers have long curved bills and are usually brown or green in color. Some of them have elongated central tail feathers. The sexes are similar except where noted. They usually do not come to feeders.

The Long-billed Hermit (Phaethornis longirostris) is 6" in length and readily comes to feeders.

Long-billed Hermit

The Green Hermit (Phaethornis guy) is also 6" long but has dark green upperparts. The male is green on the underside, but the female shown here has gray underparts, and rufous stripes on face and throat.

Green Hermit - female

This Stripe-throated Hermit (Phaethornis striigularis) is only 3.5". It flew into a building and Lisa photographed in hand just as it was being released.

Stripe-throated Hermit
Photo by Lisa Kelly-McDonald

The Rufous-tailed Hummingbird (Amazilia tzacatl) is a 4" very common hummingbird from central Mexico to Ecuador and Venezuela. It looks similar to our Buff-bellied Hummingbird except belly is gray and tail rufous. Those 2 species are the same genus. Sexes are similar.

Rufous-tailed Hummingbird

Another of the same genus is the Snowy-bellied Hummingbird (Amazilia edward) is also 4" long. It has a sharp demarcation from the green throat and white belly. The tail and wings are coppery colored. Here are a couple of photos.

Snowy-bellied Hummingbird

And another bird.

Snowy-bellied Hummingbird
The Purple-crowned Fairy (Heliothryx barroti) is a large 5" stunning hummer with bright green above and snow white below. The lateral tail feathers are white as well. They do not come to feeders, so one has to be quick and lucky to catch them feeding on flowers. The male has a purple crown.

Purple-crowned Fairy - male
Another day, I caught a female feeding.

Purple-crowned Fairy - female

The Sapphire-throated Hummingbird (Lepidopyga coeruleogularis) is a small (3.5") hummer with a forked tail. The male is all green except for a violet-blue throat. The forked tail isn't seen in the photo as his tail is spread.

Sapphire-throated Hummingbird - male

The female has white underparts except for green spots along the flanks. Here the forked tail with white tips is seen.

Sapphire-throated Hummingbird - female
The Black-throated Mango (Anthracothorax nigricollis) is a 4" green hummer. The male has a black stripe from his throat to his belly.

Black-throated Mango - male

The female has a  wide white stripe on the underparts with a thin central black stripe.

Black-throated Mango - female
Photo by Lisa Kelly-McDonald
Next we have a couple birds with white in their name. The White-necked Jacobin (Florisuga mellivora) is a common 4.5" hummer that we saw everday on the trip. The male has a green back, blue head, white collar, white belly and mostly white tail. He is a stunning bird and easy to ID.

White-necked Jacobin - male

When hovering, he fans his tail and the white is obvious.

White-necked Jacobin - male
We also had a juvenile male who just had some blue on his throat.

White-necked Jacobin - juvenile male

The female is all green above and spotted green below.

White-necked Jacobin - female
Next is the White-vented Plumeleteer (Chalybura buffonii). This 4.5" hummer is named for the elongated vent feathers under the tail. The male is all green otherwise.

White-vented Plumeleteer - male
Photo by Lisa Kelly-McDonald

The female is all gray underneath.

White-vented Plumeleteer - female

I have saved the best for last...3 species with violet in their name. The first is the Violet-headed Hummingbird (Klais guimeti). The male of this 3" hummer has a purple crown and throat. We didn't see him however, just the female. She is green above and grayish below. The ID mark for this speices is the conspicuous white spot behind the eye. It is the only member of this genus.
Violet-headed Hummingbird - female

The male Violet-bellied Hummingbird (Darmophila julie) is a 3.5" stunner. Instead of his green throat being iridescent and flashing, the violet belly flashes when he gets the sun on it. The rest of the bird is green. The belly just looks black until it shows it color, so getting a photo of that took some patience. It is the only member of this genus.

Violet-bellied Hummingbird - male

And here is a full on view.

Violet-bellied Hummingbird - male

Lastly the male Violet-crowned Woodnymph (Thalurania columbica) is a 4.5" violet hummingbird with a brilliant green gorget and a forked tail. He is breathtaking.

Violet-crowned Woodnymph - male

Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

Lisa Kelly-McDonald

photos copyright 2006 - 2014 David McDonald & Lisa Kelly-McDonald

To have these trip reports sent to your email, please email me at the above address and ask to subscribe.