Sunday, September 27, 2015

Bulletin 236 - Ecuador #1 - Hummingbirds

I just spent 10 days birding southern Ecuador with an amazing guide, Pablo Andrade, who I found on BirdingPal. His preplanned tour takes you to all 3 southern Ecuador provinces with stays at Buenaventura Reserve, Tapichalaca Reserve and Copalinga Lodge in that order. Buenaventura is on the west slope of the Andes at elevations of 1200 to 4200 feet. Tapichalaca is in the cloud forest of the eastern slope at 8000 feet, and Copalinga is also on the east slope adjacent to Podocarpus Nat'l Park at an elevation of 3000 feet. The accommodations were all excellent and the food got better as we went along with the meals at Copalinga like being in a European bistro. The couple who own Copalinga are Belgian, so it was no surprise.

Well what about the birds? Ecuador is a small country on the Pacific Ocean at the equator. It is between Arizona and Nevada is size at just under 110,000 sq miles. But it has a huge bird list with just under 1700 species (130 species hummers!). This was my first trip to Ecuador and it was a blow-out - 2 Tinamous, 35 hummers, 7 antpittas, 4 cotingas. Most were seen, a few heard only and many photographed. Pablo was an excellent guide and worked diligently to locate the birds and try to bring them to good viewing and photo range. The lodges all had hummingbird feeders, banana feeders for tanagers and some had photo blinds with feeders for secretive birds.

Interestingly, many of the birds were confined to one slope or the other. Most of the Central American birds I was familiar with were on the Pacific (west) slope at Buenaventura. The birds on the east slope were mostly all new.

How is this for a hummingbird feeder? This monstrous feeder is actually a 12" flower pot saucer that they have rigged up in a metal ring. This was at Buenaventura.  They had 3 or 4 of these on the balcony and there were probably 100 hummers of various species flitting around and perching on the nearby branches.

Hummingbird Feeder - Buenaventura Reserve Ecuador

The Amazilia genus of midsized hummingbirds has numerous species with 2 in the USA (Buff-bellied and Violet-crowned). They typically have a partially red lower mandible and the sexes are similar. One bird is actually called the Amazilia Hummingbird (Amazilia amazilia). The bird was on the Pacific coast on the drive to Buenaventura the first day.

Amazilia Hummingbird
The cute Andean Emerald (Amazilia franciae) at Buenaventura is bright green above and snow white below.

Andean Emerald
The Glittering-throated Emerald (Amazilia fimbriata) was at Copalinga. He really did have a glittering throat!

Glittering-throated Emerald
The heliangelus genus of larger hummingbirds are called sunangels. They are in montane forests and often have short bills and forked tails. These were all at Tapichalaca. The male Flame-throated Sunangel (Heliangelus micraster) has a bright orange throat.
Flame-throated Sunangel - male

The Amethyst-throated Sunangel (Heliangelus amethysticollis) obviously has a pink-purplish throat. The female here just has a central purple patch.

Amesthyst-throated Sunangel - female
The Purple-throated Sunangel (Heliangelus viola) has a dark purple throat. But the female here just has a dull striped throat. They also have a blue crown.

Purple-throated Sunangel - female

Thorntails are hummingbirds in which the males have long thin extensions to their tails. I had seen the Green Thorntail (Discosura conversi) in Costa Rica but I needed better photos. There were literally a dozen birds all day long at the feeders at Buenaventura. They also have a white stripe across the lower back.

Green Thorntail - male
His cousin, the Wire-crested Thorntail (Discosura popelairii) was on the east slope at Copalinga. He has a spiky crest as well as a spiky tail.

Wire-crested Thorntail - male
Violetears are hummingbirds in the genus colibri. Colibri is also the Spanish word for hummingbird. The Brown Violetear (Colibri delphinae) I had seen before but needed better photos.There were several at the feeders at Buenavista. Interestingly, as I studied them, I noticed that the violet feathers on the sides of the neck would be flared out when another hummer approached, I guess as a warning not to come too close.

Brown Violetear
On the other slope at Copalinga was the Sparkling Violetear (Colibri coruscans).

Sparkling Violetear
The  male Golden-tailed Sapphire (Chrysuronia oenone) has a blue head and gold tail. This bird was at Copalinga.

Golden-tailed Sapphire - male

Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

photos copyright 2006 - 2015 David McDonald

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Sunday, September 20, 2015

Bulletin 235 - Costa Rica #13 - Hummers part 2

I started the Costa Rica bulletins with the hummingbirds part 1. I will end Costa Rica with hummingbirds part 2. They are certainly on of my favorite bird families.

The 5" White-necked Jacobin (Florisuga mellivora) is a widespread hummer from Mexico to Amazonia. The male is easily IDed by the blue head, pure white belly and tail and a white collar.

White-necked Jacobin - male
Another common hummer is the 4" Rufous-tailed Hummingbird (Amazilia tzacatl). It has a range from Mexico to Ecuador. This is all green with a beige belly and bright rufous tail.

Rufous-tailed Hummingbird

A Costa Rican endemic is the 3" Coppery-headed Emerald (Elvira cupriceps). Here is the female. She is green with white underparts. The male would have a copper colored crown.

Coppery-headed Emerald
The male 4" Crowned Woodnymph (Thalurania columbica) is a beautiful bird with a green gorget, purple belly and green back. It comes in 2 color morphs. This northern one has a purple crown. The southern birds have a green crown. They were considered separate species previously.

Crowned Woodnymph - male

The 5" Green-breasted Mango (Anthracothorax prevostii) is readily IDed like most mangoes by the central black stripe on the underparts. The female has white on either side of the black stripe. The male would be all green on the underparts.

Green-breasted Mango - female
The male 5" Green-crowned Brilliant (Heliodoxa jacula) is all green with a purple throat patch. The female is duller and lacks the purple patch.

Green-crowned Brilliant - male
I also saw the juvenile male of this species. He differs by having a rufous chin and stripe below eye.

Green-crowned Brilliant - juvenile male
There are 2 species of hummers of the selasphorus genus in Costa Rica, both resident in the mountains. This genus is well known in the USA by the Allen's, Rufous, Calliope and Broad-tailed Hummingbirds. So one would expect to see some rufous on the birds. The male 3 " Volcano Hummingbird (Selasphorus flammula) ahs a purple-red gorget with the rufous speckling on the flanks.

Volcano Hummingbird - male
The very similar 3" male Scintillant Hummingbird (Selasphorus scintilla) has an orange-red gorget. However, I just saw the female and she has a spotted throat, but the orange spots on the flanks indicate the genus.

Scintillant Hummingbird - female

The Green Thorntail (Discosura conversii) is a green hummer with a white band across the rump. The 4" male (not shown) has a long spiky tail. The female is just 3" and lacks the longer tail. She also has a white malar stripe.

Green Thorntail - female
The 5" male Magnificent Hummingbird (Eugenes fulgens) is well named. He has a purple crown, turquoise throat and green overall. Both the crown and gorget are iridescent and it is seldom that the angle is just right that they light up simultaneously, but I got him this time. This bird can also be found in SE Arizona.

Magnificent Hummingbird - male
Coquettes are tiny hummers in the genus lophornis. There are 10 species total and usually they have crests or plumes on the gorget. They are always on the 'wanted' list for birders. The 3" male Black-crested Coquette (Lophornis helenae) has black plumes on his crest and throat. His bill is red. It has a range from Mexico to Costa Rica and is in the mountains.

Black-crested Coquette - male
The last bird is probably the most amazingly colored hummer I have ever seen. The male 4" Fiery-throated Hummingbird (Panterpe insignis) is an endemic in Costa Rica and western Panama. It is found above 6000' in the mountains. I don't need to tell you how to ID this bird. See for yourself, there is nothing else like it. It is a monotypic genus.

Fiery-throated Hummingbird - male
Bird Families...I have grouped my photos online by country and/or trip report. I now have a substantial number of photos of birds in several of the families and I know sometimes you would just like to see more of them in 1 place.

So I have put together the first of these..the hummingbirds. There are 340+ species and I have now photos of 72. Click this link to take you to the gallery. Then you can hit ALL to see all the species or just click on the top left photo to  see the first photo and then click NEXT on the top or bottom right to scroll through. I have also put the scientific name and range of the bird below each photo. I will use the most colorful photo I have ...usually a male, but if I don't have that, then a female or juvenile.

Others in the works are tanagers, cardinals, woodpeckers, sandpipers etc. If you have a group you really like and and would like to see them, let me know. Currently I only have birds from the New World.

Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

photos copyright 2006 - 2015 David McDonald

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Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Bulletin 234 - Best of 10 years #7 - Owls

As most of you know, owls are my favorite birds as they have almost human like flat faces and forward looking eyes. So if you get just the right exposure and the bird is looking right at the camera, they have Mona Lisa eyes and seem to follow you around the room as you move.

I discovered this in 2007 with an owl, that I still consider my favorite bird photo all all time. It will be the last in this review.

One of the more unusual sighting of an owl for me was in Sarasota Florida. My wife and I had gone to the Botanical Gardens there because they had an orchid exhibit. After touring the exhibit, we left the green house and entered the grounds. Immediately we saw some people standing on the path staring at something. I didn't see anything and asked them. They said there was an owl roosting on a palm frond at eye level. Well sure enough a small owl was sleeping on the palm frond. Fortunately I had my camera in the car and retrieved it. It was an Eastern Screech-Owl.

Eastern Screech-Owl
2 of these owls I found on a trip to Duluth Minnesota in the dead of winter..traipsing through knee deep snow in below freezing temps. Yes, we birders can be crazy! The Northern Hawk-Owl was easily found as he perches on the tops of trees. Notice the very long tail on this owl.

Northern Hawk-Owl
The other was a Snowy Owl. This is a large pure white owl with yellow eyes of the arctic tundra. Juvenile birds like this one have some brown streaks. He also has a black paint splotch on the right side of his head, so he can be IDed out on the ice in the harbor.

Snowy Owl - immature
In the Rio Grande valley in Texas, there is a place that one can reliably find the Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl. It is at San Miguelito Ranch. It is the only sure place in the USA to find the bird but call ahead as in the blog note.

Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl
While I was at the San Miguelito Ranch, it was very windy and it allowed us to approach a barn with a sleeping Barn Owl leaning against a beam.

Barn Owl
The 27" Great Gray Owl is the largest owl in North America. It is a bird of the far north boreal woods. This one was along the Denali Highway on Alaska and was sitting on its nest. It is the only one of this species I have ever seen.

Great Gray Owl
The only tropical owls I have photographed well was this pair of 18" Spectacled Owls in Panama in 2014. The larger female is on the left.

Spectacled Owl - pair
In 2012 in California, my wife and I had a guide take us to see a roost of Long-eared Owls. These 15" owls roost communally in the winter. there were more than a dozen in a single tree. Here is one of them.

Long-eared Owl

The endangered Spotted Owl has dark eyes. This one was in Arizona.

Spotted Owl
Sometimes, I will get lucky and find a bird disheveled after a rain. This is a common owl known to everybody in North America, the 22" Great Horned Owl. It was at dusk in Galveston after an all day spring migration birding outing. I only had enough battery power for a couple of flashes and got this one with him staring at me. He sure is having a bad hair day.

Great Horned Owl
Finally my favorite bird photo ever, and another owl after a rain. This Burrowing Owl spent the winter at Fort Travis Park on Bolivar across from Galveston. I had photographed him many times between New Year's and early April when he left. I think this photo in my 16th month of doing bird photos made it into a passion for me.

Burrowing Owl
Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

photos copyright 2006 - 2015 David McDonald

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Sunday, August 30, 2015

Bulletin 233 - Costa Rica #12 - misc non passerines, blue morpho, bromeliad

The 16" Ringed Kingfisher (Megaceryle torquata) is the largest of the 6 species of New World kingfishers. This is a female with the blue band above the rufous on the breast. The male would have a solid rufous breast. This bird occasionally shows up in Texas.

Ringed Kingfisher - female
The 10" Spotted Wood-Quail (Odontophorus guttatus) is found in the mountains above 3000'. It is brown and covered with spots. The black throat and spots are diagnostic. 

Spotted Wood-Quail
Here is a head on view. It just looks like a ball with a small head.

Spotted Wood-Quail
The 30" Bare-throated Tiger-Heron (Tigrisoma mexicanum) was fishing in the river at La Selva.

Bare-throated Tiger-Heron
Tinamous are a small (47 species) family on New World birds that are plump with small heads and almost almost tailless They are terrestrail. They are exceeding difficult to even see as they creep through dense underbrush. I had seen only 2 before this trip. La Selva is one of the best places to see them and I saw all 3 species there, but only got photos of the 17" Great Tinamou (Tinamou major).

Great Tinamou
And a close up.

Great Tinamou
The 15" Gray-necked Wood-Rail (Aramides cajaneus) is a colorful easy to see rail of the forest. This one was at an artists (cope) house near La Selva. He has a nice set up for photography with a small pond. There was a pair of these rails resident with 2 chicks.

Gray-necked Wood-Rail - adult
The downy chicks were all legs and black and fluffy.

Gray-necked Wood-Rail - chick
I took many photos and as we were watching them, suddenly one of the chicks in the edge of the water started screaming.

Rail pair with chick #1
The parents sensed something was wrong. This next photo shows the chick with just his neck above the water.

Rail pair with chick #2

In the third of the series, just the top of his fluffy head is visible between the legs of the left adult.

Rail pair with chick #3

In the next one, his head is back above the water.

Rail pair with chick #4
As we were watching, the parents were really excited. Cope grabbed his rubber boots and put them on and waded across the pond and rescued the baby. I got a photo as he carried it back to our side of the pond. You can see his right leg has been bitten off below the knee. It must have been a snapping turtle that grabbed him and was pulling him under.

Baby rail with leg bitten off.
This unfortunate bird hopefully survived. I was unaware that I had the photos showing him being dragged under the water until I got home. It was just one of those moments when my camera was pointed in the right direction to record the action.

The 2.8" Blue Morpho butterfly (Morpho belenor) is well known to anyone who has been to the rain forest in middle America. The sudden iridescent blue as it opens its wings when flying is a sight you never forget. The outside of the wings is brown. I have tried to catch it with its wings open, but photographing a butterfly in flight is well nigh impossible. On this trip, I did get it landed, but it has its wings folded up, so just the brown outside shows.

Blue Morpho
Lastly was a stunning pink bromeliad called the Corpus Bromeliad. It was about 1 foot tall from the folded down leaved to the top of the cone. It is a native plant in Costa Rica.

Corpus Bromeliad

Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

photos copyright 2006 - 2015 David McDonald

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