Sunday, November 23, 2014

Bulletin 208 - Dominican Republic #1 Todies, Hawks, Falcons, Pigeons

I had a week birding in the Dominican Republic with Tody Tours. This company is owned by a retired ex -Bostonian, Kate Wallace, who has lived on the island for 20 years. She was the first person to organize bird tours in Dominican Republic and is the local guide for several international tour groups. She has several local guides to take you around. I spent most of the time with Ivan Mota who is excellent, knows his birds and really tries to bring in the birds. He also has his own tour company.

The Dominican Republic is the eastern 2/3 of the island of Hispaniola, sharing it with Haiti to the west. Hispaniola's area is 29,000 square miles. It is 2/3 size of Cuba, but much larger than Jamaica (4200 sq miles) and Puerto Rico (3500 sq miles). Together, these 4 islands make up the Greater Antilles group. The island is tectonic in origin, not volcanic like many Lesser Antilles, so earthquakes are a hazard like the major quake that hit Haiti several years ago. There are 3 mountain ranges on Hispaniola and they include the 2 largest peaks in the Caribbean (10,000 and 9,300 feet).
There are several rivers and lakes on the island. 2 of the lakes are below sea level and are saline. Both Haiti and Dominican Republic have a population of about 10 million each

Hispaniola has the most endemic birds (32) of any island in the Caribbean. These include 5 tanagers, and 2 each of parrots, cuckoos, nightjars, woodpeckers, todies, crows, warblers and finches. I was able to photograph 19 of them and saw or heard several others.

The todies are a 5 species family of birds in the Greater Antilles. Hispaniola has 2 endemic species and the other islands have 1 each. The Broad-billed Tody (Todus subulatus) is 4.5" in length. It has a bright green back, red throat and flanks and grayish belly. The lower mandible is entirely red.

Broad-billed Tody

His cousin, the Narrow-billed Tody (Todus angustirostris) is slightly smaller (4.25") but similar coloration except the lower mandible has a black tip. Also, their voices are different.

Narrow-billed Tody

There are 4 resident species of hawks and falcons, as well as several migrants. The American Kestrel (Falco sparverius) is common and we saw several. Here are a pair on a tree top. The male is above with the gray wings. Notice how little streaking there is on the belly. In USA, the birds are heavily streaked.

American Kestrel

The Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) as its name suggests is a common resident in the Caribbean from the Bahamas to St. Kitts and Nevis. It is also the most common hawk in North America. This was the only bird I saw on the trip. His red tail is clearly visible.

Red-tailed Hawk

The third is the Sharp-shinned Hawk. I saw one of those but didn't get a good photo. The last resident hawk is the endemic Ridgway's Hawk (Buteo ridgwayi). I was really pleased to see and photograph this bird on my last day. It is listed as the rarest hawk in the world with about 100 breeding pairs in Los Haitises National Park. The Peregrine Fund has set up a captive breeding program in the last few years and is reintroducing the birds on another location on the island. So far, it has not been particularly successful.

Ridgway's Hawk
The next bird was a lifer for me. Quail-Doves are a group of doves that are ground dwellers and very shy. They are very hard to even see, as they walk or fly off when they see somebody. There are 3 species of Quail-Doves on Hispaniola, Key West Quail-Dove, Ruddy Quail-Dove and the endemic White-fronted Quail-Dove. I saw the first 2 and managed a photo of the Key West Quail-Dove (Geotrygon chrysia). This bird is found from the Bahamas to Puerto Rico and as its name suggests, it is a vagrant to the Florida keys. It has a green head and neck with a horizontal white line through the cheek. The back is reddish and the underparts gray. The sexes are similar.

Key West Quail-Dove

The Common Ground-Dove (Columbina passerina) is the only small (6.5") dove in the Caribbean. It is also found from the southern USA to northern South America.

Common Ground-Dove
Other pigeons on Hispaniola include the White-Crowned Pigeon (Columba leucocephala).These birds nest in the mangroves along the coast and feed inland on fruit and berries. They can be found from south Florida through the Caribbean and Central America. As I already had a photo of this bird from Florida, we didn't look for it.

The Scaly-naped Pigeon (Columba squamosa) is found in most of the Caribbean except Jamaica and Bahamas. It lives in mountain forests and we saw several fly overs, but none landed. Here is a photo I took of this bird in Puerto Rico.

Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

Lisa Kelly-McDonald

photos copyright 2006 - 2014 David McDonald

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Sunday, October 26, 2014

Bulletin 207 - fall birds

I have found some interesting birds the past few weekends. As you may recall, several months ago I featured the Common Nighthawk (Chordeiles minor) in both male and female plumages. They are very common at Anahuac NWR and one can easily see a dozen or more. In the Sibley bird guide, he also shows a juvenile plumaged bird which he lists as being found from July to September. He didn't point out the differences, and I studied the photos for a long time before I saw that the juvenile has white tips on the primary wing feathers. So I looked for a juvie at Anahuac and never saw one.

On Oct 12, I found this bird at LaFitte's Cove on Galveston. He has the white tips!

Common Nighthawk - juvenile
Another juvie was a male Belted Kingfisher (Ceryle alcyon). These birds tend to be skittish and when you try to approach them for a photo, they fly away. I saw this one on a post in a canal and stopped the car and took the photo out the window. The juveniles have a mahogany brown breast band, that gradually molts to blue the first fall. This one is partially molted.

Belted Kingfisher - juvenile male
One of the rarer warblers in Houston is the Mourning Warbler (Geothlypis philadelphia). I have probably seen it fewer than 5 times in 25 years here. I got my only photos in Michigan last summer. Here is a first winter plumaged bird at LaFitte's Cove on Oct 19th. Because it was the first juvenile plumaged bird, I wasn't sure what the ID was. Several experts confirmed it. The grayish hood is discernible and along with the dark breast band points to either Mourning or Connecticut, but the yellow throat is the field mark for Mourning.

Mourning warbler - 1st winter
The black streaky breast band is seen better in this photo. There is also a partial white eye ring which is lacking in the adults to add to the confusion. This is the first juvenile I have ever seen, and without a photo to review afterwards, I would not have known which bird it was.

Mourning warbler - 1st winter

Another juvenile was a Cooper's Hawk (Accipiter cooperii) who flew in and landed overhead at LaFitte's Cove. He was so close, I couldn't get the whole bird in the photo.

Cooper's Hawk - juvenile
 The last photo is of a skink I saw at the drip in Lafitte's Cove. It is a Broad-headed Skink juvenile. It is very colorful with orange head and blue and purple tail. The ID was made by a Texas reptile expert. When birds are slow, I photo other nature. This was a life reptile for me.

Broad-headed Skink - juvenile
 Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

Lisa Kelly-McDonald

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

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Sunday, September 28, 2014

Bulletin 206 - Panama #13

Parrots are the another special bird. Everyone wants to see them, especially the macaws. However, as anyone who as actually done birdwatching in the tropics can tell you, they are difficult to see perched. Flyovers are very common. Despite the fact that there are 22 parrot species in the Panama bird book, we got photos of only 3. The sexes are similar.

The first was a distant photo of the Blue-headed Parrot (Pionus menstruus). This 9.5" parrot was perched at the top of a bare tree. Fortunately we were on a 100' canopy tower, so able to get him at eye level, but he was still about 100 feet from us.. He is green with a blue head and red undertail. Also this genus, pionus, is noted for their deep wing beats when flying. Most other parrots have very shallow wing beats.

Blue-headed Parrot

The other 2 species were parakeets. These birds have long pointed tails, unlike the parrots which have square tails. The first was the Brown-throated Parakeet (Eupsittula pertinax). This is a 9" green parakeet with brown cheeks and throat. There is an orange patch under the eyes that is helps with the ID.

Brown-throated Parakeet

This bird has a more yellow than orange patch. Maybe a juvenile?

Brown-throated Parakeet

The small (6.5") Orange-chinned Parakeet (Brotogeris jugularis) gave us the best photos of any parrot on the trip when several came to a feeder. His colors are almost iridescent. And like many birds, the name of the bird is a field mark that is almost never seen because it is so small. However, his orange chin can be seen in the photo. The brown shoulders are the best ID mark. This is the most common parakeet in Panama.

Orange-chinned Parakeet

We also photographed 3 species of swallows. The first is the Gray-breasted Martin (Progne chalybea). This 6.5" swallow has a bluish back, white chin and gray breast. It has a moderate length forked tail.

Gray-breasted Martin

The tiny (4.5") Mangrove Swallow (Tachycineta albilinea) is similar to our Tree Swallow, but has a white rump. here is a frontal view showing the blue-green back and the snow white underparts.

Mangrove Swallow

Here he is turned around to show the white rump.

Mangrove Swallow

Lastly is the 5" Southern Rough-winged Swallow (Stelgidopteryx ruficollis). It is brown-backed and has a cinnamon throat.. The underparts are light. This may be a juvenile with the rusty flanks and white edging on the wing feathers.

Southern Rough-winged Swallow
We saw several warblers, some of them were our familiar birds that were wintering in Panama. Among these were Black-and-white, and Chestnut-sided (most common one we saw). Here Lisa got a photo of a male American Redstart (Setophaga ruticilla) with his black and orange coloration.

American Redstart - male
Photo by Lisa Kelly-McDonald
The Rufous-capped Warbler (Basileuterus rufifrons) is an occasional visitor to southeast Arizona. It is a skulker in the brush. It is yellow underneath and greenish above with a bright rufous cap and cheek.

Rufous-capped Warbler
Photo by Lisa Kelly-McDonald
Most surprising to me was that I caught a glimpse of a Golden-winged Warbler (Vermivora chrysoptera) and snapped a single photo. This bird has been a nemesis bird for me to photograph in the USA. It migrates through east Texas spring and fall but I have had only a couple of photos in 8 years. Also, I missed it last summer in Michigan on its breeding grounds. It is listed as a fairly common winter bird in Panama. It is IDed by the golden crown and wing patch and black facial pattern.

Golden-winged Warbler
Greenlets are members of the vireo family. The only one found was a Scrub Greenlet (Hylophilus flavipes). It is olive above, yellow below and is best IDed by the pink bill and pale eye.

Scrub Greenlet
Photo by Lisa Kelly-McDonald
We saw only a single member of the manakin family. This is a 52 member family of small fruit-eating songbirds in the neotropics. You may have seen videos of the courtship routine of these birds in which several related males will perform an elaborate dance routine to attract a mate. The males are brightly colored and the females are usually dull olive. The Blue-crowned Manakin (Pipra coronata) is a tiny (3") bird. The male is black with a blue crown and the female is bright green. We saw only the female, but she was close and sat still until we got some photos.

Blue-crowned Manakin - female
A common distinctive neotropical bird is the Masked Tityra (Tityra semifasciata). It is a medium-sized (7.5") mostly white bird with black on the face and wings. The bill is red and it has red periorbital skin.

Masked Tityra - male

The female has a brownish wash to the head body.

Masked Tityra - female
The last bird is called a tanager, but it is actually in the sparrow family. The Common Bush-Tanager (Chlorospingus ophthalmicus) is a 5" bird with a dark head and distinctive white spot behind the eye. The back is olive and the underparts yellow.

Common Bush-Tanager

Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

Lisa Kelly-McDonald

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

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Monday, September 1, 2014

Bulletin 205 - Summer birds

Summer tends to be the doldrums here in Southeast Texas - hot, humid and lots of biting insects. However, there are always a few good birds to find and photograph. It is also the time to see the babies and juveniles of our local nesting birds.

I had 2 notable birds at the house this summer. The first was the 14" Mississippi Kite (Ictinia mississipiensis). I have seen them flying over the house 2-3 times in spring or fall migration in 18 years. However, in June and July, Lisa and I noticed a pair of adults flying low over the trees several times weekly. I was sure that they must have a nest close by. Sure enough in mid-August I found a juvenile in a pine tree on our property. One can see the wing-tips extending beyond the tail which is an ID mark for this long-winged raptor.

Mississippi Kite - juvenile
The other good bird was a pair of male Eastern Bluebirds (Sialia sialis). One morning I was leaving for work and the pair was sitting on a car parked in the driveway and flitted to the bird bath. I stoppped my car to watch and one landed on my drivers side mirror! I tried to roll down the window to take a photo with my phone, but he flew off. I phoned Lisa and she came out to take some pictures. This is just the 5th time I have had this bird in my yard.

Eastern Bluebird - male
Photo by Lisa Kelly-McDonald
Both of these has the bird on the car mirror!

Eastern Bluebird - male
Photo by Lisa Kelly-McDonald
I went to Anahuac NWR several times over the summer to look for the marsh birds and waders. The baby Black-bellied Whistling-Duck (Dendrocygna autumnalis) has a striped head. Here is an adult with baby.

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck with duckling
This pair had 13 juveniles following behind!

Black-bellied Whistling Duck family
I found a nest of Green Herons (Butorides virescens). The 2 babies have a punk rock haircut.

Green Heron babies
I watched this Neotropic Cormorant catch a catfish in the canal and manipulate it around to swallow it. He was almost at my feet as I took this out the car window. He appears to be displaying his catch proudly.

Neotropic Cormorant with catch of the day

The Purple Gallinule (Porphyrula martinica) is considered by many people to be the most beautiful bird in the USA. There seemed to be more of them this year than at any other time in 20 years. I saw 12 - 15 adults on each visit. Normally, the adults are seen singly, but on one trip, I saw a pair together and stopped to photograph them from the car, and to my amazement, they started copulating. It was all over in 5-10 seconds, so I was extremely lucky to get a photo.

Purple Gallinules copulating

Moments afterwards, the male preened the female's head and neck.

Purple Gallinules

With so many birds to see, I got the best photos I have ever taken of the adult. Here is one preening after taking a bath.

Purple Gallinule

And here is another on a yellow bush showing the beautiful colors of his head and neck. This is uncropped. He was so close, I couldn't get the whole bird in the photo.

Purple Gallinule

The babies are cute little black fuzzballs.

Purple Gallinule - chick

As they get bigger, they molt into the juvenile plumage of warm beige back and white underparts. Here is one partially molted with still fuzzy black on head and neck. The wing feathers are just starting to grow.

Purple Gallinule molting from chick to juvenile

And here is another close up. This is the first time I have seen these partially molted plumaged birds.

Purple Gallinule molting from chick to juvenile

The juvenile plumage is here and the wings show bluish tinge.

Purple Gallinule - juvenile

Last weekend at Anahuac, I found this light morph plumaged Swainson's Hawk (Buteo swainsoni). He was sitting on a fence post eating his catch. This was my first photo ever of this species at eye-level, and my first of this color morph perched. What a beautiful bird. This bird is a migrant through east Texas.

Swainson's Hawk - light morph adult

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.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Bulletin 204 - Panama #12 - Tanagers

The Tanagers are a large (370 species) diverse family (Thraupidae) of colorful new world birds, especially in the genus tangara. They are most common in the tropics. Some of the species inhabit offshore islnds besides the Caribbean Islands. The so-called Darwin Finches of the Galapagos Islands are in this family. As well, I saw at least one of them is on the Falklands Island chain off Argentina. What is more surprising is there are 4 endemic species in the Tristan da Cuhna archipelago in the South Atlantic Ocean. These islands are 2100 miles from South America.

The familar birds in North America called tanagers (scarlet, summer, western, hepatic) are no longer in this family, but were moved to the cardinal family. Also, another that we photographed in Panama is now moved to the sparrow family and we will see it in a later bulletin.

Not all tanagers are brightly colored as we saw with the Puerto Rican Tanager last year. I will start with the dull ones and work to the more colorful. The sexes are similar unless noted.

The Plain-colored Tanager (Tangara inornata) is a 4.5" plain gray bird with dark wings and a blue shoulder patch that is usually hidden when the bird is perched. One can just get a peek at the blue shoulder patch in this photo.

Plain-colored Tanager
The Palm Tanager (Thraupis palmarum) is a 6" pale gray bird with a yellowish wash on the head and neck.

Palm Tanager
Photo by Lisa Kelly-McDonald
Several of the tanagers were black with some white on the wings. The White-lined Tanager (Tachyphonus rufus) is 6.5" long. The male is black with a fine white line on the shoulder. You can just see a few white dots in the photo. One almost would think this is some member of the blackbird (icterid) family.

White-lined Tanager - male
Photo by Lisa Kelly-McDonald
As the Latin name suggests, the female is rufous colored and lacks the line on the shoulder and to my mind is prettier.

White-lined Tanager - female
The White-shouldered Tanager (Tachyphonus luctuosus) is smaller (5"). It is all black with a wide white shoulder patch.

White-shouldered Tanager
The Sulphur-rumped Tanager (Heterospingus rubrifrons) is a 6" overall gray bird with white tufts at sides of breast that are visible at the wing edge. The sulphur rump is usually only visible in flight.

Sulphur-rumped Tanager
 A moment later he flew to another branch and fluffed his feathers, showing the rump color.

Sulphur-rumped Tanager
The very similar Flame-rumped Tanager (Ramphocelus flammigerus) is 6.5" long. The male is black with the bright yellow rump. Lisa got the only photo of this male.

Flame-rumped Tanager - male
Photo by Lisa-Kelly-McDonald

The female is olive with yellow underparts and rump. She responded to the tape and posed nicely. He never showed up.

Flame-rumped Tanager - female
One can see with all these similar colored birds, why using a guide is essential for me.

Seedeaters are a single genus, sporophila, with 33 species in Latin America. They are also included in the tanager family. We photographed 3 species.

As these are  tiny 3.5" to 4" somewhat plain birds, I will just give you the link to the photos as this bulletin is very long anyway.

The Variable Seedeater (Sporophila americana) is 4". The male is black with a white rump and belly. The female is dull ochre.

The Ruddy-breasted Seedeater (Sporophils minuta) is 3.5". The male is brown with a ruddy underparts. The female is plain brown.

The Yellow-bellied Seedeater (Sporophila nigricollis) is also 4". The male has a black face and throat, olive back and yellowish belly. The female is plain brown.

The 3.5" Yellow-faced Grassquit (Tiaris olivaceus) is an olive bird with the male showing black and yellow facial pattern. I had photographed this species in Texas in 2011 when one showed up near Corpus Christi on the Texas coast.

Yellow-faced Grassquit - male

The female lacks the black and has just a little yellow on the face.

Yellow-faced Grassquit - female
The Blue-gray Tanager (Thraupis episcopus) is a common bird throughout Mexico and Central America. Surprisingly, I never saw it on this trip and I was surprised to see Lisa got a photo of one when I was looking through her photos for this bulletin. It is pale gray with bright blue wings and tail.

Blue-gray Tanager
Photo by Lisa Kelly-McDonald
The male Blue Dacnis (Dacnis cayana) is a small (4.5") turquoise bird with a black back, red eye and pink legs. We didn't see the female, but she is green.

Blue Dacnis - male

A close relative is the Red-legged Honeycreeper (Cyanerpes cyaneus). The breeding male of this small (4.5") species is royal blue with a turquoise crown, black wings, tail and back, and bright red legs. The female and non breeding males are dull greenish. Fortunately we saw the glorious breeding plumaged male.

Red-legged Honeycreeper - breeding male

Another day we saw a tree full of pink blossoms and these birds were feasting on the nectar.

Red-legged Honeycreeper - breeding male
Lisa first spotted this next bird, the male Green Honeycreeper (Chlorophanes spiza). He just glows with his coloration of bright green with a black head and yellow bill. He is also 4.5" in length.

Green Honeycreeper - male
Photo by Lisa Kelly-McDonald
The female is all bright green, but not iridescent like the male.

Green Honeycreeper - female
The Crimson-backed Tanager (Ramphocelus dimidiatus) is a common garden bird that we saw everyday. The male is stunning crimson with black wings and tail and silver lower mandible. I would sure love to have this bird coming to feeders in my yard!

Crimson-backed Tanager - male

The female is duller, but still crazy colored. I think she is prettier than any female bird in the USA or Canada.

Crimson-backed Tanager - female
Now for the 4 tangara genus tanagers. They are considered the most colorful of the tanagers. However, if you go back to the beginning, the Plain-colored Tanager is also a tangara. Maybe he is incorrectly labelled or else the exception that proves the rule. Mostly they occur in mountains above 1000 foot elevation.

The last morning we went into a park on the mountain top that connects parks on the Pacific slope to those on the Atlantic slope. It was windy, cold, foggy and raining. We saw 2 tangara species.

This is the 5" Bay-headed Tanager (Tangara gyrola) . The picture is fuzzy, but for me it is a special bird. It is on the cover of the Costa Rica bird book, and was the first bird I saw in Costa Rica in my 1994 trip. I yelled out to the group "There's the bird on the cover!" I was so excited to see it so soon. It has turquoise underparts, green back and chestnut head.

Bay-headed Tanager
The Emerald Tanager (Tangara florida) is 4.5" long.. They are bright green with a squarish black patch behind the ear. Also, the crown and rump are yellow.

Emerald Tanager
The 5" Silver-throated Tanager (Tangara icterocephala) is mostly bright yellow, with greenish wings and tail and back stripes on the back. The throat is silver.

Silver-throated Tanager
Photo by Lisa Kelly-McDonald
Lastly is the 4.5" Golden-hooded Tanager (Tangara larvata). It has blue on the face, wings and rump, black on back and chest and a golden hood.

Golden-hooded Tanager
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.