Friday, April 21, 2017

Red-fronted Rosefinch!

From our brutal 1000-meter vertical ascent towards Thorung La pass yesterday.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

A Brief Note From Upper Mustang, Nepal

My friend Mich Coker and I have just spent the past five days in the internet-free world of the Upper Mustang Valley, ranging from Jomsom in the south to the Tibetan border north of Lo-Manthang. We've seen so many great birds and mammals, traveling by jeep on some days and hiking a total of about 45 miles in rugged terrain, almost entirely over 3800 m elevation, and even reaching 4600 m. I'll attach two photos to this iPhone post: Blanford's Snowfinch from the Tibetan Plateau and a typical scenery shot from the high desert through which we trekked.

We have two more days of trekking on the N edge of the über-popular Annapurna Circuit based in Muktinath (hence the Internet connection).

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Tigers at Bardia National Park

I’ve been in Nepal on my usual busman’s holiday for a week now, and already I’ve seen 13 lifers and some amazing animals. Less than 24 hours after I arrived, my friend Mich and I flew to the small but bustling town of Nepalgunj, and late afternoon on the next day we were watching a Tiger.

We’re now headed to the Mustang Valley for a 10-day trek, so when I get back I’ll post more here. Stay tuned.


Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Peru Summary – Abra Patricia and the Rio Mayo Valley

I'm going to cheat a bit for this blog post, pasting in the summary I wrote for the WINGS website's "From the Field" section, one of the many post-tour chores I have to complete whenever I get home.

Our tour to northern Peru’s cloud forests of Abra Patricia and the Alto Mayo Valley was full of exciting and beautiful birds. We saw over 350 species in nine days, many of them with exceedingly small world ranges and drenched with colors. It helped that there are now eight hummingbird feeding stations on our route, and we tallied at least 45 species of these jewels, including such scarce and little known species as Koepcke’s Hermit, Blue-fronted Lancebill, Greenish Puffleg, and Rufous-vented Whitetip. One of our main targets was the unbelievable (even when you actually see it) Marvelous Spatuletail, which was already at the feeders when we walked up to them.
Marvelous Spatuletail

The big bully and most abundant hummingbird at a couple of the stations, including at our lodging at Abra Patricia, was the nonetheless stunningly attractive Chestnut-breasted Coronet.
Chestnut-breasted Coronet

One of the feeding stations also has a brilliantly engineered blind with a hopper that delivers grain, and we were the lucky group one day to witness the arrival of a covey of Rufous-breasted Wood-Quail.
Rufous-breasted Wood-Quail

One of the most attractive birds with a limited range in Peru is the Yellow-scarfed Tanager, never a guarantee, and we were lucky to have a few on one day, including one on our hotel grounds.
Yellow-scarfed Tanager

The much more widespread and common Paradise Tanager never ceases to attract attention.
Paradise Tanager

We heard a few Golden-headed Quetzals before one came into view for a most memorable encounter.
Golden-headed Quetzal

Even drab birds were part of the tour’s experience, such as a Sulphur-bellied Tyrant-Manakin on a nest, perhaps still undescribed.
Sulphur-bellied Tyrant-Manakin

The odd Oilbird is always a highlight of this tour, given that we view them from a small bridge on the main highway, perhaps the most accessible breeding colony in the world.
Oilbird

We were awash with blooming orchids, many of them fragrant, and the huge, recently described Phragmipedium kovachii was simply spectacular, described as the most important orchid discovery in the past 100 years.
Phragmipedium kovachii

The lights at the owlet lodge drew our attention every evening and early morning with a bewildering diversity of moths, beetles, and other invertebrates; this Rothschildia aricia silk moth was by far the most spectacular.
Rothschildia aricia

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

A Paradise Eagle Quetzal


With three back-to-back tours that spanned three continents, I haven’t had much time to post to my blog. I plan to get caught up this week. The photo montage above very quickly sums up where I’ve been – with all three photos above having been taken within a single four-week period.

Paradise Tanager – on my tour to northern Peru: The Cloud Forests of the Rio Mayo and Abra Patricia

Steller’s Sea-Eagle – on a one-week private tour to Hokkaido, Japan

Replendent Quetzal – on my just completed tour to Costa Rica

More soon!

Friday, February 17, 2017

Baja California: A Final Morning in Todos Santos

There are just a few photos from the relaxed, final few hours of morning birding on my WINGS tour to the Cape Region of Baja California. The tour officially ended around noon with our arrival at the San José del Cabo airport.

We actually had one outing after our late afternoon arrival the day before, after the long drive from Puerto San Carlos. With memories of the whales still fresh on our minds, we walked down to the beach to watch the release of hatchling Green Sea Turtles by a team of volunteers who collect the eggs and incubate them safely from the many predators and people who use the beach. They eventually released somewhere around 60 hatchlings at dusk this evening.

While waiting for the volunteers to get the last turtles from their nests, we watched the sun set and noticed a fascinating tail-slapping display of a Humpback Whale, perhaps a mile out at sea. I was able to get it in the scope, as the animal “stood” on its head for at least ten minutes, slapping the water aggressively back and forth with each side of its flukes without pause. This is likely part of a mating display, perhaps aggressive, but no one really knows.

We stayed at the Serendipity Bed & Breakfast, a delightful place that everyone opined would be a nice place to stay for a few days. I agree, and it would be fun to really scour the region for vagrants, but we had pretty much run out of expected bird species to add to our list, and that would just make the tour more expensive. Sigh.

We did add White-crowned Sparrow (the interior western subspecies oriantha), Brewer’s Sparrow, and California Quail, as well as had more enjoyable views of Scott’s Oriole, Hooded Orioles, Lark Sparrows, and Costa’s Hummingbirds, among others. This Hyptis laniflora, Woolly Desert-Lavender, endemic to Baja California Sur, was the primary food for the Costa’s Hummingbirds.

This bushy composite, forming shrubs taller than me, is Bahiopsis tomentosa, Felt-leaved Goldeneye, and is endemic to the Cape Region.

We saw several Northern Mockingbirds every day of the tour – the deserts here apparently offer plenty of food and the right structure.

The mockingbird is perched on this fascinating shrub, which might be a food source. It is Stegnosperma halimifolium, Sonoran Stegnosperma, in the strange and small family Stegnospermataceae. Although there are specimens of this species from Caborca, Sonora, less than 100 km from the Arizona border, there are no members of this family here.

It was starting to get warmer, and more butterflies were around. This is the very widespread Pyrisitia lisa, Little Yellow.


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I saw a few of these every day of the tour (unlike the dozens in previous years), but usually only in flight as I was driving. This is the first one we had perch in front of the group where we could see the lovely colors. It’s the endemic subspecies Myscelia cyananthe streckeri, Blackened Bluewing.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Baja California: Puerto San Carlos and Bahia Magadlena

My WINGS tour to Baja California’s Cape Region includes a boat trip on Bahia Magdalena, leaving from Puerto San Carlos west of Ciudad Constitucion. This is about a 4-hour drive from La Paz, and on our way we made a stop in the unique desert of the Magdalena Plain.

One of the most distinctive features one notices in this type of desert are the lichens growing on everything. Fog is common here at any time of year, though rains are infrequent and unpredictable.


This is Lophocereus schottii, Senita Cactus, which barely makes it into the U.S. at Organpipe Cactus National Monument.
Lophocereus schottii, Senita Cactus

I was especially hoping to find a patch of the cactus Stenocereus eruca, the Creeping Devil, endemic to this particular area. I had seen it a couple years ago on a side road we didn’t have time to check this year, and back then I didn’t realize how local an endemic it is. We couldn’t find it, unfortunately. But the plants, birds, and animals here were good. A pair of Harris's Hawks let us approach quite closely.
Harris's Hawk

This male Costa's Hummingbird appeared out of nowhere, seemed to choose a perch to check us out for a minute, then zoomed off.
Costa's Hummingbird

When I saw this lizard run on the sand and hide under a bush, I assumed it had to be the drab local subspecies of Zebra-tailed Lizard, but Brian Eagar explained to me that it’s a female of the extremely variable Uta stansburiana, Side-blotched Lizard – despite the lack of a blotch.
Uta stansburiana, Side-blotched Lizard

About 15 km before we reached the coastline of Magdalena Bay we started seeing Ospreys on their nests on transmission line pylons as well as on the many platforms erected for them. There is an active nest every few hundred meters after this. I’d be surprised if there were a denser breeding population anywhere else in the world.
Osprey

This pond  just before Puerto San Carlos is a roost for many ibises, herons, and egrets, and we watched about 100 birds come in at sunset, including an impressive total of 14 Reddish Egrets.

This is also where we finally got good views of this Ridgway's Rail, a recent split from Clapper Rail. The Baja California Sur endemic subspecies here is Rallus obsoletus beldingi, which supposedly looks different or has different measurements from the subspecies in California, Arizona, mainland Mexico.
Ridgway's Rail, Rallus obsoletus beldingi

The main purpose of our big detour this far north is to take a whale watching trip on Bahia Magdalena. The day started with thin low-level fog, the first time I’ve seen that here. But it burned off very quickly, and the nearly perfectly still air (one reason for the fog) resulted in a gorgeous, nearly flat and mirror-like sea.


We saw whales – at one point one could scan a 90° swath ahead and see about 15 whale spouts in the distance. As we got closer to the main area of activity, we had very good views of several whales and their flukes: Eschrichtius robustus, the Gray Whale.
Eschrichtius robustus, Gray Whale

After about an hour of waiting (and never aggressively approaching any), we found ourselves next to what appeared to be a mating orgy, with three or four individuals flailing about. In this one shot, you can even the see the penis of one whale as he rolls on his back.
Eschrichtius robustus, Gray Whale

There was some exciting birding too. Before we even got to the whales, I directed José, our pilot to motor towards a group of plunge-diving Brown Pelicans. As we got closer, I noticed several Black-vented Shearwaters amongst the group, the first I have seen in the bay. I quickly made sure my group could see them, then tried getting some photos, vaguely aware that there were some small dolphins in part of the feeding frenzy. To my surprise, I got not only an in-focus photo of one of the shearwaters in flight (not very easy with the Canon PowerShot type cameras), but also an identifiable shot of what turned out to be a Delphinus capensis, Long-beaked Common Dolphin.
Black-vented Shearwater, Delphinus capensis, Long-beaked Common Dolphin

On our way back to port we came across a resting group of Black-vented Shearwaters, allowing excellent views.
Black-vented Shearwater

Out of nowhere came a Pomarine Jaeger, which briefly chased one of the shearwaters and then quickly vanished to the south. One of my participants got much better photos than this – this is more typical of the kind of photo I can get of a bird in flight with this camera.
Pomarine Jaeger

José paused to show us several of these young Urobatis halleri, Round Stingrays, common in the shallower parts of the bay.
Urobatis halleri, Round Stingray


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With only a few effortless flaps and no wind, this Brown Pelican skimmed the surface of the water and passed us.
Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus