Tuesday, January 16, 2018

2017 In Review: Sani Lodge, Ecuador in August

After my Costa Rica tour I flew home, repacked and spent just one night in my bed, then early the next morning headed to the airport for my flights to Ecuador. I had agreed to be a substitute leader for Steve Howell who had to cancel for health reasons, and all the participants of the tour were committed to doing the tour even without Steve. The tour fell exactly between my tours in Costa Rica and Oregon, and just last October I spent two weeks there. I was also the only WINGS tour leader available, so it only made sense for me to cancel my plans for the break (which included birding and camping with friends from Oregon as well as volunteering for the Tucson Birding and Nature Festival), and do everyone a favor (and earn some money).

My “From the Field” submission was brief:

“There may not be any pronounced dry season on the Equator in the Amazon Basin, but if there was one week-long dry spell this year, we found it. It was typically hot as usual in the tropics, but that was an even tradeoff for not being forced to take off any time due to rain. It was a wonderful week that passed by all too quickly, filled with great birds and some incredible tropical diversity in the way of lizards fighting on trees, killer mushrooms invading insect brains, and a very friendly and almost even loving Amazon Tree Boa (…of which I neglected to get a photo).

“We saw some marvelous birds at the canopy platform, such as a perched Orange-breasted Falcon and Yellow-billed Nunbirds, while along the various trails elusive species such as Collared Puffbird, Wire-tailed Manakin, and Black-faced Antbird performed well. Super delightful were the several boat rides on the lake (cocha) and stream (yacu), where rare kingfishers such as American Pygmy and Green-and-rufous were ridiculously abundant and easy to see. But we didn’t have to go far from our rooms (or the lodge’s bar) to enjoy some of the best birding in the area – all of the following photos were taken right around the lodge’s buildings.”

American Pygmy-Kingfisher

Hoatzin

Masked Crimson Tanager

Scarlet-crowned Barbet

White-eared Jacamar

The following video is a montage of more things we saw right near the lodge, from the boat, the dock, and the bar.

This pair of Tropical Screech-Owls roosted in the same place every day by the dock.

But of course in a week’s tour one sees so much more. We took boat rides on the oxbow and narrow streams, hiked trails, and climbed the to canopy platform at least twice.

This Collared Puffbird appeared for us on our very last morning’s walk on the trail system behind the lodge.

I had to get some video that shows the typical puffbird behavior – very staid, but alert and constantly puffing up its feathers.

The best bird from the tower was spotted by one of the participants who simply asked “what is this bird?” By far this is the best view I have ever had of an Orange-breasted Falcon, the rarest falcon in the Americas. (I saw one perched more distantly in May 2001 in Bolivia, and had one fly over a gap in tall forest in N Brazil two years ago.)

But in general, my participants had little patience or interest for anything that wasn’t a large, colorful, tropical bird. My first hint this might be the case was when I gasped in excitement at this beautiful Arctiine moth on the shore of the Napo River when we arrived, and not a single person bothered to pause or lift their binoculars. (At least they were all really nice people who I otherwise enjoyed getting to know.) I’m sure this moth is not rare, but I haven’t managed to find a picture match or name for it.

I found two of the less showy members of the tribe Morphini, usually known for the several species of big blue, showy butterflies usually called “blue morpho.”

Caerois chorinaeus

Antirrhea philoctetes

The flooded stands of the giant aroid Montrichardia linifera along the streams are the reliable habitat for the stunning metalmark Helicopis cupido.

This kite-swallowtail Protesilaus glaucolaus was on the bank of the Napo when we departed, but I had to sneak in photos while everyone waited.

Herps seemed to be slightly more interesting to the participants, especially this Brilliant-thighed Poison Frog, Allobates femoralis.

This Anolis transversalis was on a tree as we returned form the tower.

Night walks weren’t of that much interest to the group, and I found this treefrog Boana geographica on of my solo night wanderings.

This Pristimantis limoncochensis was a lucky find on one of the more distant trails.

For me, this treerunner Plica umbra was one of the more thrilling finds, just down the trail from our lodge as we were returning one morning.

I wanted to stay to watch this most dramatic (and very rarely seen) encounter to see what happened, but everyone was quite visibly bored with the whole thing and after just a few moments wandered off down the trail. I should have stayed to watch the end of it.

Bugs were yet another thing – most of the participants had no interest in or even were quite vocal in their dislike for insects or other invertebrates. Two of them nearly upturned the entire dinner table when an utterly harmless insect was attracted to the lights and landed nearby. Even then I managed photo of a few amazing critters during breaks in the birding and on my night walks. This peanut-headed bug, Fulgora laternaria is usually a huge crowd-pleaser, but not with this group.


This is a rich area for odonates, most of which I don’t know. Thanks to the Facebook group dedicated to Neotropical Odonata, I learned that this damselfly is Aeolagrion inca.

I took close-ups of three harvestmen I found on the trail one evening. They are surprisingly beautiful up close.



Here’s another thing I know very little about: spiders. I know enough to know that most don’t weave a typical web, and some have some amazing ways of catching their prey, such as the bola spiders. I think what I’m seeing here are similar lines of silk hanging like traps from the underside of leaves, with blobs of sticky liquid silk near the ends. I never did find the spider responsible for them.

Some of my group did join me for one night walk, and they were super lucky to see this mouse opossum Marmosops noctivagus, the ID confirmed by mammalogist and tour leader Fiona Reid, a Facebook friend of mine.

The plants were lovely and interesting at Sani Lodge. This is Aphelandra aurantiaca, a member of Acanthaceae, and a genus known for some fancy house plants.

Nautilocalyx lucianii is in Gesneriaceae, another houseplant family most famous for the African violet and gloxinias.

I know this cauliflorous tree is in the legume family, but I don’t know what it is yet – it was common along many of the trails and just starting to bloom.


Finally, here is a spectacular flower if you like odd plants: Ombrophytum peruvianum. It lacks chlorophyll and is a root parasite in the family Balanophoraceae.

Friday, January 5, 2018

2017 in Review: Costa Rica In Summer

I had a busy latter half of 2017 and didn't blog regularly, so I'll be posting highlights by sharing the "From The Field" reports I submit to WINGS for their website.

Costa Rica in July was the perfect getaway from the summer heat to enjoy an amazing selection of tropical species in an agreeable climate. We had nearly perfect weather throughout, beginning and ending with refreshingly cool elevations. There were so many wonderful experiences with the birds we saw, there was no outstanding favorite. Great Tinamous singing their haunting songs (audible from our rooms), Snowcaps darting amongst the porterweed flowers, a Crested Owl called into view at Celeste Mountain Lodge, and adorable Pied Puffbirds near Maquenque received high votes. This exquisitely cute Central American Pygmy-Owl took the prize with the most votes on the tour, but just barely.

We had one of the most unexpected birds of the tour within the first hour of birding and just down the street from our San José area hotel when a juvenile Bicolored Hawk flew in and landed for extended views.

In the Cerro de la Muerte Highlands, we soon connected with several Resplendent Quetzals, getting our best views right from our rooms.

The recently split Northern Emerald-Toucanet was one of the highlights we came across in our quest for the quetzal.

The hummingbirds at Rancho Naturalista were tops, including both Black-crested and the very rare White-crested Coquette, as well as the incomparable Snowcaps. Our time in Tortuguero National Park began with a wonderful night boat ride on the canals where we our capitán showed off his skills at spotting many roosting birds, including a juvenile Rufescent Tiger-Heron and this sleeping American Pygmy-Kingfisher.

There was nothing wrong with the one morning downpour we waited out at Tortuguero, especially when the clearing of the skies was coupled with a Black-and-white Hawk-Eagle leaving the park’s forest for its morning soar. The weather held out for our memorable viewing of a Green Sea Turtle laying eggs in her laboriously excavated nest that same night. One of the most-viewed and liked videos I ever posted to Facebook was of this Bare-throated Tiger-Heron going into its “sun salutation” pose from the roof of the boat dock at our jungle lodge.




And thanks to our boatman’s amazing vision we were able to see a handsome Black-and-white Owl on its day roost.

Maquenque Lodge’s dining hall was a great place to get your fill of gaudily plumaged birds, such as Purple Gallinules feeding chicks just below the building or like this Crimson-collared Tanager at the bananas.

The tour was so much more than just birds – the moths at Rancho Naturalista were out of this world, with a the huge and gorgeous silk moth Copaxa rufinans the highlight.

We didn’t see many snakes, but the most memorable encounter was a tiny Cope's Vine Snake gingerly threading its way through the vegetation at Tenorio National Park.


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And finally, this mother and her baby Hoffmann's Two-toed Sloth were spotted by our driver, who was birding with us for the morning.

The video of them cuddling was also one of my most watched videos:

Saturday, December 30, 2017

A Hoyer Christmas

Christmas Bird Counts weren’t the end of my 12 days in Florida. Of course there was some cooking to be done for Christmas – I made two pies, both from Cook’s Illustrated: Lemon Mousse Pie and Pecan Pie.


And there was time spent with family, which included several card games. These are my niece Nicole, her son Aiden, me, my sister-in-law Michelle, and my brother Randy, 8 1/2 years older than me.

There was yard work to do on their five acres, which suffered several downed trees from Hurricane Irma in late September. Randy is nearly done burning all the wood.

I didn’t do any yard work thanks to Randy for not asking! I did dabble a bit in natural history exploration in the yard. They had several Cuban Treefrogs, Osteopilus septentrionalis (introduced) roosting in their eaves (I counted nine, quite variable in appearance).



Male and female Northern Cardinals were in the brushy area across the street.


A Red-tailed Hawk pair has a territory in the neighborhood – this species is well outnumbered by Red-shouldered Hawks in Florida.

I heard distant Sandhill Cranes a couple of times, but once a pair flew right over the yard.

The day after Christmas, my brother joined me for a walk around Pop Ash Creek Preserve, a bit of protected county land just down the street from their yard.

It’s a little over 300 acres of some native wet prairie and some highly disturbed areas, including scrapes that fill up and form lakes.

One of the best aspects of the property is the huge amount of invasive exotic removal the county has undertaken. Nearly all plants were native and it was full of birds – we saw 44 species on our short walk, including many warblers, gnatcatchers, vireos, wrens, and water birds. We pished in several Pine Warblers, but this particular female came in unusually close.

We flushed three Black-crowned Night-Herons among many other species of herons and egrets.

This was the only White Ibis today.

American Alligators, Alligator mississippiensis are here as well.

This is the Florida endemic Peninsular Cooter, Pseudemys peninsularis.

There were lots of plants I didn’t recognize. This bromeliad I remembered from Myakka River State Park, though – Tillandsia utriculata, unusual among the genus in being semelparous (like agaves, it blooms once after several years of vegetative growth, then dies).

This is a yellow-eyed grass, Xyris sp., one of 3 or 4 very similar species in Xyridaceae, a new family for me – in the same order as grasses, sedges, rushes, and cattails, among others.

This is Savannah False Pimpernel, Lindernia grandiflora, in Linderniaceae, one of the several families shaken out of the old Scrophulariaceae, the only one I hadn’t encountered before.

This mallow is Melochia spicata, given the ridiculous English name Bretonica Peluda, which isn’t English in form, origin, or any other way, and in using an old genus as a noun is blatantly inappropriate in any event. Calling it Spiked Melochia would be just fine if coining an actual English name for the genus were too much work, but I’m getting on a soapbox here.

I recognized this in the dayflower family (Commelinaceae), and it turns out to be the one invasive exotic that probably isn’t eradicatable given its size, the tiny Asiatic Dewflower, Murdannia spirata.

We then drove down the road a short ways to Nall Grade Park, also owned by Lee County, but mostly usurped by invasive exotics (and an archery club). As a result we saw shockingly few birds.

One that stood out was this Carolina Wren, which preferred some of the native plants along the stream.

In the stream were several fish, and the one I photographed turned out to be an invasive exotic from Africa, Jewel Cichlid, Hemichromis guttatus.

This ground cover Mimosa sp. is most certainly exotic.

Even this dragonfly Scarlet Skimmer, Crocothemis servilia is introduced, from Asia.

But the worst invasive, and surely the cause of so few birds, is this abundant Brazilian Pepper, Schinus terebinthifolius. A few birds eat the berries, but it chokes out all the native understory plants which would provide much more in the way of complex structure and arthropod diversity, which is the food that so many birds depend on.


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I’m now headed to Cristalino Jungle Lodge for four weeks (where there is surprisingly good internet), followed by my northern Peru tour, so these next weeks will be a good time to catch up and summarize my trips in the latter half of 2017.