Monday, September 4, 2017

An Arizona Private Tour for the Forsyths

This past July I agreed to lead conservationist Sharon Forsyth on a five-day private birding tour in Arizona – five days sandwiched between my tours to Brazil and Costa Rica with only two days’ cushion on either side. Sharon had birded here only once or twice before; I had met her on a day-long field trip I led here for the American Bird Conservancy board, on which Sharon sits, a year and a half ago (I blogged a bit about it here). This was her second attempt to find a gap in my schedule to do a tour in Arizona, and we’re both very glad it worked out.

Sharon cajoled her husband Adrian to join her for three of the five days, and it was a real treat for me to sneak in some natural history observations with such a well-known tropical ecologist. He’s also a pretty good birder.

We started in Florida Canyon where we easily caught up with one of the breeding Rufous-capped Warblers. Adrian was more fascinated with all the net-winged beetles and other insects on this Dasylirion wheeleri, Sotol flower spike. It seems there’s virtually nothing known about the pollination ecology of this plant. It’s said to be wind-pollinated, but the numbers of insects on this spike suggest it might be more complicated than that.

It’s early in the monsoon, but things are starting to get green and insects are already abundant. This robber fly Diogmites sallei, Salle's Hanging Thief, was one of the more common insects flushed at our feet.

I imitated owls to bring in this Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet very close.

We then visited Montosa Canyon on the west side of the Santa Ritas. In the large culvert there I found this Ascalapha odorata, Black Witch. This moth does not breed in Arizona but is found here only as a stray dispersing from Mexico.

The next morning we visited California Gulch. We had intended on trying for Buff-collared Nightjar, but we left later than I had planned, and debris on the road from last night’s monsoon storms slowed us down, and we arrived too late. But timing was perfect for Five-striped Sparrow, a main target.

I was surprised to see this Passiflora arizonica, Arizona Passionflower already in full bloom, since the rains had only started a few days earlier. It was getting a head start, predicting some more rain no doubt.

After losing three hours getting a tire replaced and another patched at the Walmart in Nogales, we continued to the Sycamore Canyon east of there in the Patagonia Mountains. First we stopped on the road for this crossing Aphonopelma chalcodes, Desert Blond Tarantula.

Turning over some debris I found this Vaejovis spinigerus, Stripe-tailed Scorpion.

This area had received a bit more rain, and fungi were up everywhere. This puffball is an Astraeus sp.

This huge and gorgeous flower is Ipomoea longifolia, Pinkthroat Morning-glory.

Our main birding target here was the resident pair of Spotted Owls, and we found a pair of them.

We then spent a couple nights at the delightful Casa de San Pedro, finding this Terrapene ornata, Ornate Box Turtle on the entrance road nearby.

From our base in Hereford, we visited several canyons in the Huachuca Mountains. Our main target at the Reef Townsite campground was this Tufted Flycatcher, one of two pair now breeding in these mountains, an unprecedented range expansion that began two years ago.

When Adrian left us for meetings back East, Sharon and I hiked into upper Ramsey Canyon, where we were successful finding the single male Flame-colored Tanager.

Sharon and I then spent our last night at Portal where Mexican Chickadee was our primary target, which we relatively easily found. But there were so many other interesting critters there. In one drainage were several damselflies, Argia plana, Springwater Dancer.

This tachinid fly is easily recognized as Adejeania vexatrix.

A classic shot of the handsome Pterourus multicaudata, Two-tailed Swallowtail.

We had been remarking about the utter lack of snakes on our trip so far when I spotted this Salvadora grahamiae, Eastern Patch-nosed Snake, stretched out across the road on our way back to Tucson.


I then had just two days back at home before I departed for Costa Rica.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

My First Time to Iguazú Falls

To finalize my Brazil tour blog from this past June-July, I’ll just post some photos from our extension to Iguazú Falls. The whole tour group from the Marvelous Mato Grosso tour signed up for the extension, which made the logistics a bit easier than if there had been multiple departure times from the Cuiabá airport. We flew as a group from there to São Paulo, and then from there to Foz do Iguaçu, the city on the Brazilian side of the border. But for the better access to habitats and viewing of the falls we transferred by bus to our hotel near the town on the Argentinean side of the border called Puerto Iguazú.

Since I had never been there before, WINGS hired Argentinean birder and biologist Julian Quillien Vidóz to be our local guide. I had birded with him in one day Bolivia eight years ago, just as he was beginning his guiding career, so it was a real treat to bird with him again.

We made the most of our mid-afternoon arrival at the town of Puerto Iguazú, first finding this Buff-bellied Puffbird behind the hotel, my first of four lifebirds.

In a short check of the hotel’s garden, we found Ochre-collared Piculet and Ruby-crowned Tanager (even seeing the difficult ruby crown spot). Then at the well-known Jardín de Picaflores in town we saw Black Jacobin, Swallow-tailed Hummingbird, Planalto Hermit, Violet-capped Woodnymph, Versicolored Emerald, White-throated Hummingbird, while Chestnut-bellied Euphonia briefly visited the bananas and a Blue Dacnis insisted on visiting only the bright pink hummingbird feeders for quite the clash. This hummingbird didn’t quite fit any of the possible species here, and I presume it’s a hybrid Versicolored Emerald x White-throated Hummingbird.

Mixed flock activity was high during our morning along the 101 road that crosses the national park, both in terms of numbers of birds and where in the trees they were. Creamy-bellied Gnatcatcher was the best find (and another lifer for me), though it was hard to pin down in the tree tops, while Green-headed Tanager and Surucua Trogon were a little more cooperative. Even better was an Ochre-breasted Foliage-gleaner that came down much lower for great views. It was quite cool in the morning (being mid-winter here, and only subtropical in latitude), but the sun warmed things up to the mid 70’s F, and butterflies soon became easier to observe than the birds. This region is famous for its abundant butterflies, at least in summer. I photographed just a few. This skipper I recognized from my first trip to Brazil, a very long time ago: Trina geometrina, Geometrina Skipper.

I was surprised how many species of eighty-eights are here. This one is Diaethria candrena, Candrena Eighty-eight.

The left of these two eighty eights is harder to identify than I had first assumed and leave it to genus, Diaethria sp. The one on the right is Callicore pygas, Pygas Eighty-eight.

This stunner is Doxocopa laurentia, Turquoise Emperor.

I know a few hairstreaks in the genus Arawacus, all black and white striped, so I was surprised to find that this one was in the same genus – Arawacus meliboeus, Meliboeus Stripestreak.

The sisters are very difficult to identify, but I think I got this one down to Adelpha melona pseudarete, Melona Sister.

Birds in the national park were acclimated to throngs of people (though we were thankful to be there in the low season, with fewer tourists than normal), making them quite fearless. By the entrance we pished in quite a mob that included several common birds, such as this Rufous Hornero.

A pair of Great Kiskadees joined the melee.

Red-crested Finch doesn’t always show its crest so well as when it thinks there’s a Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl to be harassed.

We got close looks at splendid White-bearded Manakins, Golden-crowned Warblers, and a pair of Riverbank Warblers, while Toco Toucans were nearly as easy to see on the boardwalk to the falls. The flight of Great Dusky Swifts came too late for us to see them at the falls but it was still amazing to see probably well over a hundred of them heading towards the falls during and after our relaxed walk and train ride back.

This Magpie Tanager was one of a pair that showed no fear on the walk to the lower waterfalls.

These Plush-crested Jays were used to getting handouts from the tourists that took the little passenger train to and from the main falls viewing site.

It was about a kilometer walk on a boardwalk to the main waterfalls, and it crossed several small islands in the river which had habitat for birds. Along the walk was this Tropical Parula.

This Boat-billed Flycatcher provides a nice contrast to the Great Kiskadees from earlier.

As we departed the national park, an utterly fearless Southern Lapwing stood on the paved walkway near the ticket booths and posed for portraits.

Our final morning of birding was at Urugua-í National Park, which began with a very lucky sighting of Black-fronted Piping-Guans on some riverside rocks below the bridge by the guard station. On the trail system we caught up with a confiding Scale-throated Hermit, Sepia-capped Flycatcher, and the distinctively yellow Southern Bristle-Tyrant (another lifer; like a big and yellow Eared Pygmy-Tyrant, which was also there). We made a quick stop en route and scored quickly with Gray-throated Warbler-Finch (my fourth and final lifer) and the appropriately named Araucaria Tit-Spinetail. This Blond-crested Woodpecker was one of the day’s highlights from the provincial park.

We then finished up the afternoon birding near the hotel with a distant Black-and-white Hawk-Eagle in flight (amazingly, our second of the tour and the only hawk-eagle species we saw, even though it’s the rarest of the trio) and a pair of Rufous-capped Motmots.

We did try for owls, but there was little activity, save for a heard Solitary Tinamou that whistled just once. It was quite chilly, but that didn’t stop me from finding a moth, which had an unusual enough wing shape that I correctly guessed that it was in the family Uraniidae, related to the day-flying swallowtail moths in the genus Urania. This is probably in the genus Psamathia, but the genera Nedusia and Syngria are similar.


The tour’s official birding ended with a short walk near the hotel where Plain-winged Woodcreeper, Southern Antpipit, and a gorgeous male Spot-backed Antshrike popped up into view for an appropriate grande finale. On the road by our hotel was this big and fancy hairstreak Theritas lisus, Lisus Hairstreak.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

WINGS Marvelous Mato Grosso Tour: Deep in the Heart of the Pantanal – Jaguars and More

On my tour in late June, we made several stops on the Transpantaneira Highway on the way south from our lodge at Pouso Alegre to Porto Jofre. We spent most of our time in the late afternoon close Porto Jofre, and then birded much of the morning on it as we headed back north three days later. We saw many species only on these drives, the standout being this rare White-naped Xenopsaris.

This rusty-tinged Grayish Saltator was not typical; perhaps it was stained from having taken a recent dust bath?

There are probably lots of butterflies here during and immediately after the rainy season, from December through April, but it’s been weeks since the last rain, a couple of cold fronts have passed through already, and we haven’t seen very much diversity. This is the widespread Strymon astiocha, Gray-spotted Scrub-Hairstreak.

Close to our Porto Jofre hotel were several of these gorgeous day-flying moths Hypocrita plagifera.

On one night drive we stopped for this tarantula species, for which I haven’t yet found a name.

One of the most ubiquitous birds in the Pantanal is the Yellow-billed Cardinal – seen around ranch buildings, in roadside hedgerows, and along the rivers during our boat trips.

Other additions along the Transpantaneira were a difficult-to-find Subtropical Doradito, adorable Little Cuckoos, a single Striped Cuckoo, our only White-tailed Goldenthroat (making this one of very few tours ever to see both goldenthroats), a Sungrebe swimming along at one bridge, and an American Pygmy-Kingfisher that came in very close in the bushes right below the birders. Other favorites mentioned from there were the strange Southern Screamers, a Great Horned Owl hooting during the day in the mango grove, very close Striated Herons, multitudes of Limpkins, a super colorful pair of Orange-backed Troupials, a cooperative Fawn-breasted Wren in a dense vine tangle, a flock of Nacunda Nighthawks, handsome Rusty-collared Seedeaters in roadside grasses, a White-rumped Monjita foraging from the power lines, and this White-wedged Piculet twitching incessantly on a branch overhead.

At Porto Jofre, we were again greeted by numerous Hyacinth Macaws on the grounds, providing for endless entertainment, but most of the excitement was on the boat rides up river, where we explored the curixos (creeks and oxbows) of Charlie’s, Negro, and Ilha, as well as the Tres Irmãos River tributary of the Cuiabá. On the first morning we interrupted our first stop for birding on the main river by following up on a radio report of jaguars up the Tres Irmãos. In less than an hour after setting out from the hotel we were already looking at our first jaguars, the mother-daughter pair of Ginger and Amber. It was still rather dark for good photos, and they soon disappeared into the brush, but were elated and looked forward to a more relaxed morning of birding from the boat, with maybe just a chance of seeing another jaguar. Amber is on the left, Ginger is on right.

I had our boatman take us up Charlie’s Creek, where we enjoyed good views of duetting Black-capped Donacobiuses, our first of many very nice Rufescent Tiger-Herons, and Ashy-headed Greenlet when we spotted another Jaguar, which we later learned was Carly, famous for climbing trees and dropping into the water to catch the abundant yet wary Yacare Caiman. We stayed with her for over an hour in hope of witnessing such a feat before we moved on to find more birds.

We took two more boat trips up river, the same afternoon and the following later morning, seeing two more individual Jaguars – Salima and Hunter – as well as a repeat viewing of Carly about 1.2 kilometers from where we had seen her earlier. Here’s Carly, on one of her favorite elevated perches later that same day.

Hunter we watched for only about 5 minutes before she did a quick left-hook leap into the partially submerged grass below the bank and caught a small caiman right in front of us. The entire maneuver was way to brief to get a photo.

Salima was on the main channel of the Rio Cuiabá as we headed back to Porto Jofre for the last time.

Some of the birds we enjoyed as we boated to and from the jaguar areas were on the sand bars. Here is Black Skimmer, one here in a typical resting posture.

Large-billed Tern.

Yellow-billed Tern.

Black-capped Donacobius is interesting enough to see as they forage and flit in the riverside vegetation, but it’s a marvel to see a pair duet – they bow, wag their tails, and inflate their neck sacs.

We also had Orange-backed Troupial, Crimson-crested Woodpecker, and a family group of White Woodpeckers frequented the narrow gallery forests. An amazing sight as we boated back at sunset was a flock of about 40 Snail Kites drifting over the river on the way to their communal roost, while at the same time countless Band-tailed Nighthawks and both Greater and Lesser Bulldog Bats emerged from their daytime hiding places to forage over the river. Of course in addition to the birds, we enjoyed the many Capybaras and even a few Giant Otters (one enjoying a personal spa treatment), as well as Green Iguanas basking on the riverbanks. We saw several Black-collared Hawks, but almost always as individuals; three on one branch was unusual.

Here are two of the Giant Otters.

As we departed our Porto Jofre hotel, Southern Caracara, Great Black Hawk, and Bare-faced Curassow consorted on the private airstrip.

We made a few stops on the way back north, but this Scarlet-headed Blackbird was undoubtedly the best bird.

Our final morning of birding in the Pantanal was on the grounds of Pousada Piuval in the much drier northern edge of the region. Highlights included couple of Greater Rheas right outside the yard, Pale-crested Woodpeckers along the driveway, and many new birds on the loop trail though the “cordilheira” forest, including Streak-necked Tody-Tyrant, Gray-headed Tanager, Olivaceous Woodcreeper (of the Bolivian viridis subspecies), Crane Hawk, an uncommon Dull-capped Attila, and Crimson-crested Woodpecker (surprisingly numerous, including a pair excavating a nest).

With a final sighting of Guira Cuckoos along the driveway we bid farewell to the Pantanal and