Saturday, March 30, 2013

On Vacation with the Mays

This past week I've been hosting friends visiting from Germany. It's all been at a very relaxed pace compared to my usual birding tour routine, but we packed in quite a lot, and I'm sure they're plenty exhausted by now, on to their next adventure.

The connection is Christiane who was one floor above me in the student dorms in Freiburg, Germany when I was an exchange student there in 1990-91. This photo from this morning after coloring Easter eggs.

Since then, she married Matthias (they both had been exchange students themselves at University of Massachusetts in Amherst), had two kids, and they now travel during their vacations. These are Marvin (just graduated from high school) and Marcella.

None of the family is a birder, but I couldn't help myself. I called in a Canyon Wren (Schluchtzaunkönig) on their first day here in Tucson Mountain Park. We later spent 4 1/2 hours at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum where they enjoyed the whole thing, including the raptor free-flight demonstration.

They had rented a 30-foot RV, so we were limited where we might go, but national parks and national monuments are on every German's wishlist, so we went to Chiricahua National Monument; they were just barely within the size limit for the campground at Bonita Canyon. I tented next to their RV. We did a nice 3.6-mile hike through the picturesque rock formations, and I showed them Painted Redstart (Rotbrust-Waldsänger), Hairy and Arizona Woodpeckers (Haarspecht and Arizonaspecht), and Yellow-eyed Junco (Rotrückenjunko), among others. The evening after we got into our campsite we saw Whiskered Screech-Owl (Fleckeneule).

We also saw lots of Yarrow's Spiny-Lizards and Marcella spotted this group of White-nosed Coatis (Weißrüssel-Nasenbären) outside the RV window on the way up the road. Lucky Germans!

But these late sleepers weren't lucky enough to witness the covey of Montezuma Quail that strolled through the campground right past my tent at 7:00 a.m.

I used my imitation of the female whistle to get them to come in closer and got some video with my Canon Powershot G15 – here a link to the Youtube upload.

For our second night of camping we made it to the White Rock campground near Peña Blanca Lake, where I showed them Elf Owl (Elfenkauz). The next morning they were thrilled to see Northern Cardinal (Rotkardinal) and Vermilion Flycatcher (Rubintyrann) before we did something rather touristy (but very worthwhile): the Tumacacori Mission National Historic Park.

The fun is now over, I have to get back to work on upcoming travel and future tour plans.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Tucson Winter Garden Prospers – Sweet Carrots!

Thanks to my neighbors and landlords Paul and Irene who watered while I've been away leading tours, my winter garden is thriving. I'm eating turnips, mustard greens, chard, and broccoli by the pound daily now. I'm not sure I'm even keeping up with the growth. The mizuna (spinach-mustard) is done, having bolted while I was in Costa Rica, and is now taking its place at the bottom of the newly-turned compost heap. I've resown a few things – more mizuna, beets, turnips, mâche (Feldsalat, corn salad, lamb's lettuce), and endive. The sweet peas are taking their time to come to age (I suspect the inoculant I used wasn't their preferred species of bacterium), as are the nasturtiums. They'll either bloom while I'm away in Jamaica, Borneo, or Indonesia next month or sadly succumb to the heat and dryness that's destined to come. Daily watering is a chore (and expense) I can hardly expect of my landlords. So I'll enjoy it while I can and plan better for next winter's garden.

New today are the 10 young sweet basil plants that I transplanted from sickly but cheap starts at the local Sprouts grocery store. Maybe they'll love their new home and bring some pesto my way.

Here are the carrots I had with my homemade hummus for lunch today. This is truly a miraculous vegetable if you think about it – some of its close relatives are deadly poisonous. Yet look at this. They were tiny seeds sown just below the surface just less then 5 months (and three tours) ago.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Unidentified Costa Rica Moths

These are just the ones from my recent Costa Rica tour. You should see the huge set from the past 15 or so tours. In fact, here's the link: I'm slowly working on them in my abundantly misallocated time.

These are the geometers (again, inchworms; think of what that word actually means: "earth measure"). The third one down (with the Joan Collins shoulder pads) is actually a guess as to family; it very easily could be something else. There are lots of green ones that are hard to ID (generally called emeralds, though similarly looking ones might actually be in different subfamilies; most are geometrines). I thought the second one down was so distinctive to be an easy ID.  I was wrong. It's probably an ennomine, a vast, vast subfamily with probably as many species in this one subfamily as there are birds in the world. Before each photo I list the location.

La Selva Biological Station

Savegre Lodge (San Gerardo de Dota)

Savegre Lodge (San Gerardo de Dota)

Savegre Lodge (San Gerardo de Dota)

Braulio Carrillo National Park (Quebrada Gonzalez)

Savegre Lodge (San Gerardo de Dota)

These others probably represent a noctuid (an enormous family with thousands of photos to sift through), a notodontid (or another noctuid? – it is the largest family of moths, after all), and the white one is so odd that I have no idea what family it might be in. Probably noctuidae. I really like those huge antennae, built for sensing pheromones.

Savegre Lodge (San Gerardo de Dota)

Braulio Carrillo National Park (Quebrada Gonzalez)

Braulio Carrillo National Park (Quebrada Gonzalez)

Size Isn't Everything – More Costa Rican Moths

Some of the smaller moths can be quite beautiful, but you have to get a little closer to see the beauty. They can also be harder to identify, though there are more and more online resources to help you out. Consider that a single-site list anywhere in the tropics would number at least few thousand species. That makes it hard to narrow things down, especially since exact distributions and species limits are not well known.

Here are some I found names for:

This is the tiger moth Amastus aconia, at the Monteverde Cloudforest Preserve. It's not really all that small, but with few field marks in the wings.

But check out the body:

Another tiger moth, also at Monteverde, but this one I could only get to genus, Eucereon sp.
And check out the colors on its abdomen:

Getting names for anything in the huge family Geometridae (the inchworms) is difficult, but some of the larger, prettier ones are worth it. I thought this one particularly attractive, Patalene asychisaria on the bug sheet at La Selva Biological Station. It's apparently very widespread in Central and South America, but there are precious few photographs online.

This member of the family Bombycidae was also at La Selva. It is Quentalia numalia and may not count as a "small moth," as the family is closely related to the big and showy silk moths and sphinx months – but it is smaller than most of them and has few obvious field marks. The hind wings are folded up on the trailing edge, adding to the dead leaf appearance.

These next two in the family Crambidae truly are micromoths, but both are apparently common and well-known, judging from the number of online photographs. One even has a common name!
Asturodes fimbriauralis at Braulio Carrillo National Park

Diaphania hyalinata, Melonworm Moth at Bosque del Rio Tigre on the Osa Peninsula

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Some Fancy Costa Rica Moths

Some of the moths we saw on my Costa Rica tour these past couple of weeks were not only huge but also quite stunning. Perhaps the most spectacular was this Rothschildia orizaba, belonging to a famous genus of silk moths, recognizable by the translucent, hyaline windows in the wings. This one was on the side of the ticket office building at the Monteverde Preserve, which some of us visited at dawn on our last morning there. Common Bush-Tanagers were feeding on the smaller moths, and this one was safe from them, but I suspect the Blue-crowned Motmot had its eye on it for when the coast was clear.

This sphinx moth, Xylophanes staudingeri, was on the same building and was probably also destined to be motmot food.

Later in the tour we enjoyed the moths on the side of the administration building at Braulio Carrillo National Park while waiting for the all-morning rain to subside. I had seen this unusual-looking silk moth a couple other times in Costa Rica, so it must be quite common. It is Therinia transversaria, and rather resembles a geometrid.

One last silk moth, the readily-identifiable genus Automeris. We have just one common species in Arizona (A. cecrops) and a couple other scarcer ones, but the most of North America has just the famous Io Moth. They are usually perched closed like this, with the exact ID being almost impossible at this point, there being many tropical species.

Jim Brock showed me a trick years ago on my first trip to Brazil: put your finger tip at the point of a forewing and push it up to expose the hindwing. While many moths will panic in an evasive flight, silk moths will usually cling tight. The stunning hindwing pattern of this one helps narrow it down to Automeris banus.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

La Lora – The Parrot Snake

In mentioning the relative lack of snakes in my Costa Rica summary from yesterday, I totally forgot about our sighting of this gorgeous Parrot Snake (Leptophis ahaetulla) on our 4th day in the field. But no wonder – with so many birds and critters since then, it seems so very long ago. We were actually looking at the Glorious Blue-Skipper upstream from Bosque del Rio Tigre Lodge when Jane's sharp eyes wandered a few inches higher in the vine tangle and spotted this utterly motionless head sticking out. She would prove to have quite a knack for picking out hard-to-spot and overlooked birds too.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Heading Home from Costa Rica

I'm soon boarding my flight home from my 14th tour to Costa Rica – thirteen extraordinarily bird-filled days, with lots of other cool critters and plants. (Sadly, very few snakes, just one small Eyelash Pitviper and a very quick, unidentified racer.) I'm faced with going over hundreds of photos, but I really look forward to it – identifying the cool moths, getting the names of two passionflowers that I've never seen before, and sharing some fun experiences. I've posted a couple photos to Facebook, and some to the WINGS From the Field news. Here is just a tiny sampling of a few others:

A male Resplendent Queztal, for which we had to wait a while (and make two visits) near a known nest cavity. The female was more cooperative, but the male's long streamers (which are the upper tail coverts, covering the normal-length black tail), and scarlet red belly were well worth the wait

Black Guan in the gorgeous Costa Rican Oak forest below Cerro de la Muerte.

A male Slaty-tailed Trogon a few feet away, starting to excavate a nest cavity in a termite nest up in a tree. He would make a hovering sally at the nest, dig with his bill for a few seconds, and then land nearby (with the female supervising overhead), and occasionally wipe his bill to remove the termites clinging to his rictal bristles. This was at Bosque del Rio Tigre on the Osa Peninsula.

A Glorious Blue Skipper, Paches loxus, also at Bosque del Rio Tigre. This has to be one of the most beautiful skippers, most of which are various shades of brown.

This is a male Violet-crowned Woodnymph at El Tapir gardens below Braulio Carrillo National Park. We saw four Snowcaps here as well (photos at Facebook and WINGS website), and it was interesting to see one deftly evade a very territorial woodnymph who just couldn't fly or maneuver as fast. The Snowcap merely rose above the other hummer whenever it tried to chase it away and then he would continue to feed at the porterweed nearby, as if he were daring the woodnymph to just try.