Monday, May 11, 2009

North American Migration Count in Southern Lincoln County, Oregon

Yesterday I had a fun day birding with friends on the southern Lincoln County, Oregon coast. The impetus was the North American Migration Count, where observers all over the country submit their birding results from the second weekend in May to a county coordinator. Forrest Rowland had offered to cover southern Lincoln County, and I offered to help out if he could deliver me to my dad's house in Corvallis for my five-day visit before my Oregon in Spring tour.

Graham Floyd joined us for the day, and our friends Daniel Farrar and Lydia Cruz joined us for the first part of the day. We actually first started birded at the south jetty of the Siuslaw River in order for Daniel and Lydia to catch up with us. There weren't many birds here, but it was a good place to whistle in Forrest's lifer Wrentit.

We next made a productive stop just past Sea Lion Caves, even though this was still Lane County. Since Forrest had never been to the Oregon coast, this was a must-see location, and besides, he needed his lifer Rhinoceros Auklets, which breed here.

Displaying Brandt's Cormorants and a couple of Common Murres below Highway 101 at Sea Lion Head/Heceta Head Lookout.

A Double-crested Cormorant there in breeding plumage was unusual.

After a seawatch at Yachats (photo at top), we headed inland along Yachats River Road and then returned via Cummins Ridge Road and Cape Perpetua.

Forest habitat along Cummins Ridge Road, with Golden-crowned Kinglet, Hermit Warbler, Winter Wren, Wilson's Warbler.

Mylitta Crescent

The View from Cape Perpetua after a marine layer had moved in. It would have been a stunning view earlier in the morning.

After completing the Beaver Creek Marsh loop we drove to Corvallis on Hwy 34 up the Alsea River from Waldport. We made a few stops along the river while still in Lincoln County, seeing Common Merganser and an American Dipper. The most exciting find, however was a suface-foraging Coast Mole, Scapanus orarius.

Coast Mole.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Hoyer's Voyeurs

Hoyer's Voyeurs Big Day Summary for the Tucson Audubon Society Bird-a-thon
May 7, 2009, with Rich Hoyer, Mich Coker, and Greg Corman

The Hoyer’s Voyeurs bird-a-thon team spied 169 species on our two-county, 17.5-hour big day attempt on May 7, 2009. This was not an all-out Big Day of the classic sort; rather we started at 2:00 instead of midnight; we stopped at dark instead of continuing to a brain-dead state; and we limited ourselves to just Pima and Santa Cruz counties. Furthermore, route planning was done solely using the internet resources eBird and the archives of the AZ-NM Mexico e-mail list, no field scouting being possible with our busy schedules. But we operated as a big day, rushing from spot to spot, sticking to our time schedule, making no breaks for meals. And of course, our prior experience doing big days was a major guide.

Predictably, our first bird was Northern Mockingbird, singing all over Tucson this time of year, and we rushed up to the upper elevations of the Santa Catalina Mountains for several night birds. In two hours and 25 minutes we were departing the mountains with eight night birds including both screech-owls, Spotted Owl, and fabulous views of a Flammulated Owl, a lifebird for 2 of us.

We picked off all the expected species as we sped along the freeways on our way to Madera Canyon, with number 25 being a Northern Cardinal on the power line in Continental. The fruiting mulberry in Continental provided our only Cedar Waxwings and gobs of other species. One half-hour later, on our first stop in Madera Canyon, Mexican Jays escorted us past the fifty-species mark. And 25 minutes later we jetted past 75 species with a calling Hammond’s Flycatcher at Madera Kubo, where the gorgeous male Flame-colored Tanager out-sang and outshined everything else in the canyon.

A quick stop above the upper parking areas added a few birds such as Hermit Warbler and singing Hermit Thrush, but Elegant Trogon did not call after a 10-minute wait. Opting to stick to our schedule, we decided against a hike up the Vault Mine Trail and thus regrettably passed up our only chance for the trogon. On top of that, it seems we were too early (by maybe only a day or two) for Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher.

After the cooperative Crissal Thrasher and a lucky find of MacGillivray’s Warbler at Tumacacori, a White-faced Ibis south of there became our 100th species just before 9:00 in the morning. A sane birder would have been happy with that number and headed home for a needed nap. But we were only four sevenths of the way through our hoped-for bird list.

Either our birding stops on the I-19 corridor were quicker than expected or maybe our driving was slightly madder than the Google Maps directions suggested, and we arrived at the Patagonia Roadside Rest a full half hour early. We got Thick-billed Kingbird almost immediately, but there was no sign of the Five-striped Sparrow reported a couple days earlier, nor Pacific-slope Flycatcher. We passed the 125 species mark with an Abert’s Towhee just before arriving at the Paton’s backyard, where a latish Green-tailed Towhee, an earlyish Blue Grosbeak and an Indigo Bunting were bonus birds on top of the expected Violet-crowned Hummingbird.

With the extra time to play with, we gambled with a couple of detours, first to a stake-out Zone-tailed Hawk up Harshaw Creek road (success) and then a failed attempt to find Horned Lark, Cassin’s Sparrow, and Loggerhead Shrike in the Sonoita Grasslands. This is where some advance scouting would have helped. But with little effort we were able to snag Say’s Phoebe and Grasshopper Sparrow right in Sonoita, and with those we made a beeline for Summerhaven.

In mid-afternoon, while it was 100°F in Tucson, Marshall Gulch was utterly delightful. And the thirteen new species that it provided, such as Red Crossbill and Magnificent Hummingbird, made it hard to tear ourselves away from here. But then a slowing of success as we descended the Catalina Highway also ate up time as we tried for a few remaining high elevation species. Eventually we had to give up on Greater Pewee and Golden-crowned Kinglet, with one last stop below Babad Do’ag providing Black-tailed Gnatcatcher then Gilded Flicker, our 150th species at 5:08 p.m. With sunset just 2 hours away, and the slow drive through Tucson during rush hour ahead of us, our chances for making our goal of 175 was looking distant but also distinctly possible. We still hadn’t seen Cooper’s Hawk or either of the large falcons, and we were going to have to trust our luck with any lingering water birds at Sweetwater Wetlands. Could we possibly find 25 new species there? If the reported dowitchers, some tired sandpipers, both species of cormorants, Green Heron, Peregrine Falcon and a couple of migrants like Nashville Warbler would cooperate, it was indeed possible.

Passing through Tucson, Cooper’s Hawk finally made an appearance as one flew behind the car along Tanque Verde Drive, but nothing new showed up before we had Burrowing Owl then our first Killdeer upon arrival only 10 minutes behind schedule at Sweetwater. We scanned every edge, scoped every distant puddle, glanced at every grackle and swallow and thoroughly worked the place. Finally, after a full hour there, we saw Bank Swallows and then Lesser Nightawk, our final two of 18 new species from this great birding location.

Looking back, it was the lack water birds that did us in. We did amazingly well with night birds (missing only Barn Owl and Northern Saw-whet Owl), migrants were good (we could have lucked into Pacific-slope Flycatcher, Olive-sided Flycatcher, or Nashville Warbler, but got lucky with things like Green-tailed Towhee, MacGillivray’s Warbler, and Swainson’s Thrush). But had the Snowy and Cattle Egrets at Amado been there, the Great Egret at Sweetwater, and then just perhaps a Ring-necked Duck or Gadwall and a couple of sandpipers such as Long-billed Dowitcher and Western Sandpiper, we would have nailed our goal. But 169 wasn’t so shabby, and with such satisfying views of Flammulated Owl and Flame-colored Tanager, and the knowledge that we helped Tucson Audubon Society in its most important fundraiser of the year, we had a fantastic day of birding.

Bird List

1 Black-bellied Whistling-Duck
2 Mallard
3 Blue-winged Teal
4 Northern Shoveler
5 Green-winged Teal
6 Ruddy Duck
7 Wild Turkey
8 Gambel's Quail
9 Montezuma Quail
10 Eared Grebe
11 Neotropic Cormorant
12 Double-crested Cormorant
13 Great Blue Heron
14 Black-crowned Night-Heron
15 White-faced Ibis
16 Black Vulture
17 Turkey Vulture
18 Cooper's Hawk
19 Gray Hawk
20 Harris's Hawk
21 Swainson's Hawk
22 Zone-tailed Hawk
23 Red-tailed Hawk
24 American Kestrel
25 Sora
26 Common Moorhen
27 American Coot
28 Killdeer
29 Black-necked Stilt
30 American Avocet
31 Spotted Sandpiper
32 Least Sandpiper
33 Wilson's Phalarope
34 Rock Pigeon
35 Eurasian Collared-Dove
36 White-winged Dove
37 Mourning Dove
38 Inca Dove
39 Greater Roadrunner
40 Flammulated Owl
41 Western Screech-Owl
42 Whiskered Screech-Owl
43 Great Horned Owl
44 Northern Pygmy-Owl
45 Elf Owl
46 Burrowing Owl
47 Spotted Owl
48 Lesser Nighthawk
49 Common Poorwill
50 Whip-poor-will
51 White-throated Swift
52 Broad-billed Hummingbird
53 Violet-crowned Hummingbird
54 Magnificent Hummingbird
55 Black-chinned Hummingbird
56 Anna's Hummingbird
57 Costa's Hummingbird
58 Broad-tailed Hummingbird
59 Acorn Woodpecker
60 Gila Woodpecker
61 Ladder-backed Woodpecker
62 Hairy Woodpecker
63 Arizona Woodpecker
64 Northern Flicker
65 Gilded Flicker
66 Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet
67 Western Wood-Pewee
68 Hammond’s Flycatcher
69 Cordilleran Flycatcher
70 Black Phoebe
71 Say's Phoebe
72 Vermilion Flycatcher
73 Dusky-capped Flycatcher
74 Ash-throated Flycatcher
75 Brown-crested Flycatcher
76 Cassin's Kingbird
77 Thick-billed Kingbird
78 Western Kingbird
79 Bell's Vireo
80 Plumbeous Vireo
81 Cassin's Vireo
82 Hutton's Vireo
83 Warbling Vireo
84 Steller's Jay
85 Mexican Jay
86 Chihuahuan Raven
87 Common Raven
88 Violet-green Swallow
89 Northern Rough-winged Swallow
90 Bank Swallow
91 Cliff Swallow
92 Barn Swallow
93 Mountain Chickadee
94 Bridled Titmouse
95 Verdin
96 Bushtit
97 Red-breasted Nuthatch
98 White-breasted Nuthatch
99 Pygmy Nuthatch
100 Brown Creeper
101 Cactus Wren
102 Rock Wren
103 Canyon Wren
104 Bewick's Wren
105 House Wren
106 Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
107 Black-tailed Gnatcatcher
108 Western Bluebird
109 Swainson's Thrush
110 Hermit Thrush
111 American Robin
112 Northern Mockingbird
113 Curve-billed Thrasher
114 Crissal Thrasher
115 European Starling
116 Cedar Waxwing
117 Phainopepla
118 Olive Warbler
119 Orange-crowned Warbler
120 Lucy's Warbler
121 Yellow Warbler
122 Yellow-rumped Warbler
123 Black-throated Gray Warbler
124 Townsend's Warbler
125 Hermit Warbler
126 Grace's Warbler
127 MacGillivray's Warbler
128 Common Yellowthroat
129 Wilson's Warbler
130 Red-faced Warbler
131 Painted Redstart
132 Yellow-breasted Chat
133 Hepatic Tanager
134 Summer Tanager
135 Western Tanager
136 Flame-colored Tanager
137 Green-tailed Towhee
138 Spotted Towhee
139 Canyon Towhee
140 Abert's Towhee
141 Rufous-winged Sparrow
142 Botteri's Sparrow
143 Rufous-crowned Sparrow
144 Lark Sparrow
145 Black-throated Sparrow
146 Lark Bunting
147 Grasshopper Sparrow
148 Song Sparrow
149 White-crowned Sparrow
150 Yellow-eyed Junco
151 Northern Cardinal
152 Pyrrhuloxia
153 Black-headed Grosbeak
154 Blue Grosbeak
155 Lazuli Bunting
156 Indigo Bunting
157 Red-winged Blackbird
158 Eastern Meadowlark
159 Great-tailed Grackle
160 Bronzed Cowbird
161 Brown-headed Cowbird
162 Hooded Oriole
163 Bullock's Oriole
164 Scott's Oriole
165 House Finch
166 Red Crossbill
167 Pine Siskin
168 Lesser Goldfinch
169 House Sparrow

Monday, May 4, 2009

Northeastern Mexico - Gómez Farías and the El Cielo Biosphere Reserve WINGS Tour

Tamaulipas Pygmy-Owl, a Northeastern Mexico endemic

This was a really short tour – only four full birding days and two travel days – designed specially as a pre-American Birding Association Convention tour. Originally we were to spend two nights at Casa de Piedra in Gómez Farías, giving us 1 1 /2 birding days in the lower elevations. Then we would spend three nights at Rancho Del Cielo, giving us two full days at one of the most peaceful retreats I have ever been to. To make a long story short, just a week and a half before the tour, I found out that Texas Southmost College issued a (stupid, not well-thought-out) travel ban on all students and faculty to Mexico, which prevented us from getting to Rancho del Cielo, since they are the ones who take us up there, open it up, and provide bedding, drink and food. So as a backup plan, we spent all five nights in the town of Gómez Farías. This ended up being rather fortuitous, as it allowed us to see more of the lowland birds as well as travel a bit farther afield to the diverse Ocampo-Tula road.

I should also mention something about the issues that have people worried about travel in Mexico. It's largely hype and not news. There is no upswing in violence away from certain border cities, and that violence is reflected on the U.S. side of the border as well (such as in Phoenix). If you are away from the nasty cities of Ciudad Juárez and Tijuana, almost any place in Mexico is at least as safe as any American city. Furthermore, there was no danger of swine flu anywhere I was in Mexico – there were more cases and more ease of transmission in Tucson schools. I can't say "enough said," as there simply cannot be enough said that will go beyond the reach of American mass media. But I can try.

Our first full day began as promised – a long drive down through the agricultural and scrub flats of northern Tamaulipas with the occasional Crested Caracara and White-tailed Hawk. Sprinkled in were the occasional migrant Mississippi Kite and Chimney Swift, while a pair of Northern Bobwhites and a Harris’s Hawk were slightly less expected. The first sign that things might be changing was a Roadside Hawk several miles north of Ciudad Victoria, after about a 3 hour drive. But then things were really different when we arrived at the Cañon de Novillo, where one can normally get at least a slight taste of the tropics. We were, after all, still 25 miles north of the Tropic of Cancer. But that didn’t seem to matter as one tropical species after another grabbed our attention. Recalling Texas were Green and Brown Jays, Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl, Olive Sparrow, and Audubon’s Oriole. And other species known as vagrants in Texas were also here, such as Elegant Trogon, Rose-throated Becard, Yellow-green Vireo, Fan-tailed, Golden-crowned, and Rufous-capped Warblers, Crimson-collared Grosbeak and Blue Bunting. But what amazing confusion when we saw Squirrel Cuckoo, Blue-crowned Motmot, and Ivory-billed Woodcreeper, Spot-breasted Wren and Melodious Blackbird! And most astonishing of all was a pair of Great Curassows, only recently noted in this region, where thought to be once extirpated. There were a few migrants of note as well, such as Black-headed Grosbeak, Swainson’s Thrush, and Acadian Flycatcher.

The view in Cañon El Novillo.

We had to tear ourselves away from here, driving only another hour or so to the south before a short stop resulted in our best views of the regional endemic, Green Parakeet, as well as a White-crowned Parrot and our only Yellow-billed Cuckoo. Upon arrival at our hotel in Gómez Farías, we couldn’t wait to start birding. Thicket Tinamous were calling from the woodlands in all directions (but not to be seen yet), while Masked Tityra, Social Flycatcher, Red-billed Pigeon (on a nest), and Yellow-winged Tanagers were right over our hotel grounds. We headed down the road and we found yet another new tropical bird, Black-headed Saltator before having to call it a day.

On our first full morning in the Gómez Farías area didn’t take us far from town, but we didn’t have to go far to have amazing birding. A Blue-crowned Motmot started the day before sunrise as we watched it from the balcony of our hotel. The entire blue crown was visible at such close range. Just up the road we were tantalized by the echoing Thicket Tinamous and a distant Singing Quail, but we eventually had to move on to avoid the construction noise. We learned the visual and vocal differences between Streaked and Sulphur-bellied Flycatchers, and over the next few days got repeated views of both species. We also saw all of the other “stripe-headed” tyrants – Social, Boat-billed, and Great Kiskadee. Wedge-tailed Sabrewings were usually furtive in the understory but came out agressively to imitations of Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl. And said imitations almost always resulted in a real Ferruginous Pymgy-Owl appearing – we saw or heard about 20 in our four and a half days. Other highlights on the road towards Alta Cima were a soaring Short-tailed Hawk, flocks of White-crowned Parrots, our first of many views of Spot-breasted Wrens, singing Brown-backed Solitaires (usually higher in the mountains), Yellow-throated Euphonias (which ended up being at almost every birding stop) and a pair of Hooded Grosbeaks, also lower in elevation than usual in the spring. We also had some northbound migrants, the more uncommon ones being Acadian Flycatcher, Western Tanager, Lincoln’s Sparrow (strange to see in the deep forest), and MacGillivray’s Warbler.

One of the big surprises was the near completion of an "Ecological Interpretive Center" at the junction of the Rancho del Cielo Road. It looks like way too much – too big, too expensive. A little kiosk and a parking area would have gone a long way. Now they'll have to find money to maintain and staff it. A disappointing amount of habitat had to be leveled to create this place. And the construction noise while we were there was unbearable. Oh well.

This orchid, Cyrtopodium macrobulbon, was growing along the roadside above the visitor center. Thanks to Brad Boyle and Gerardo Salazar for the names of the orchids.

A closeup of the same orchid.

Muted Hairstreak, Electrostrymon joya, not far from the orchid. Butterflies were not nearly as abundant as in October, but diversity was still good. Without trying I saw 50 species; a concerted effort should have produced some 250-300.

In the afternoon we headed to the lowlands in search for Tamaulipas Crows, finally discovering a notable nesting group in an old railroad bridge in the town of El Limón. But whiled driving the back roads nearby we hads some successful encounters, including great views of Altamira Yellowthroat as well as a male Rose-throated Becard, Hooded Orioles and White-collared Seedeaters. We also netted Ringed, Amazon and Green Kingfishers, and finally coincided with the long-resident pair of Bat Falcons below Gómez.

Altamira Yellowthroat

A highlight in the early evening was the boat trip down the Rio Frio at Bocatoma with single Boat-billed Heron and Sungrebe, both at the northernmost edge of their ranges. We also had our first Muscovy Duck and “Bronze-winged” Golden-olive Woodpecker here.

Views of the Frio River where we saw Sungrebe.

We finished off the day after dinner with a successful search for Mottled Owl which silently flew in to iPod and perched in the open on a power pole.

To make up somewhat for our not being able to get to Rancho del Cielo, we were given special access to the Gorgas Science Foundation property in the the lowlands called El Cielito. A misunderstanding of the directions was fortuitous, as it led to our having scope views of the only Red-crowned Parrots of the trip, perched on top of the Montezuma Bald-cypress over the Rio Sabinas. Once we found our way, the birding at Cielito was great. We started with several Red-lored Parrots, a Green-breasted Mango, and several Masked Tityras. The forest understory trails were our best chance for actually seeing one of the many Thicket Tinamous we had been hearing, and sure enough, one started calling close enough that we backtracked on the trail and had great views of it crossing the trail. Visually, it was as underwhelming as tinamous tend to be, but curiosity was satisfied for those whom this was a new family. Elegant Trogons were especially common here, and we saw both of the large woodpeckers (Pale-billed and Lineated), Smoky-brown Woodpecker, many of the locally breeding and resident Vaux’s Swifts, understory flocks with pairs of Red-throated Ant-Tanagers, and our only Gray-collared Becard of the tour. We came across a swarm of Eciton burchelli army ants covering the forest floor with a number of larger birds taking advantage of the arthropods being flushed from their hiding places. Sticking tight to the swarm was a Great Kiskadee, not normally in the forest understory, while an Ivory-billed Woodcreeper, several Brown and Green Jays, a Squirrel Cuckoo and more Red-throated Ant-Tanagers took advantage of the easy pickings. Other additions here were a heard-only Collared Forest-Falcon and great views of a male Yellow-faced Grassquit on the entrance road.

A view of the Sabinas River at El Cielito.

I surprised myself by finding this roosting Lesser Nighthawk.

The orchid Encyclia parviflora at El Cielito.

We spent the late afternoon on a higher stretch of the road to Alta Cima, where a flyover of 3 Military Macaws was a great surprise. We found a pair of Rufous-browed Peppershrikes building a nest right over the road, finally got views of secretive White-throated Thrushes and added White-winged and Flame-colored Tanagers among mixed flocks of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks and Audubon’s Orioles. Crested Guans came out of hiding to feed in fruiting trees only towards the very end of the day.

We spent one entire day on the Ocampo-Tula road, which led us to a great mix of habitats at higher elevation, changing abruptly from wet forest to open oak, to a juniper scrub with giant yuccas. In each area the birds were strikingly different. Getting there very early was a good idea, as White-tipped Doves were wanding out in the open all over the place, including in the middle of the paved road where later many trucks would barrel around the curves. Many Blue Mockingbirds sang from hidden perches, but we eventually had great views of one. Trolling brought out a pair of comical Spotted Wrens, and purposeful whistling resulted in an amazingly close encounter with a Tamaulipas Pygmy-Owl, which was mobbed by Buff-bellied and White-eared Hummingbirds and a Rufous-browed Peppershrike that puffed up to a size that equalled the owl. Most of the other birds we lucked into, such as several Mountain Trogons, both Black-headed and Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrushes, numbers of Crescent-chested Warblers, Gray Silky-flycatchers (building a nest, a rather dense cup in an oak), Azure-crowned and Bumblebee Hummingbirds (in a gorgeous understory of pink locust flowers), a pair of Singing Quail, Greater Pewee, Acorn Woodpecker, Hutton’s Vireo, Olivaceous and Spot-crowned Woodcreepers (completing our woodcreeper list), Long-billed Thrasher, Rufous-capped Brush-Finch, Elegant Euphonia (building a nest), and both Flame-colored and Hepatic Tanagers. A Hermit Thrush was an unexpected rarity (late for a winter bird), and dipping into the drier side of the mountains surprised us with White-eyed Vireos and a very curious Bewick’s Wren. Towards the end of the day we were treated to another flyover of Military Macaws, added Brown-crested Flycatcher in a quick roadside stop in the blazing afternoon heat, and found a Black Phoebe, very scarce in this part of the world.

In the understory of the drier oak forest on the rainshadowed part of the Ocampo-Tula road were masses of this pink-flowering shrub, probably a locust in the genus Robinia.

A 1 1/2-inch wasp in the family Scoliidae (thanks to Eric Eaton) feeding in the flowers of a Mala-mujer, Cnidoscolus species.

This epiphtyic orchid, Prosthechea cochleata, was growing in the forest on the wetter side of the Ocampo-Tula road.

Dropping down the west side of the range resulted in a very abrupt change in habitat. Here we had White-eyed Vireo and Bewick's Wren, two species completely absent just a few miles to the east.

Our final day presented a challenge, as our earlier success meant that the remaning possible new birds were few and far between. So we tried some target-birding, spending time in some habitats where we hadn’t done much birding yet. The early morning heavy clouds and light showers close to the mountains (a fine example of how the mountains here so drastically effect the climate on a local scale) probably affected migrants that would have passed through unnoticed, such as a Dickcissel, Baltimore Oriole and a Northern Waterthrush close to town. A pair of Grayish Saltators finally showed before we moved on to areas below town. A random stop along the road where there was some activity resulted in a singing Crimson-collared Grosbeak, another pair of Red-throated Ant-Tanagers, and a real prize, a pair of White-bellied Wrens. Dropping down through the agricultural area and forest edge near Ojo de Agua, we scored with our targets of Barred Antshrike and Gray-crowned Yellowthroat, netting our first White-tailed Kite, more Yellow-faced Grassquits, a bevy of Northern Bobwhites, some Least Grebes on the river, Common Ground-Dove and a dark morph Short-tailed Hawk. At La Florida we finally caught up with Olive-throated Parakeet and Scrub Euphonia before another delicious fish lunch at Bocatoma. The afternoon wasn’t as productive, but we did find Blue-gray Tanagers behind the Hotel Mante and then discovered where Northern Mockingbirds and Northern Bobwhite are most common in the Ciudad Mante area. A Greater Roadrunner and seemingly way out-of-place White-sided Jackrabbits were final additions.

White-crescent Mottled-Skipper, Codatractus alcaeus, near Ojo de Agua.

A Five-striped Leaftail (Phyllogomphoides albrighti) near Ojo de Agua. Thanks to Bob Behrstock for the name.

The last day’s drive back to the U.S. was far from birdless, with fourty-four species seen on the fly, including a small group of Varied Buntings flushed from the roadside that we had to drive back for. A Loggerhead Shrike also prompted a quick retreat for a confirmation, becoming our 206th species on this venture into the fascinating American tropics.

Tecolutla, Mexico

April 17-20 found me birding on the coast of north-central Veracruz state, Mexico. Flying to the small city of Poza Rica via Mexico City, I rented a car and drove about a hour eastward and discovered that this tiny coastal resort village is a booming metropolis during Semana Santa, the week following Easter. No worries – the birding I intend on doing will take me outside the town.

I've been asked to guide a client here for 2 days, and since I've never been here, I came down two days early to find areas of accessible habitat. The area is mentioned in Steve Howell's birdfinding guide to Mexico, but birders have found that the habitats closest to town aren't as good any more.

Using Google Earth, I was able to discover some new birding areas nearby, and by talking to many ranchers gained access to land that had never been birded before.

My client's target birds included several found in wet cattail and grass marsh, such as Yellow-breasted Crake and King Rail. Unfortuantely almost everywhere the marsh was dry. Channels had been dug to drain much of the marsh to create areas where cattle could graze, and almost everywhere one could walk right up to impenetrable cattails without getting wet feet.

We did manage to get some good birds, such as Sedge Wren, Swamp Sparrow, and Upland Sandpiper, and with the many migrants and tropical residents I tallied a total of 206 species in four days. In the meantime, I managed to take a few photos of the habitat, critters, and flowers.

Veined Tree Frog, Phrynohyas venulosa.

An unknown bush or small tree in the Mimosaceae family.

A band-winged grasshopper that found safety in open sand through camouflage.

I drove through the Rancho La Isla de Santa Maria.

The road eventually dumped me out on the beach 10 kilometers north of Tecolutla in the middle of a coconut plantation.

I then drove south on a road that paralelled the beach and found some nice shorebird spots.

Snowy Plover

Near town is this raised dike that still had some wet marsh on both sides; this is where we finally caught up with Altamira Yellowthroat.

Another private ranch called El Cacahuatal gave me permission to bird this fantastic marsh that was teeming with shorebirds, including American Golden-Plover, lots of yellowlegs, Pectoral, Stilt, and Least Sandpipers, White-faced Ibis, and many herons and egrets.

American Golden-Plover

A swamplily in the genus Crinum.

Snow-on-the-mountain, Euphorbia marginata

Rose-bellied Lizard, Sceloporus variabilis. Rarely can you see the belly so well.

Ladder-backed Woodpecker

Northern Jacana

Keeled Earless-Lizard, Holbrookia propinqua

Gentian species

Cardinal Coral-bean, Erythrina herbacea

Bullhorn Acacia, Acacia cornigera. This plant is well known for the Pseudomyrmex ants that live in the hollow spines and protect the plant from grazers and caterpillars. They also kill seedlings of plants around the base that might compete.

American Crocodile

Jamaica WINGS tour

From April 4-12 I led my 11th tour to Jamaica. (This was actually my 10th trip to Jamaica, but last year I led two tours back-to-back). With seven full birding days, we had enough time to see all 27 AOU-recognized endemic birds, plus several subspecies that should probably be considered full species. The Orangequit (above) is one of the more common species found only in Jamaica, and it is unique enough to be placed in its own genus, Euneornis. It is distantly related to sparrows and buntings. We actually saw all but two endemic subspecies (Plain Pigeon and Greater Antillean Elaenia were missed) by the morning of the 6th day, which gave us time to revisit species we had seen only briefly or not so well, such as Crested Quail-Dove performing its unusual bobbing gait and Jamaican Blackbird doing its display song. We also had ample time throughout the itinerary to look for non-endemics such as water birds like the White-tailed Tropicbird and other non-bird critters and plants. Below is a selection of photos from this year's tour to this delightful, fascinating, and friendly country. I'm already looking forward to next year's tour, as well as the Butterflies & Birds tour in October 2010 (here we come, Homerus Swallowtail).

Our first birding was near Montego Bay, where the tour started. At a stop at the sewage ponds, I spotted a distant cormorant. There are only a few records of Double-crested and none for Neotropic. I couldn't see enough detail (nor could my camera), but I did at least take some digiscoped images in case I could figure it out later. I have to admit, I can't tell much on this one.

We stopped at Rockland's Bird Sanctuary, where hummingbirds take sugarwater from hand-held bottles and Yellow-faced and Black-faced Grassquits land on you, hoping for bird seed. This is a Red-billed Streamertail on Doug's finger.

Jamaican Mango.

Yellow-faced Grassquit and Wanda.

Even the lizards have become accustomed to the handouts. A Jamaican Turquoise Anole (Anolis grahami) feeding on banana.

An Common Jamaican Galliwasp (Celestus crusculus) peeked out of a hole in the patio to lick up drops of sugar water.

Our next three nights were at Marshall's Pen just outside the town of Mandeville. Birding on the grounds is excellent.

This Jamaican Lizard Cuckoo (being watched by the group above) was particularly cooperative.

This female Vervain Hummingbird, by some measurements the second smallest bird in the world, was building a nest at eye-level in a bush.

Meanwhile, a male Vervain Hummingbird sang from the tips of branches in the nearby tall trees.

A moth in the grass at Marshall's Pen.

A colorful moth larva on May Plum.

Three-spotted Skipper, (Cymaenes tripunctus), common in the grassy areas at Marshall's Pen.

An arboreal, epiphytic cactus with huge flowers, Selenicereus grandiflorus. I took this picture through the spotting scope.

Another gigantic cactus, this one Hylocereus triangularis, clambering over an ancient limestone wall. This species is the source of dragonfruit, which though endemic to the Caribbean and Middle America, is grown commercially in China. You can find dried dragonfruit at Trader Joe's.

Doug provides a size comparison. It was slightly fragrant.

An orchid in the genus Brassavola. Species are very hard to tell apart, and three occur in Jamaica.

This Northern Potoo had chosen a day roost right next to one of the trails at eye level for three of our days. Even from a distance I couldn't get the whole bird in the scope.

This Mangrove Cuckoo was one of the first birds of our first morning at Marshall's Pen.

A Banded Yellow (Eurema elathea), common in grazed grassy areas.

Cuban Crescent (Anthanassa frisia).

Little Yellow (Pyrisitia euterpe).

Jamaican Mestra (Mestra dorcas), an endemic butterfly.

The underside of Jamaican Mestra.

Jamaican Calisto (Calisto zangis), a common endemic butterfly in forest understory.

Ceraunus Blue (Hemiargus ceraunus), a very widespread species.

Opal-bellied Anole (Anolis opalinus).

We drove to the lowlands to the southwest of Mandeville, ending up at the Upper Black River Morass where there were 62 West Indian Whistling-Ducks.

One morning we go to the Cockpit Country to the north of Mandeville, an area of an unusual type of karst limestone characterized by extremely steep slopes, pits, and hills that resembles an egg carton. The habitat here is largely intact and endemic birds abound.

Rufous-tailed Flycatcher.

Ring-tailed Pigeon (not to be confused with the mainland Band-tailed Pigeon). This bird allowed us to get ridiculously close.

A Turkey Vulture that reminded me of the traditional Jamaican song "Mek me hol you han." One lyric begins, "Peel head john crow, sit dung pon tree top." John Crow is the Jamaican name for Turkey Vulture.

Jamaican Woodpecker.

Jamaican Flasher (Astraptes jaira).

Jamaican Turquoise Anole (Anolis grahami). We watched this lizard move around for a while. When it hopped up onto a branch, it turned almost completely brown with only a little turquoise spot on its tail remaining.

Jamaican Sicklewing (Eantis mithridates), a scarce endemic.

Gold-spotted Aguna (Aguna asander jasper).

On our way back to Marhshall's Pen from the Cockpit Country we stopped at a grassy field for the endemic (and nominate) subspecies of Grasshopper Sparrow.

Leaving Marshall's Pen, we drove up into the mountains above Kingston, the Port Royal Mountains (adjacent to the Blue Mountains).

The forests here are gorgeous and ring with the ethereal whistled songs of Rufous-throated Solitaires (which we also saw).

Jamaican Blackbird, one of the rare endemic species.

Crested Quail-Dove, rarely sitting out in the open long enough to get a photo of it. Really weird crest, colors, and tail-bobbing behavior.

Antillean Mapwing (Hypanartia paullus).

A strange root parasite in the family Balanophoraceae, this is apparently Scybalium jamaicense.

A roadside orchid, probably in the genus Epidendrum.

The dark morph of American Kestrel, rare in Jamaica but the common one on Cuba. This one was just north of Lioneltown in the southernmost part of the island.

These last photos are from our two days at the eastern end of the island. We stayed at Frenchman's Cove a few miles east of Port Antonio, and then birded on the Ecclesdown Road, about a half hour farther east. This very cooperative Jamaican Oriole was feeding from Erythrina blooms.

Zebra Heliconian, (Heliconius charithonia simulator), an endemic subspecies.

Apricot Sulphur, (Phoebis argante comstocki), an endemic subspecies.

White Peacock, (Anartia jatrophae jamaicensis), not an endemic subspecies, despite the name.

Jamaican Broken-Dash (Wallengrenia vesuria).

Dina Yellow (Pyrisitia dina parvumbra), and endemic subspecies.

An unknown anole from the understory leaf litter.

An example of the snail diversity and a beetle. There are over 550 species of snails in Jamaica, nearly all of them endemic.

A close-up of the beetle.

A Dutchman's-pipe, Aristolochia grandiflora.