Monday, November 23, 2009

Mystery Hummingbird in the Yard

This hummingbird has been visiting the feeders in my Tucson yard for at least the past three weeks. Its voice does not sound like any of the normally occurring species – being too soft for Anna's, too high and percussive for Black-chinned, and not at all like the tinkling of Costa's. I've made sonograms (using Raven Lite) of several species to compare, and I'm still puzzled (see below).

Note: you can click on any image in this blog to see a larger image.

Visually, it looks most like a long-billed Costa's, but there are features that make me think Black-chinned. It actively pumps its tail while hovering, much like Black-chinned. The answer may lie in the shape of the primaries and tail feathers, and that may require trapping the bird.
A shot that shows the primary shapes a little better.

An Anna's Hummingbird for comparison

A Costa's Hummingbird for comparison

Vocally, this bird is most reminiscent of Archilochus, especially in rhythm. I've posted a clip to the mysteries page at Xeno-Canto.
And here are sonograms that compare all the similar species.

Mystery hummer
Anna's Hummingbird
Costa's Hummingbird
Black-chinned Hummingbird
Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Thursday, November 12, 2009

A Stranger in the Yard

Caught here mid-leap, just after 11:00 p.m. on this past Tuesday night, is a Collared Peccary that was in our yard in north-central Tucson. We are just about 3 miles north of the University of Arizona, and this is quite an unusual location for this pig-like animal, known locally also as javelina. I was just drifting off to sleep when I heard some rustling outside and thought there might be a burglar or some other unwelcome person trying to get into our garage. Instead here was this exciting find, rooting around in the compost pile. My friends Brad and Alice had one in their yard at Rancho Prince just 1/4 mile south of here a couple years ago, and I saw one dead in the middle of Campbell Ave. between Fort Lowell and Prince a few months ago. Maybe the drought has pushed more animals down into the lowlands as they run out of food and water in their normal haunts. They are common in the Catalina Foothills just a couple miles north of here but rarely cross the Rillito River into urban Tucson. Even Greater Roadrunner is a rarity here (one sighting in our yard in almost 12 years).

Peccaries are a family (Tayassuidae) of three species found only in the New World, and though often called "wild pigs" they are only distantly related. Peccaries differ from pigs (family Suidae) in many ways, such as having two or three instead of four hind toes; having a tail with less than half as many caudal vertebrae; having precocial young (fully furred, eyes open, ready to run upon birth), and having a different dental arrangement.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

NE Mexico Butterflies & Birds Photo Sheets

These are the photo sheets I prepared for the participants who were on the NE Mexico Butterflies & Birds tour with Jim Brock and me this past month.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Peru: Day 19 – Travel Day from Puerto Maldonado to Lima

This was our last day in Peru, and all plans revolved around the flight back to Lima, followed by our late night departures back to the United States (or Europe, in one case).

But the travel didn’t take all day, and we had a total of 3 hours’ worth of birding today – and tallied 94 species in the process.

First we birded near Puerto Maldonado, checking the side road where we had the Purus Jacamars yesterday. They were still there today.

But in addition to them was also a family group of White-throated Jacamars, a lifebird for everyone present. Many thanks to Barry Walker and other birding tour groups who staked these out for us.

We then birded some open country nearby where we found Southern Caracara and Grassland Sparrow. Yesterday we also had Southern Lapwing and Burrowing Owl near here, both recent immigrants to this area, once all rainforest (and again thanks to birders who came before us; it sometimes does pay to be the last ones out).

Then it was time to show up for our flight to Lima.

A shock to the system was the cool, marine air that greeted us. And lots of very, very different birds. Here we are in the Lima suburb of Ventanilla.

Peruvian Pelicans (like Brown Pelicans, only much larger, and formally split from them just two years ago).

A Great Grebe on a nest. It sports an amazingly long neck.

Gray-hooded Gull

Franklin’s Gull

White-cheeked Pintail

A view of the marsh, which also hosted many Common Gallinules, Slate-colored Coots, White-tufted Grebes, Cinnamon Teal, and Black-necked Stilts. A nearby mudflat had Killdeer, a Western Sandpiper, a Collared Plover (a rarity this far south on the coast), and Yellowish Pipit. Sadly, we did not find any Peruvian Thick-knees here.

Some seawatching also produced many Peruvian Boobies, a Red-legged and two Guanay Cormorants, an endless stream of Kelp, Gray, and Belcher’s Gulls, and a single Elegant Tern. Impressive was a huge, swirling flock of Sanderling over the distant end of the beach, probably numbering well over 10,000 birds. Big migrating flocks of Black-bellied Plovers and Ruddy Turnstone also joined them.

Here’s a rundown of the supporting cast, a really great group of people to travel with.

Fran├žois Rousset

Paul Cozza

Ken Burden

Tom and Sharon Bradford

Dwight and Ann Chasar

And of course, I shouldn't forget Gary Rosenberg, the leader, and the many drivers and boat pilots.

Peru: Day 19 – Travel day from Manu Wildlife Center to Puerto Maldonado

Today began just like any other, only when we were sitting at breakfast, we heard thunder. We’ve had such great luck with the weather.

By 5:30 we were in our 40-foot boat, huddled under ponchos, and bearing down for what looked to be a very long day.

But the one shower we rode through was short-lived, and the sky began improving right away. The cloud formations were unlike any I had ever seen.

Time passed quickly enough, with the scenery racing by. The closer we got to Puerto Maldonado, the more we saw these dredgers looking for gold. There were a lot.

This clambering vine had buried itself in purple blossoms.

We didn't disembark for birding, but the boat did slow down a few times when we passed by birds of interest – such as a group of Jabirus (a gigantic stork), and a large piece of driftwood decorated with 70 Sand-colored Nighthawks. We ended up with 68 species during the ride.

Eight and a half hours later we were disembarking in Laberinto – the first town with a road. Here we met our bus and driver, Fruti.

We bid farewell to Carlos and Pancho who had to turn around and make the 24-hour boat ride back to Atalaya.

We still had a few hours in the afternoon heat to look for birds. One place we stopped was this Moriche palm grove. There are several birds that specialize in this one species of palm.

Such as this Red-bellied Macaw.

We then birded a side road just on the outskirts of Puerto Maldonado where we found a family group of Purus Jacamars.

It was strange being in a busy town after all these days in the jungle. This is the primary form of the taxis here.

Peru: Day 17 – Hike to the Ccollpa and Tigrillo Trail

It’s a two mile hike to the end of the longest trail here at Manu Wildlife Center, and it leads to an open mud wallow/salt lick used by mammals (mostly at night) and birds. The local word for such a wallow is ccollpa, the double c trying to impart a harder Quechua sound than is present in the Spanish language. Sometimes it’s even written with a “kc,” such as we saw in a sign for the town of Kcos├▒ipata.

Our plan for today, our last full day here, is to bird all morning along the 2 miles, arriving at the clay lick around noon. Then Carlos and Pancho will backpack our lunches in to us while we sit and watch birds coming to the clay lick. Then, after a short rest, bird our way back.
Birding was very productive along the entire trail, and there were some terrific finds. One of the best was this Slate-colored Hawk, screaming from the top of a tree.

Another was this Spotted Puffbird, which Gary noticed just before he was about to walk right underneath it. It sat there for several minutes while everyone got photos from every possible angle. This species is rather scarce, but I wonder how many go undetected as they sit so still and rarely make much sound.
Another bird highlight from this hike was a Pavonine Quetzal.

But better than any bird was this Three-striped Poison Frog, Ameerega trivittata, which I spotted perched on the end of a rotting log about a foot off the ground.
It was really shy and hopped off before I could get a good picture, but I had just gotten some recording of the calls of what I had assumed was a poison frog, and did some playback to lure it back in. It never responded, remaining with its back to me. Suddenly another frog began calling from the opposite side of the log, hopped on it and began charging me. But as soon as I moved to position my camera, he dove for cover. With much patience, I managed to coax him back again but could only manage this distant head-on shot with a flash. The first one must have been a female, and this was obviously the male.
This Three-striped Rocket Frog, Allobates trilineatus (in the same family as the poison frogs) was much more aggressive and didn’t mind my getting close.
An extensive viewing platform has been built at the mud wallow, complete with about 20 mattresses and linens, each with its own mosquito net.
Here is a track of a South American Tapir, one of the night visitors that tourists hope to see. This is the largest land animal in the American tropics, and the three species are the only extant, native New World members of the order that includes horses and rhinoceroses, Perissodactyla.
We just sat and waited quietly for birds to begin appearing (actually, I lay down and began snoring). While we waited other things attracted our attention.
Such as this Rayed Longwing, Laparus doris, enjoying the salt on my sock. It kept coming back for over an hour.
And this syrphid fly, a pretty good wasp mimic.
Finally, our target birds began coming down to the mud, first these Black-capped Parakeets.
Then this gorgeous Rose-fronted Parakeet, a recent split from Painted Parakeet. There were also several Dusky-billed Parrotlets.
Lunch arrived in the backpacks of Carlos and Pancho right at 11:50 (it was a 45 minute hike for them), in the form of a delicious hot rice, vegetables and pork strip dish, cookies, juice and fruit. Not your typical box lunch.
When it was time to begin heading back to the lodge, I decided to head out on my own and take the long way back, the Trigrillo Trail. It was even swampier than the trail in, and going was slow at times. But I had a great time with the bugs, plants, and birds and frogs. I even saw another Spotted Puffbird and another Pavonine Quetzal.
Some of the butterflies:
Black-banded White, Itaballia demophile
The metalmark Euselasia eumedia
A hairstreak in the genus JantheclaAnother metalmark, Macella Eyemark, Mesosemia macella
A skipper, Two-barred Flasher, Astraptes fulgerator complex. This is the skipper that Dan Janzen and others discovered was actually 10 species in northwestern Costa Rica alone. Their caterpillars and host plants were each different, but the adults looked virtually identical, and they used DNA barcoding to confirm that each caterpillar type correlated with each DNA type in adults. Who knows how many species there are undetected in other areas of the tropics?
A Nervous Skipper, Udranomia kikkawai
The rainforest is overwhelmingly green. It comes in many shades, to be sure, but it’s always a shock to see color like this jump out. It’s quite a rarity.
Or this hot pink inflorescence subtended by huge leaves.
This is the kind of dark-loving ground cover that was destined become a house plant.
A Selaginella, known as spikemoss or lesser clubmoss. I’ve never seen one with such open, long branches, very fern-like. This group, along with clubmosses and quillworts, are the most ancient vascular plants. They used to be considered close to ferns, but DNA research has shown that they are very different.
A katydid with an interesting horn on its head
Leaf-cutter ants, genus Atta. They’re a common sight in the rainforest, but this was a particularly active colony. They don’t eat the leaves but rather carry them and other plant parts to their underground nest to grow fungus.
One of the largest weevils I’ve ever seen, about 1 ¼ inches. Its defense mechanism was to tuck its snout tight up against its belly and drop to the leaflitter on its back.
Most termites either travel around at night or under the safety of a network of wood pulp tunnels that they construct. Maybe the dark bodies of this species helps protect them from sun, dessication, and predators (by looking like ants).
There were dozens and dozens of dragonflies in this swampy forest, but most were too shy to photograph easily. This is the skimmer Uracis fastigiata.
This little one is the amberwing Perithemis thais.
The day’s bird list ended up at 114, including five species of tinamou heard. Tinamous are ground-dwelling birds that are at first glance somewhat partridge-like. They are among the most primitive living birds and are the only flight-capable members of the superorder that includes rheas, ostiches, cassowaries, emus, and kiwis. This a recording I made of a Brazilian Tinamou, one of my favorites. It uttered this 5 ½-second, pure e-flat whistle precisely every 34 seconds for the 15 minutes that I sat there and tried to lure it in. I never did see it, and got stung by an ant in the process, but I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.