Monday, November 22, 2010

The First Two Days of the WINGS Galapagos Tour

I just finished my third trip to the Galapagos Islands for WINGS. It was a fantastic tour, missing only one endemic, predictably the Mangrove Finch (which may be conspecific with the Woodpecker Finch anyway). We even saw the Galapagos Martin, a lifer for me.

The following photo hightlights were just from our first two days.

We first spend a half day in the interior of Santa Cruz Island. Here we nailed our targets of Large Tree-Finch, Woodpecker Finch, and Vegetarian Finch. We also went to a ranch where there were several Santa Cruz Giant Tortoises, this one eating impatiens.

The endemic subspecies of Barn Owl, Tyto alba punctatissima was in a building there as well.

We made a half-mile hike towards Media Luna in the highlands to see Galapagos Rail, which we saw briefly, but well.

The next day was spent on Espanola Island to the south.

Espanola Marine Iguana, Amblyrhynchus cristatus venutissimus

Blue-footed Booby and chick

Espanola Lava Lizard female

Espanola Lava Lizard male

Espanola Mockingbird and Marine Iguana

Espanola Mockingbird clan fight

Galapagos Flycatcher

Nestling Waved Albatross

Group walking past Marine Iguanas

Group in Panga – this is how we got from the yacht to the various islands. Our yacht – the wonderfully spacious and comfortable Integrity is in the distant upper right of the photo.

Large Cactus-Finch taking advantage of the moisture and protein in a Galapagos Sea Lion placenta

Nazca Booby

Red-billed Tropicbird right over head

Suckling and mother Galapagos Sea Lion

Swallow-tailed Gull

Friday, November 12, 2010

Off to the Galapagos

Tomorrow morning my group of 13 and I fly from Quito to the Galapagos for a week-long birding and natural history cruise through the islands on the Integrity. This is my third trip to the Galapagos, but my first time in November. We'll be stopping at a couple spots new for me too, so maybe I'll see something new. A migrant from the north, or perhaps Galapagos Martin.

I'll be coming home with a lot of photos, believe me. Here's a very brief sampler from my first trip there in late June, 2007. Enjoy.

Medium Ground-Finch

Vermilion Flycatcher

Galapagos Rail habitat

Galapagos Flycatcher

Woodpecker Finch

Galapagos Mockingbird

Friday, November 5, 2010

Exploring Lobo Canyon

Yesterday I went with Brian McKnight, Jim Hays and Sally Johnsen to explore a rarely visited series of drainages southwest of Amado and on the west slope of the Tumacacori Mountains. (Click on any of the images for a larger version.)

The upper reaches of Sardina and Lobo canyons are in the Atascosa Highlands Christmas Bird Count Circle (a 15-mile-diameter circle centered at N31.47006°, W111.17278°), and that was the main reason for our visit. Brian, Jim, and Sally cover the area just east of here (Murphy Canyon and Bear Grass Tank), but, as they say in a lot of remote places, "you can't get there from here."

We drove down Sardina Canyon from Arivaca Road, crossed over to Moyza Canyon, then back over to Sardina Canyon until, 10 miles later, we entered the CBC circle (recognized when my GPS said we were 7.5 miles from the circle center). This is a typical view of the habitat towards the west – open, rolling desert grasslands.

To the  east are the Tumacacori Mountains. The accent is on the middle syllable, and no, it isn't Spanish.

We arrived at Sardina Well, where a pair of Rufous-winged Sparrows and some Chipping Sparrows and Northern Cardinals were.

From here we continued south and over a ridge into Lobo Canyon (also draining off the Tumacacoris), and the road here passes by a nice thicket of oaks and then to the end of the road near Lobo Tank. The only water-associated birds we saw here were two Killdeer and a Black Phoebe.

Farther up the canyon is some nice oak-juniper woodland, but really good, dense woodland (visible on Google Earth) is yet another 1 1/4-mile hike beyond here.

This yucca seems too narrow-leaved for Yucca baccata, and may be a hybrid between it and Y. elata or Y. madrensis.

There were several stands of this prickly-pear which looks like a green version of the normally purple Santa Rita Prickly-Pear.

I spotted this Black-necked Garter Snake just as it disappeared into a bush and then holed up between some boulders.

Grasshoppers were everywhere, at least 10 species that I could recognize offhand. This is an Arid Lands Grasshopper, Melanoplus aridus.

We left the area via a different route, crossing over the northern Tumacacoris and following the Puerto Canyon drainage. It had some very nice thornscrubby hillsides (characterized by high plant diversity including Hopbush and Kidneywood) as well as some riparian thickets that were full of birds and butterflies. This ungainly tangle is the pea vine Schott's Yellowhood, Nissolia schottii, one of the largest I've seen.

In the only lush grove of willow and sycamores were a Black-throated Gray Warbler and a Cassin's Vireo, and Sally spotted this huge Black Witch, Ascalapha odorata, a vagrant moth from Mexico. Its wingspan is about 8 inches.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Back into the Bread-making Groove

I've joined a new blogging community of some amazing writers and photographers at I post on Tuesdays, and our focus is birding, whether it be identification, travel, pleasure, or conservation related issues. But it has to be about birds.

Here at Birdernaturalist, this is my blog, and when I'm home between tours, it's not all birding and natural history. And since this is my very own blog, meant to keep all my friends informed as well as serve as something of a diary for myself, I get to post whatever I want.

Since coming home from Peru I've baked five loaves of bread. I'm trying to not eat all of myself, so some went to a friend's house, some is in the freezer. And I don't see a slowdown in my baking until I head to the Galapagos next month. I'm trying out recipes and some new techniques in Peter Reinhart's Whole Grand Breads (I haven't cracked open Artisan Breads Everyday yet...) But I just can't seem to stop.

The primary technique he introduces in this book is what he calls the "epoxy method." It's very simple – make a soaker and a and starter separately, then after a certain amount of time for enzymes and yeast to do their magic, mix them together the next day (along with the rest of the ingredients). The overnight processes supposedly contribute to a better flavor and texture.

These photos mostly feature a Rye Meteil (which is mostly whole wheat, less than 50% rye). By making my own rye bread, I can eliminate caraway, which I don't like.

The soaker is merely water, flour and salt (proportions being all important in every step).

The starter is more like the final dough in that it also has yeast – but very little so that it rises very slowly.

The other ingredients include some sweetener (honey and molasses here), some fat (butter here), more salt and yeast, and perhaps other added things – here an onion. One can also add other grains and seeds as well.

All mixed into a dough which rises once in a bowl.

Then rises a second time after formed into the loaf. The end results are worth the effort, and it's actually very easy.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Willcox, AZ – Tree Swallows, Gopher Snake, Grasshoppers, and a Gray Hawk

I'm pretty much bound to the computer these days between tours, but I couldn't resist the invitation to join my friends Keith, John, and Jerry for a quick run over to Willcox to check the lake at the golf course, known as Lake Cochise. We had planned this trip a couple days earlier and were pleased that a Mew Gull (very rare in AZ) was reported from the day before we were to head out there.

Lost water birds are notoriously ephemeral at Willcox, so it was little surprise that there were no gulls at all this morning. But the birding was still good. While the numbers of shorebirds (such as American Avocets, Long-billed Dowitchers and others) and waterfowl were enough to keep us occupied, we were most impressed by an estimated 7000 Tree Swallows roosting on the mud and flying around the area. It was a spectacle to behold.

We checked a grove of trees as a possible vagrant trap a few miles east of there, finding an immature Gray Hawk – notably late and at an odd location. I managed to get this digibinned shot as it took off.

The grasshoppers here were abundant. Just a quick glance revealed four species, and there may have been as many as 10 if one looked carefully. The lovely pink one above is a color form of the Lakin Grasshopper, Melanoplus lakinus. This one below is the Two-striped Mermiria, Mermiria bivittata.

A couple other species we saw were Red-winged Grasshoppers, Arphia pseudonietana, and Plains Lubber Grasshopper, Brachystola magna.

We also stopped to rescue this young Gopher Snake, Pituophis catenifer, as it was surely going to be smashed by the traffic.