Monday, October 24, 2011

Morpho Metamorphosis

While at Cristalino Jungle Lodge these past couple of months one of the things we local naturalist guides made a point of showing the clients were these gorgeous caterpillars.

There was only one group of them right next to a trail, just 100 meters down from the boat dock, but there were others on more distant trails or visible from the river. They roosted near eye-level during the day, and sometime between 11:00 p.m. and 4:00 a.m. would ascend to feed on leaves in the canopy.

Word had been passed down that these were morpho caterpillars, but there are probably 7 species in this genus at Cristalino, and no one I asked knew which species they were. I suspected that they weren't any of the three common very blue ones we see everywhere in the forest, such as this Morpho helenor.

Or this Morpho menelaus – the most blue of all the common ones.

Here I snapped the shot a fraction of a second too late, but you can see the stunning color.

What I noticed was that all of these caterpillar colonies were located on a trunk of a large vine that seemed to grow only in the seasonally flooded forest close to the river. And there was one species of Morpho I knew that flew only near the river, usually near the tree tops, and only in the late morning – but I hadn't seen any during my weeks at the lodge. It was Morpho telemachus and it's not one of the blue ones.

Then in mid-September, the colonies started shrinking, and we started noticing stray caterpillars walking on the forest floor. While with some clients, we saved one from the river, and I took it in, putting it in a ziploc bag with some vegetation. In three days it had formed this chrysalis.

Then on October 7, I saw my first Morpho telemachus – flying near the river at 9:30 a.m. as expected. They were emerging! The very next morning, I checked my chrysalis and it was empty. And bingo – in the bag was a fully formed Morpho telemachus. I took a few photos and let it go. It took just 18 days from caterpillar to butterfly, an astounding metamorphosis.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

My Buddy, the Violet-crowned Hummingbird

My friend since February 2008 has returned for what will be his fifth winter here in my north-central Tucson backyard.

He seems to show up about 5-6 weeks earlier every year, and stay longer and longer as well. Last year the date was October 16, so this year I though he might show up in September. But I was gone in Brazil until October 15, and I took down all 14 of my feeders (including his favorite against the west fence just south of the big wolfberry bush) last May just before I embarked on a long series of tours, scouting trips, and personal trips that took me to SE Arizona, Oregon, Alaska, Washington, British Columbia, Peru, Costa Rica, then Brazil.

I got home last Sunday, October 16. It took me until mid-day Monday to put up a few feeders – using the last bit of sugar water I had left in the fridge, and hadn't yet gone to the store for more sugar. Then Tuesday morning, there are hummingbirds all over in the yard, including Mr. Handsome. His crown really shows up well in the morning sun.

Also in the yard are several male Broad-billed Hummingbirds, lots of Anna's Hummingbirds, and the presumed female Black-chinned x Costa's Hummingbird hybrid which has returned also for her third winter.

This young male Anna's Hummingbird is molting in his gorget in an interesting way. I assume those grayish feathers below the bill on either side of the throat will be replaced with iridescent red ones soon. What's interesting is that this bird has a band – Larry Norris has come here twice to band hummingbirds, but I don't know is this is one of the birds we banded. The numbers I could see in a couple photos indicate that it might actually be a bird from somewhere else.

I think these show the band number to be L500122. I'll post here when I know more.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Leaving Cristalino

I'm about to depart for the Alta Floresta airport, followed by five flights back home. I'm sad to leave Cristalino, the birds, the butterflies, and the people who have become my friends. Here are a few photos from this morning – my last outing at 3:00 with Feline Night Monkey, continuing through dawn chorus and an early metalmark at the Saleiro (don't know which species yet, looks like Panara), and the girls back at the lodge – cooks and maids.

Update: This butterfly is the metalmark Chamaelimnas tircis

Monday, October 10, 2011

My Last Week at Cristalino Jungle Lodge

I'm back in Alta Floresta for just a quick afternoon of internet connectivity – then back to the lodge soon. I've had so many wonderful experiences over the past 9 weeks, met so many great people, and made friends of all the staff at the lodge. I'm really sad to be leaving. I get home October 15. Can I find a Cinnamon Manakin-Tyrant before then?

Just one picture here so it's not a blank post: Greenish Elaenia (a migrant?)