Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Second Most Gorgeous Heron

I've reached a milestone today.

Amidst post tour reports, validation of thousands of (and invalidation of not a few) flagged eBird reports for Pima County, and working on my 2013 tour schedule, I've finally (guiltily) broached the last remaining folder of photos from my ten weeks at Cristalino Jungle Lodge last year.

And on this 30th of September, 2011, while motoring down the peaceful Cristalino River, we came across this Capped Heron. Called "Garça Real" in Portuguese – the Royal Heron – it indeed acted as though we might rather curtsey before it we passed by its most esteemed fishing spot in the river.

Pink, blue, black, white, and butter. What a delicious bird.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

First Day in Oaxaca – Birds and Orchids of the Highlands

I'm back in Mexico, after a week in Baja (see my post to Birdingblogs), but this time in Oaxaca.

Today was a full day of birding in the mountains north of the city, with lots of highlights. We were mostly birding and not taking photos (and the fog in the first half of the day wasn't very good for photography anyway). But here are a couple highlights.

This Gray Silky-flycatcher was amazingly unwary.

The high humidity and rainfall up here results in a lush forest with lots of epiphytes. This is a succulent in the family Crassulaceae, possibly an Echeveria.

Finally, there were quite a few of this gorgeous orchid, Rhynchostele cervantesii. Other populations seem to have white flowers, but these were all pink. The species is endemic to Mexico.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Winter Butterflies in Arizona

It might surprise a lot of people that we have butterflies in the winter here in Southeastern Arizona. If it's sunny and warm enough there are several species that will come out of "hibernation" almost any month. But I was still surprised week before last to see this Pipevine Swallowtail at Peña Blanca Lake, the first one I've ever seen in the month of January. Early March is more typical for the first sighting of the year for me.

This West Coast Lady has a territory it defends on exactly the same clump of dirt in my north-central Tucson driveway every day, and it's been there since at least mid-January, 3 weeks now.

It was actually on January 24, 1997 in Sycamore Canyon near the Mexican border when I started looking at butterflies. I was about 4 miles north of the Mexican border when I spotted this gorgeous blue butterfly with white spots near the tips. I thought that such a thing would be really easy to look up. Little did I know that it was one of few records of Blackened Bluewing for the United States at the time! No wonder I had a hard time finding it in the books. Here's a link to a nice photo at Flickr:

Friday, February 3, 2012

A Twelve-minute Africa Slideshow

In case you missed last night's slide show from our Africa trip, here is my contribution, an extended version posted to Youtube.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Gray Crowned-Crane – World's Most Ridiculous Bird

This evening a bunch of us are getting together at Sky Bar on Tucson's 4th Ave to share photos from our big trip to Africa together. So I'm finally being forced to go over my thousands of photos and delete most of them. (You're welcome to stop by – I think we'll start the show sometime after 6:00.)

I find it hard to believe I actually saw this bird, the Gray Crowned-Crane. I remember at the time finding it hard to believe such a bird even exists. But it does. And we saw them. Personally, I'd find it hard to walk around looking like that with any measure of dignity, but they apparently have no shame.

This was one of a pair along the road between the Mara Serena Lodge and the Oloololo Gate of the Mara Triangle Conservancy. They were very close, so the first photo above is actually a photo merge from 4 photos.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

A Little Hooter in SE Arizona

While trying to stir up a mobbing response from songbirds with my imitation of screech-owls at Florida Canyon this past Wednesday, I heard one give its bouncing ball song back at me. It's not rare that a screech-owl will sing back in the daytime, but they usually do so from within a cavity, and you can hear it at some distance. Once you finally get close enough to get a good fix on the direction of the hooting, they spot you, slink back into the hole, and stop responding. You might find a likely looking hole in the tree, but you won't see the bird now. But then once in a great while one is bold enough to keep tooting after they see you and while they're sitting on an open perch. This one gave both song types of Western Screech-Owl – the bouncing ball song and the double-trill song – making the ID a cinch. I wanted to be certain, as this one area where this and Whiskered Screech-Owl coexist, where both of their habitats interdigitate along Florida Canyon. The black bill, big feet, and more prominent central shaft streak on each breast feather are field marks that are a little trickier to judge, but all are visible in this photo. Whiskered has a greenish bill, little feet, and thicker side squiggles on each breast feather, giving it a more mottled look below.

Field guides have long misled birders into thinking these species segregate by elevation, but I have yet to see any evidence that birds decide on their distributions by referring to an altimeter. It's all habitat, habitat, habitat. Western needs trees with cavities next to open areas for hunting, with mice being an important food item. Whiskered forages in the understory of oak and pine-oak woodlands, mostly feeding on insects. So there are areas where Western Screech-Owl occurs over 8000 feet on south-facing slopes, while in some of the more protected canyons Whiskered Screech-Owls can find appropriate habitat down to about 3600 feet.