Thursday, September 27, 2012

Pittafully Easy Birding

Well, OK, at least two of these birds were easy. The first one below is an Undulated Antpitta, coming into its daily breakfast of washed and cut-up earthworms right outside our lodge at 6:30 am. The lodge is Casa Simpson at Jocotoco Foundation's Tapichalaca Reserve.

Then next bird is the star of the lodge -- the Jocotoco Antpitta, the largest member of the family and one of the most range restricted, discovered here south of Loja only 14 years ago. It's a good 45 minute walk up one of the trails (1.5 hours with birding), and two to three birds come for their worms at 8:30. Though they are habituated to the feeding, they are totally wild birds. This technique of making antpittas easier for birding tourists to see is becoming more widespread but stems very recently from the pioneer Angel Paz and his Giant Antpitta near Mindo. But the concept is much older, with feeder birds being trained to even land on your hand probably a centuries-old practice. I remember reading a book from my high school library on how to hand tame your feeder birds. I was excited to try it, but the author of the book had the advantage of snow-bound Massachusetts and hopelessly dependent birds which he worked with. My feeder birds in mild northern California had too much wild food to care about what was on my hand. But it seems the conditioning method used for these antpittas is the same, and indeed, food in the tropics can be quite a scarce resource.

Here's the setup, with a Jocotoco Antpitta on the rock just below center.

These next two weren't so easy, requiring some patience, playback, and luck. This one is a Slate-crowned Antpitta.

And this is a Barred Antthrush, usually a very hard bird to see. We got lucky that this one was right next to the trail.

I'll end this post from Ecuador with this spectacular day-flying moth (Geometridae?) just down the road from the lodge. We had a dry, almost sunny morning, a rarity in this place of nearly perpetual fog, mist, and rain. Butterflies and many other insects came out in force, frantically mating, pollinating, and thermoregulating.

We have two more days in Ecuador, then I continue on to Peru for a fam trip to visit some new lodges on the Manu circuit. Thanks to Jon Feenstra for uploading and emailing my photos so I could post to this blog. I may have text-only updates from now on.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Weird Insect and Fabulous Moth Twins

Check out this odd walking stick-like insect. I thought it might actually be an orthopteran, but now I think it looks more like a real phasmatodean. This was in Podocarpus National Park, Bombuscaro entrance.

Then look at these two gorgeous geometrid moths. Both were attracted to the same porch light at the same time at Copalinga Lodge near Zamora, Ecuador. The moth diversity was spectacular, and I can only imagine what it would be like with a real bug sheet, lit up with mercury vapor and UV lamps.

Sent with my iPad

Friday, September 21, 2012

Colorful Tanagers and Arial Chachalacas

I'm currently in southern Ecuador, providing moral support to my friend and coworker Jon Feenstra on his scouting trip here. We've seen some wonderful, beautiful birds in some gorgeous country, and Jon will surely have a very popular itinerary to offer in a year or so. He'll soon have an update on the WINGS website at, and I thought I could post a couple photos here as well. Some of the colorful tanagers we saw at Copalinga Lodge were Magpie, Golden-eared, and Green-and-gold, and in the process of photographing almost everything in my way snagged a couple of Speckled Chachalacas that I thought were amusing.

I'm looking forward to sharing many of the butterfly, grasshopper, dragonfly, and plant photos I've taken too.

Sent with my iPad

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Yard Bird #133: Greater White-fronted Goose

I was prepared for this one. Reading reports in the last three days of Greater White-fronted Geese in Arizona by David Van der Pluym, Lanie Epstein, and Arlene Ripley, it became clear there was a sudden influx of this migrant. So last night I listened to recordings to refresh my memory of their high-pitched, yappy honking. Then I went to bed with the bedroom window wide open. Priming my subconscious was probably key to my waking up at 4:52 to the distinctive sound of a small group (who knows, 5 to 25 birds?) flying southeast right over our yard! I wasn't fast enough getting my recording equipment ready, and having leapt out of bed found it hard to get back to sleep.

I've been having issues with bats draining the hummingbird feeders, so these days I'm taking them down every evening, putting them back up before dawn each day. So after dozing for another half hour this morning, I put them up a little earlier, smiling at the sound of a small group of Coyotes yipping in the neighborhood a couple hundred yards east of here.

This is only the second new bird for the yard this year. Early this spring I heard an American Robin fly over as I was working at the computer. Yes, after 14 years in this urban Tucson yard, I still hadn't had American Robin. I've had Dickcissel, Ruddy Ground-Dove, Clay-colored Sparrow, Broad-winged Hawk, Violet-crowned Hummingbird, and even the first state record of Ruby-throated Hummingbird (well, it would be if I'd ever get around to submitting it to the bird records committee).

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Moths are Cool

This past week I went bugging with my friend Margarethe Brummermann to the Atascosa Highlands of SE Arizona, about a couple hours south of Tucson. This area is famous among biologists for harboring an amazing diversity of plants and animals, especially those with tropical affinities, barely entering the US here. Birders know it as Five-striped Sparrow country, and it has one of the most fabulous Christmas Bird Count circles in the country. It's also extraordinarily beautiful country.

Margarethe and I pottered along here and there, stopping to photograph and identify any beetle, spider, moth, bee, wasp, butterfly, grasshopper, or whatever we happened upon. I happened upon this caterpillar, hidden in a folded-over leaf on a Coral-bean, Erythrina flabelliformis.

I thought it would be possible to ID with some clever internet searching, and sure enough I found it at home the next day. First I went to Bruce Walsh's website, which has a nearly complete list of Arizona's moths, lists many of the known food plants, and even has photographs of many of the caterpillars. So first I searched the website for "Erythrina," and came up empty.

So then I went to Bug Guide and searched there. There were a few hits for that word, but one that jumped out at me was a moth called "Erythrina Borer, Terastia meticulosalis." With no photos of caterpillars there, it was back to Bruce's website. Erythrina Borer did not have any larval photos there, rats, but the next species listed did...and that was it: The Erythrina Leafroller, Agathodes designalis! Then I discovered why my first text search did not pan out – a simple typographical error:

"Foodplants: larvae nest builder; Coral berry (Erynthrina flabelliformis)" 

Later in the evening, as it would turn out, at Margarethe's bug sheet (we stayed until about 10:00 p.m., her small gas generator powering a mercury-vapor lamp and an ultra violet bulb), we had adults of both of these moths in the family Crambidae.

Erythrina Borer, Terastia meticulosalis:

Erythrina Leafroller, Agathodes designalis (adult of the caterpillar above):

The Bug Sheet, at which we identified over 50 species of moths.

We had a couple other interesting moth caterpillar finds this day. One was Apatalodes pudefacta, a moth looking a bit like a small sphinx moth, which I've seen as adults only in the tropics.

And we found a target species: an apparently unknown species of Datana moth (family Notodontidae), the caterpillars of which feed on Point-leafed Manzanita (Arctostaphylos pungens). They were actually quite common, and Margarethe shipped them off to a contact who will be rearing them to determine the species.

They look very similar to the caterpillars of Datana perspicua (adults at Bug Guide here), which I found feeding on Fragrant Sumac (Rhus aromatica) just a couple weeks ago.

The caterpillars that Margarethe shipped off to David Wagner in Connecticut were received along with plenty of food plant, but then David discovered another caterpillar on the leaves that we had totally overlooked. What a bummer that I missed it – Limacodid caterpillars are so cool!

There are many other moth caterpillar mysteries. This one still remains unidentified to species, though Bruce Walsh was able to tell me that it is in the genus Cucullia. I photographed it in Montosa Canyon four years ago. Update on 1/25/16: This is a Eulithosia sp., in the same family as Cucullia. At about the same time I wrote this blog, Jennifer Bundy collected this same species of caterpillar feeding on the same plant (Porophyllum ruderale) and posted her find with this name on the website Then two years after that, John and Jane Balaban at found my old photo there and updated the name. I got an automatic email notification from Bugguide, and quickly updated my on Photos library as well as my uploaded photos to Flickr, but this one remained incorrectly labeled until now, when I was reminded by a thoughtful comment. The species is still unknown, it seems.

Such a pretty caterpillar, yet the adults of this genus (the Hooded-Owlets) are all rather drab and nearly impossible to identify. This one was on my screen door the other day. It could very well be the adult of the above caterpillar. Who knows?

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Odonating in Oregon

Here are a few photos from nearly a month ago (gasp!). After my Oregon Birds & Bard tour I spent a week in my home town of Corvallis and took a short mid-day excursion to meet up with my friends Hendrik and Jamie at Stewart Lake at the HP campus to look at the nice variety of dragonflies and damselflies. We saw a couple more species that I wasn't able to photograph, namely Black Saddlebags and Common Green Darner.

Blue Dasher, a female.

Blue Dasher, male (some have a bluer sides to the thorax, some are striped like this one)

Cardinal Meadowhawk. The red is almost blinding in good light.

Common Whitetail. A very impressive and fast flyer.

Eight-spotted Skimmer

Pacific Forktail, typical female. This is a damselfly, a different suborder from the dragonflies.

Pacific Forktail – same as the previous; females are quite variable, and I needed the help of Jim Johnson to ID this one.

Tule Bluet, one of the most abundant damselflies in the Willamette Valley

Western Pondhawk, similar to the Blue Dasher but bit heftier, without the white face, and no rusty basal spot on the wings

Widow Skimmer, a more southerly species that we see a lot here in Arizona

Friday, September 7, 2012

Rich's Fifth Almost-Annual Homemade Pizza and Wine-tasting Party

Taking a break from natural history, here's proof that I do more than just birds, bugs, and flowers. Over the course of three days last week I made 35 pounds of bread dough (divided into 75 balls and placed in zip-loc bags), grated 10 pounds of mozzarella cheese, made 4 gallons of pizza sauce (two recipes), and lugged 34 bottles (about 90 pounds) of wine in my backpack, transported from the stores by bicycle.

Everyone else brought pizza toppings. Voilà – instant party. There were some amazing toppings – roasted cherry tomatoes, butter-sautéed king oyster mushrooms, arugula, fresh figs, basil-purslane pesto,  chocolate, sugared pecans, and countless others.

Here's a row of pizzas waiting to go in the kitchen oven. There was another queue outside waiting for their turn in the gas grill.

We compared six wines to find which goes best with pizza, building on last year's results – two malbecs, two cabernet sauvignons, and two syrahs. (Interestingly, one syrah from Washington was labelled as shiraz, supposedly an Australian name for the same grape.)

The most exciting result is that the cheapest wine – the Wine Cube malbec from Target – got the highest rating, averaged from the scores from 18-20 tasters. But to disguise the fact that it was a boxed wine, I had to decant it into empty wine bottles, and that may have aerated it, thereby giving it more flavor. I had covered the labels of all bottles, so it was more-or-less a blind tasting.

After all was done, I was left with about 2 quarts of pizza sauce, a bunch of mozzarella, 13 bottles of wine, and 13 balls of pizza dough (the latter in the freezer, where they should last for a few months).

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Lots of Lizards in Tucson

Earlier this week my friend Beth and I took a short hike in the Tucson Mountains hoping to see Sonoran Collared Lizard. We dipped on it (birding term for missing a target species), but we still saw lots of other lizards and cool stuff.

The Common Collared Lizard was split into several species a few years ago, and two of the species come very close together here in Tucson, the Santa Cruz River valley separating their two ranges, though the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum website maintains the antiquated taxonomy. Another photo from the Tucson Mountains can be seen here.

Instead, one of the first things we saw was this gorgeous Zebra-tailed Lizard.

A little further up the trail we interrupted two Sonoran Spotted Whiptails who had been interacting.

At the top of the David Yetman trail, an Elegant Earless Lizard posed for us. This one was a lifer for Beth.

Finally, in exactly the area where we hoped to see the collared lizard we instead found a Clark's Spiny-Lizard. This species is typical of the oak woodlands, but here there are no oaks – only cactus and palo verde.

There were some nice flowers, and I particularly like the various sandmats in the former genus Euphorbia. This is the Chiricahua Mountain Sandmat, Chamaesyce florida.

And this really awesome looking insect is the tiny hunting wasp Dryudella caerulea. It kept coming back to the same patrolling spot on a small rock on the side of the trail.