Friday, December 13, 2013

The Tucson Valley CBC

Promoting and organizing the Tucson Valley Christmas Bird Count has taken up most of my time since I got home from my recent Yucatan tour.

Now that the more than 110 participants are assigned areas and team members and that the countdown potluck details are more or less settled, I've been scouting areas I don't know well and staking out rarities. It's looking good for getting a near record number of species. Last year we set a new record with 153 species. Tension is building!

No one had reported Bronzed Cowbird to eBird in recent weeks, so today I promptly found a small number just about 300 yards from my front door at the U of A farm on Roger Road, where in the past I've found up to 30 or more in the winter. Then about a mile farther east I found another group of about 30. I think we're safe with that one. I found a Townsend's Warbler as well, a very rare bird here in the winter. But what about Brewer's Sparrow, which was seen only in small numbers in one area just today? Or Neotropic Cormorant, which has gone unreported for two weeks but was seen today but only in flight? Red Crossbill? Pine Siskin? Will the staked out rarities perform – Broad-tailed Hummingbird, Louisiana Waterthrush, Black Scoter, Red-shouldered Hawk, Pine Warbler, Yellow Warbler, Wilson's Warbler? What about the reported Barn and Northern Rough-winged Swallows?

The Tucson Valley CBC Blog:

I can hardly stand it.

Bronzed Cowbirds near the Green Things nursery today:

Saturday, November 23, 2013

A Really Cool Yucatan Snake

This interesting snake was sunning in the dirt road leading to Rancho Salvador near Rio Lagartos, Yucatán, Mexico yesterday. I stopped the car, carefully walked up to it, and got these photos before it slinked away. It didn't dart as I expected, but rather it wagged its head back and forth as it inched along, reminding me of the nervous wobble of a praying mantis or that of a Sunbittern. I had no idea what it was, but it was easy to find in Julian Lee's book on the herps of this region: Symphimus mayae, the Yucatan White-lipped Snake.

It is said to eat crickets, katydids, and grasshoppers among other insects, but little is known about it. It is endemic to the Yucatan Peninsula, including an isolated area in central Belize.

Later I went with my friends Ismael and Carlos to the Las Coloradas saltworks and saw a ton of shorebirds, but nothing super rare (Lesser Black-backed Gull was nice).

This sphinx month Madoryx oiclus was sleeping in a bush in the middle of nowhere on the roads that network through the salt works.

The American Flamingos are the main attraction for ecotourists here. They are unbelievably pink.

I'm looking forward to the upcoming week of birding the Yucatan with my tour group.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Another Winter Garden?

Last year I started most things by seed in late October. But it's been so warm lately I think if I put well-started plants in now, I'll have all of December to nurture things and all of January to reap the benefits. Hmmm...

Compare this past July's tomato plant to this photo from today. This is what happens in just a few days if you don't water your plants in Tucson. I was gone for 3 months.


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Memories To Make Me Homesick

I’m on my way home now from a very long trip that involved four tours (to Mexico, Brazil, and Peru) and some scouting between and after it all. I’m looking forward to being home again but leave Brazil with mixed feelings. Yesterday I was walking along a shaded forest road at Intervales State Park, soaking in the bird song-filled environment, knowing I wouldn’t be hearing these birds again for some time. Yellow-legged Thrush’s sharp and fluty, melodious yet harsh, and mimicry-peppered phrases pierced the mossy and ferny forest midstory, and I felt a pang of regret that I was leaving. The bold, simple, three-noted whistles of Hooded Berryeaters came from several directions while the piercing “poing” of a Bare-throated Bellbird echoed from a distant hillside. From the clumps of bamboo I could still hear the Ochre-rumped Antbird that we had passed a few minutes ago, and the Rufous-capped Antthrush was a constant sound that must carry for well over a hundred meters. Throughout the understory were the constant happy whistled phrases from what passes for Golden-crowned Warbler here (definitely not the same critter from the other end of its range in Mexico), and especially charming and so characteristic of these higher elevations of southeastern Brazil was the amazing downward-tumbling, clinking whistles of the White-browed Warbler – making me smile every time I heard it. And this was during the quiet time of the afternoon – the dawn chorus this morning was utterly mindboggling. Good thing that my required “environmental monitor” while in the park’s interior was the most renowned local birder, Luiz Avelino. He helped me tease out some of the more subtle notes from the cacophony and even astounded me with his ability to whistle in a Spotted Bamboowren whose territory he obviously knew very well. By the end of the day I counted up 150 species of birds seen and heard, and that included almost no open-country or water birds (it was impossible to avoid the pair of Southern Lapwings at the park’s entrance gate on my way to and from dinner, and the chorus of Chestnut-capped Blackbirds by the marsh were equally obvious). After dinner I drove a bit down the road away from the park and found my last lifer of the trip – this stakeout Long-trained Nightjar.

So how could I possibly be looking forward to the relatively bird-free-zone of North America in winter? Well, first of all there are the upcoming Christmas Bird Counts, the best social birding event of the year. Check out the blog for the Tucson Valley CBC, which I’m compiling.

But then here are some memories of the kinds of things I was doing at home this past July and August – which was just the other day as far as I was concerned.

There’s the garden at home. Here, my Tolstoi Tomato that provided me with a grand total of 3 small tomatoes that were utterly delicious. Best was just watching it grow (I started it from seed that I ordered from Nichols Garden Nursery), seeing  recover from a few ravenous tomato hornworms, and smelling the fresh foliage.

I started some hot peppers, but I don’t think much came out of them. Some seeds I brought back with me from Lombok, some were of the native chiltepin, which I bought from Tucson’s Native Seeds/SEARCH.

With my gardening this summer not doing so well, there was always the extreme pleasure in receiving from other gardens, such as these amazing fruits from Beth’s magical paradise.

There’s the hummingbird show in my yard which peaks from November through March, especially if there has been a good supply during the fall months. This summer Paul (my neighbor and landlord) found this prize Agave americana flower stalk, the perfect hanger for multiple feeders.

Even in the winter we get occasional moths at the porch lights. This one from August was Forsebia cinis, a confusingly variable thing except for that distinctive hindwing pattern.

Finally, I can’t wait to get back to knitting – this has been the longest pause for me since I started in March 2010. Mostly I’ve been knitting gifts – here socks for my neighbor Katherine (like a niece to me), a hat for my brother, and a cowl for my sister-in-law. Next up is a sweater that I’ve been dreaming about lately, and I have some socks in mind for myself.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Horned Screamer

The quiz bird is Horned Screamer. In the flight shot you can just see the silly little crest as well as a spur on the leading edge of the right wing. To really experience this bird you have to hear them. It never ceases to make one laugh, and it makes a superb ringtone.

Just 8 minutes earlier, also on the Manu River, we paused to get photos and amazing views of these roosting Sand-colored Nighthawks.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Quiz Bird from Manu National Park – second clue

This bird is in the order Anseriformes, as are ducks and geese, but in a different family from them. If you look it up, you'll get it. You can also click on the photo to get a larger version where a couple visible characters might help.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Quiz Bird from Manu National Park

Normally, I might have just trashed this photo, but then it occurred to me my readers might have some fun with this. The first clue is the location. I'll give another clue tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

A SE Brazil Teaser

Wow, there are some pretty birds here in SE Brazil!

From Tres Picos State Park northeast of Rio de Janeiro on my first morning:

Brassy-breasted Tanager

Diademed Tanager

Monday, November 4, 2013

Cristalino Jungle Lodge by Night

I’ve been seeing a lot and taking a ton of photos over the past few weeks, just no time to blog about it – or simply because I’ve been in such wonderful places that there is no internet. After Brazil was a terrific SE Peru tour (the Kosñipata Valley and Manu National Park), and now I’m back in Brazil, this time in the SE states of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, scouting for a new tour. I now have enough material for a daily blog for the next 5 years, and I was wisely told recently that I’ll never really “catch up.” I can only try to not fall too far behind.

I had sorted out this nice batch of photos quite a while back, just waiting for a simple intro, and now these things seem like ancient history to me. Many of the following were found at the footpath lights at Cristalino Jungle Lodge – the rather dim energy-saving fluorescent-like bulbs that light the pathways from the bungalows to the boat dock and to the new restaurant.

This megalopteran (yes, that’s a real name of an order) is a dobsonfly, I’m guessing a female with those tiny jaws.

I’d only ever seen the adults (even at lights in the US, where there are nearly 20 species), but I now have a photo of an Andean Motmot at Machu Picchu with a critter in its bill that might very well be a dobsonfly larva. A blog soon to come?

I don’t have a name for this gorgeous pentatomid, other than perhaps one I make up. How about Grizzled Yolk Stinkbug?

I had seen this fulgorid at Cristalino before, but I didn’t know that you can grab them (they can’t bite) and see some fascinating colors and patterns on the hindwings and abdomen. This is one is Diareusa annularis.

This gorgeous arctiine tiger moth is Rhipha flammans, for which there are very few online photos.

This moth is Perola villosipes, family Limacodidae. It has a truly bizarre way of holding its forelegs up in the air for one, but look at all those pseudoscorpions! This is quite possibly the first online photo of a limacodid moth with phoretic pseudoscorpions. I have seen this at Cristalino before, but with a saturniid moth, and it’s a well-known phenomenon with beetles.

Here’s one cropped down. Not a disease, and probably not weighty enough to bother the moth, these guys are just hitching a ride to the next flower or tree, or wherever it is this moth goes when it’s not confused by bright lights. It’s a thing called phoresis, kind of like the mobile insect version of an epiphyte (which is a non-mobile plant version of a phoretic arthropod).

We also took a couple night walks away from the lit paths, one to the riverside rocks to look at fish.  We may have seen 20-plus species of fish, but they are very difficult to get photos of at night, and many of the species are proably not even identifiable; I did manage this crab.

On the trail into the forest, we came across this Leptodactylus mystaceus, Basin White-lipped Frog.

Looking like a cross between a spider and a crab, this is what in the US we call a daddy longlegs, perhaps more appropriately a harvestman. Ours are in a different family though, this one is in Gonyleptidae, and perhaps an expert might know which species it is.

This lovely longhorned beetle is Taeniotes scalatus.

Now to things that sting. These are hunting ants in the subfamily Ponerinae, and one thing they share with the famous Bullet Ant (subfamily Paraponerinae) is their ability to sting (not just bite). I’ve never experienced it, but one of the participants in the trail behind me yelped and conferred that they “pack quite a belt.”

Luckily we all avoided getting stung by this Tityus sp. scorpion. Some species in the genus are of medical interest (i.e. quite dangerous), and this might be one of them. I actually spotted it using my little hand-held UV light that I got for Christmas a couple years ago. It really works!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Crane Hawk, Geranospiza caerulescens

Widespread but never a common bird (and even a record of a vagrant in southern Texas), the Crane Hawk quite an interesting bird. You hardly ever see them fly, or if they do fly, it's not for long – they seem to mostly hunt by sitting and waiting or walking around on the their long, red legs.

This was on the entrance road to Pouso Alegre lodge in the northern Pantanal on my WINGS tour just this past week, a lucky shot from the van window as it flew from a roadside bush to the ground.

Friday, October 4, 2013

I and the Rheas

I’ve just finished the second of my two Marvelous Mato Grosso tours, and I’ve decided this tour was well-named. We birded three main spots from the north-central border to the south-central border of this huge state (a bit larger than the size of Arizona, New Mexico, and Nevada put together). I haven’t tallied the total bird list yet, but it’s pretty overwhelming.

On our last day we arrived at our Pantanal lodging at the working ranch of Pouso Alegre and a troop of six Greater Rheas wandered in for a drink next to the buildings.

People are always tired on these tours – seeing so much biodiversity is hard work. Even if they get an opportunity for 9 hours of sleep each night, people are too tied to go owling after dinner. So this evening we set out in the late afternoon, did some light birding, watched water birds for about a half hour at an oxbow until dusk, and then looked for owls. On the way to the oxbow we stumbled across this Red-footed Tortoise, Chelonidis carbonaria.

And then owling was as good as it gets. While we didn’t hear the Black-banded Owls from the previous tour, the Striped Owl (an adult and 3 full-grown begging young) and a Mottled Owl took minimal effort to see. We didn’t even really try to see the Tropical Screech-Owls that were calling since we had seen one in the daytime a few days earlier.

The Striped Owl, a little known bird from the area.

Mottled Owl. In reality, this rather scarce inhabitant of tall forest is a totally different species from the common bird of open woodland and gardens of Central America and west of the Andes. Although it’s not recognized by any of the checklist committees, naming it as a separate species would be less of a split than merely correcting a stupid mistake from whatever list we started out with.

We had a very relaxing last morning, wandering the grounds of our lodge, going a bit down a trail, and enjoying the dawn sounds. Here, a trio of Hyacinth Macaws doing their morning preen.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Pantanal Birds in Action

Just a few day's quick photos from my WINGS birding tour in the Pantanal yesterday.

Great Kiskadee knows that Toco Toucan is an egg predator.

Purplish Jay looking for ticks.

Jabiru deftly handling an hors d'oeuvres.