Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Blog Backlog Catch-up: Fort Myers in March 2018

 If I’m flying in and out of southern Florida, I try to have WINGS book me a ticket that lets me visit my siblings who live there. This time I spend five days in North Fort Myers with my brother and his family on their small plot of land, hanging out, working on post-tour materials, and even doing a bit of birding in the local nature reserves.

My brother took me to one reserve that had a flora I was totally unfamiliar with. I recognized this only as a member of the annona family; it turns out to be Netted Pawpaw, Asimina reticulata, virtually endemic to the Florida peninsula.

I also joined my sister-in-law, my niece, and my grand nephew to Bunche Beach.

But I didn’t just sit and relax, I went birding. One of the surprises was finding wintering Piping Plovers, and furthermore some were banded. This one was banded the previous year as a juvenile at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Michigan .

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Blog Backlog Catch-up: Jamaica in March 2018

With only a few days at home after Baja California, I was on my way to Jamaica for my 20th year of leading tours there. As always, I managed to find every endemic bird for my group, with credit going of course to my co-leader Ann Sutton, as well as to the participants who constantly are spotting good birds.

This Jamaican Owl was hunting along the entrance road at Marshall’s Pen just a few yards from our rooms in the “coffee store.” It’s always nice not to have to use playback and to have views at eye level.
Jamaican Owl

When the possible list of birds is rather limited (even if fascinating), you turn to other endemic taxa. This truly fabulous spider is the endemic, and essentially unknown-in-life Micrathena rufopunctata.
Micrathena rufopunctata

This katydid appears to be the endemic Jamaicoecia milleri. As far as I can tell, like the spider, there are no live photos of this species anywhere. If you didn’t see my submissions to iNaturalist, you saw it here first.
Jamaicoecia milleri

Monday, July 29, 2019

Blog Backlog Catch-up: Baja California in February 2018

 So, just after nine days at home (including a quick trip to Portland), I began my annual Baja California tour.

The relatively cool, dry weather and birds busily but quietly going about their overwintering activities was quite a change from the wet tropics. We began the tour at the San José del Cabo Estuary.

We saw all the endemics very quickly, and towards the end of the tour took a boat ride on Magdalena Bay. Gray Whales didn’t come right up to our boat, but we had good views despite the very windy and wavy conditions.
Gray Whale

On our boat trip, two of us getting in and out of the boat to go to the bathroom on a beach didn’t handle the waves very well. Both of us fell into an incoming wave, which destroyed my camera. So when we had our best views of the endemic Gray Thrasher on our last morning near Todos Santos, I couldn’t resist taking another photo, even thought it had to be with my mobile phone through the Zeiss spotting scope.
Gray Thrasher

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Blog Backlog Catch-up: February 2018 Brief Visits with Friends

After being away for 7 1/2 weeks, what could I possibly accomplish with just nine days at home? With a tour report and thousands of photos to tend to, plus other stuff that piles up, one must make priorities: visits with friends!

Dinner at Jake and Corey’s was high on the list (here are Caspar, Andrew, and Jake).

And then my friend Deb invited me and a bunch of others to help celebrate her dad’s 80th birthday in Portland. So on my shortest visit ever to my home state, we prepared quite the feast and hoisted a glass to the admirable Ray Verzasconi.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Blog Backlog Catch-up: Northern Peru in Jan-Feb 2018

I didn’t fly home after my month at Cristalino but rather went directly to Lima to meet the group for my WINGS tour the northern Peru states of San Martín and Amazonas. This was my eighth time to this area and my four time leading this particular itinerary, which visits the dry forests south of Tarapoto and then reverses to move west into the cloud forests of the easternmost ridges of the Andes in the upper Mayo River drainage. The Owlet Lodge is the most famous lodge here.

We did see some of the most iconic birds of the region, including the Long-whiskered Owlet and the Marvelous Spatuletail. But far more photogenic than either of those is the ridiculously adorable Johnson's Tody-Flycatcher.
Johnson's Tody-Flycatcher

The Owlet Lodge’s illuminated exterior walls are a never-ending parade of moths, beetles, and other invertebrates, and I hope to someday put names to the hundreds of things I’ve photographed. I prioritize some, such as the geometrid genus Opisthoxia. This was my first Opisthoxia orion.
Opisthoxia orion

Sticking to lepidoptera, I was beyond excitement to find this Styx infernalis in the open area at the bottom of the Owlet Trail below the lodge. It’s a rarely seen butterfly, the only relative of the Costa Rican Metalmark, Corrachia leucoplaga, which I’ve blogged about.
Styx infernalis

Even on a birding tour we’ll stop for special mammals. This is the critically endangered Yellow-tailed Woolly Monkey, Oreonax flavicauda. We got to watch a troop the canopy foraging on leaves and fruits.
Oreonax flavicauda

Finally, I had to mention this exciting Passiflora tarapotina, which I spotted high in the vine tangles not far from our lodge close to Tarapoto. It’s listed as threatened and, while known well in “captivity,” is rarely seen in the wild. I have to give thanks to my Passiflora specialist acquaintances on Flickr for immediately recognizing this flower.
Passiflora tarapotina

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Blog Backlog Catch-up: January 2018

I began the year at one of my favorite places in the world, Cristalino Jungle Lodge. I arrived there at the end of December as a guide for some of the lodge’s clients but then after a couple weeks moved over to become a field assistant for Susanne Sourell on her Cristalino Fungi Project. Assisting her on a more substantial level was Julia Simon, a Brazilian student with a particular interest in the genus Hygrocybe. Through Julia, Susanne was able to obtain all the necessary permits to collect mushrooms for university herbaria in Brazil. Future lab studies on their genetics will now be possible, which is exciting. There are probably many undescribed species here.
Cristalino Fungi Project

It was so hard to choose just a few of among the 2167 photos I ended up saving from the four weeks I spent there. I must have deleted at least four times that many.

I’d say the best snake was this Bothrops taeniatus, Speckled Forest Pit-viper. Yes, it is venomous, but it’s not aggressive.
Bothrops taeniatus

The most exciting plant that I spotted from the boat was this Gnetum leyboldii. It is a relict gymnosperm in the obscure division Gnetophyta. Until now, the only gnetophytes I had ever seen in the wild were shrubs in the genus Ephedra, commonly called Mormon Tea. Five years ago in Lombok I actually saw fruits for sale in a market that were from a tree in the genus Gnetum. There are only nine species of Gnetum in the New World tropics, all vines, and I impressed myself that I recognized this for what it was.
Gnetum leyboldii
We saw hundreds of mushrooms, but we were always casting an eye to ground to look for red and green members of the genus Hygrocybe. This one looks close to Hygrocybe neofirma, but it may be a new species. We ended up calling it the “WTF mushroom,” because of Julia’s reaction to when she saw it. She has handled many hygrocybes around Brazil, and for the first time ever she saw that this one stained her fingers red. She had this amazing look of wonder, surprise, happiness, and disbelief when she uttered “WTF?” in perfect English.
Hygrocybe neofirma

Birdernaturalist Returns!

I regret that I haven’t been keeping up on my blog, and I apologize.

The most ardent of my readers was my friend Jerry Simons, who died unexpectedly in March, 2018. He gave me the most consistent feedback on my posts, often with questions or suggestions for edits. Several months after his death I realized I had ceased blogging and eventually came to the realization that I had been writing primarily with him as my audience in mind.

Well, 2019 is already half over, in the past 16 months I’ve had so many great experiences that my urge to share has welled up again.

I’ve wanted to do a 2018 recap before starting up with more recent travels, and the longer I let it go, the more daunting that seems. But 2018 was a great year.
I had 18 separate tours or guiding obligations, a record for me (eight to ten tours would be a more reasonable number as a full-time job). I calculated that I spent just over 25% of the year in my Tucson home (in twelve different bouts, which averages less than 8 days between trips). Fifty-one days of the year were spent in planes or airports (though two of those were just 30-minute internal flights in a Cessna). I was in 14 countries.

Besides all the guiding I did, as you can tell from my last blog, I thoroughly enjoyed a non-birding bicycling trip through Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, Luxembourg, and France with my Tucson friend Andrew. So I won’t be posting any photos from that trip.

So here it goes, with just a few photos from each trip.