Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Rare Birds Waiting for Me

January 24-26, 2020

I got home late on January 23 from my four-week birthday vacation in Brazil. I was working on my laptop most of the next day rather than spending time in the yard, but I did glance out the window frequently. My neighbors have been keeping my feeders full while I was gone, and there was plenty of activity. At one point in the early afternoon I noticed some movement farther away when something strangely mottled flew in beyond my southern fence and landed on a trunk of a cedar tree. It just sat there, so I jumped and scrambled to find my binoculars in my piles of luggage in the living room. I couldn’t believe my eyes – a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker! This is a very rare bird in Oregon, and I remember when there were fewer than 10 records for the state. It’s now seen regularly enough (almost every year, some years 2 or 3 statewide) so that it’s no longer on the review list, but it still classifies as a genuine eastern vagrant, the principle winter range being the SE quarter United States and southward into Central America. It stayed long enough for me to find my camera and sneak outside for a close shot. I’m writing this two months after the fact, and despite my and other birders’ looking over the next days, I never saw this bird again.

Another nice rarity waiting for me was this female Vermilion Flycatcher at Alton Baker Park in Eugene. I had heard about its discovery while I was a Cristalino Jungle Lodge: found by Roger Robb while on a jog, who thought it might be a Say’s Phoebe, and relocated and correctly identified by Ramiro Aragon the next day. I wasn’t panicked to see it, as I was among the listers in the early 1990’s when Bend, Oregon hosted Oregon’s first record. Still, it’s fun to see such a “mega” that’s only a half-hour bike ride away, and so I was lucky that this bird appeared to be successfully wintering here. I think this is the sixth record for the state.

I was very grateful that my neighbors have kept the neighborhood wintering birds happy and well-fed. Here are two of the half dozen or so Townsend’s Warblers that have been visiting my homemade peanut butter suet blocks.

Monday, April 6, 2020

Serra do Cipó – Extension to the Birthday Extension

January 21, 2020

After the long drive back to the Belo Horizonte airport from Canastra, our group of 17 began the preparation for our flights homeward.  That is, all but four of us, who, because of the flights we were able to book, had an extra night and much of the next day. While my initial thoughts had been to just spend the day working on photos on my laptop at the hotel before my afternoon flight, queries and suggestions from Jake and Jim prompted me to help them plan a quick overnight trip to Serra do Cipó, just an hour and a half drive away. Mich decided he had enough time to join us at least for the early part of the morning. We rented a car right there at the airport and soon were on our way.

My main target was the Cipo Canastero, a small, wren-like furnariid that lives among the hyper-rugged rocky outcroppings, a habitat that is very hard to get access to. But we judged ourselves up to the challenge and went even deeper into the hills that I have dared take my WINGS tours.

We still came up empty handed, but for the other guys nearly everything was new. We didn't leave until after it was dark but there was only a little activity and nothing vocalizing: a Great Horned Owl flew in and landed briefly, a Least Nighthawk flew by giving great views, but our prize for the night was this Band-winged Nightjar.
Band-winged Nightjar

I was excited about some of the orchids we came across. This fuzzy crane orchid hasn’t been identified for me yet.

This is a member of the huge and complex genus Oncidium.

This being the rainy season, frogs were in evidence. It took some time to find one, as they tend to shut up just as you get close enough to figure out where they are. Finally, I spotted this one. It’s tiny but deafening. As best as I can determine, it is Pseudopaludicola matuta, a confusing genus with several species only very recently described.
Pseudopaludicola matuta

Right next to it was this pair of mating frogs that looked similar enough I assumed they would be the same species, but they’re not. These are probably Pseudopaludicola munduru.
Pseudopaludicola munduru

The next morning we gave the canastero another shot, but still no sign of it, despite our having precise latitude and longitude from a friend who had had them here recently. At least the botanizing was exciting. This amazing orchid growing on the rocks is Acianthera johannensis.
Acianthera johannensis

Velloziaceae is a very prominent family here. This one is Vellozia epidendroides.
Vellozia epidendroides

This one is Barbacenia gentianoides.
Barbacenia gentianoides

I recognized this as a Phyllanthus sp. from my time in Jamaica, where the red-flowered P. arbuscula is endemic. Note that these are flattened branchlets (phylloclades) on a leafless plant.
Phyllanthus sp.

This huge and showy mistletoe is a Psittacanthus sp., family Loranthaceae (not Viscaceae as our temperate mistletoes).
Psittacanthus sp.

The form of the inflorescence in this pipewort, Paepalanthus villosulus, is very distinctive.
Paepalanthus villosulus

Paepalanthus villosulus

This is Physocalyx major, looking rather like a gesneriad at first glance, especially with the waxy blooms, but it’s instead in Orobanchaceae, a family with many hemiparasitic plants like broomrape and Indian paintbrush.
Physocalyx major

Physocalyx major

We had a bit of sun this morning, and there were a few butterflies around. This well-marked, small skipper is Thespieus homochromus. The only other iNaturalist submission for this obscure species, described in 1978, is from about 75 miles SSW of here. And interestingly enough it was submitted by my friend Jeff Harding, who lives just 40 miles NNE of me in the Willamette Valley of Oregon.
Thespieus homochromus

The habitat where the canastero might be found isn’t very rich in bird species, so we finally ditched it and headed for brushier cerrado closer to the hotel. We scored a good number of birds here, many of them lifers for Jim, Jake, and Mich. This Pileated Finch was really excited about our owl imitations and pishing.
Pileated Finch

One of the last new birds of the trip and always a good find was this stunning Blue Finch.
Blue Finch

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Minas Gerais Birthday Extension

January 17, 2020

The second half of my post-birthday extension in Brazil was to the state of Minas Gerais. The attractions here are Maned Wolf at the Caraça Sanctuary and the wild grasslands with chance of Giant Anteater at Canastra National Park, and of course some really great birds. I planned on two nights in each place to keep the trip affordable, and 16 of my friends joined me for this part of the adventure. Having departed Cuiabá on a pre-dawn flight I thought for sure we’d have some time for birding once we got to Caraça that afternoon. It’s only about 3 ½ hours from the Belo Horizonte airport, unless there is a traffic issue.

There was a traffic issue. At least we got some birding in while waiting for the line of vehicles to move.

It seems to have been highway construction that caused the long delay, and it took us about 6 hours and 15 minutes, arriving just at dusk. In any event, we were in time for dinner, and right afterward we assembled on the porch in front of the church entrance. In a short time our hoped-for guest appeared – Maned Wolf, Chrysocyon brachyurus (this photo is from my tour year before last).
Maned Wolf

January 18 was our one full day in the lushly forested valley and naturally scrubby hillsides of Canastra. It’s a gorgeous place, with plenty of draw for even the non-birders – waterfall hikes being a favorite. There are birds everywhere, including many Dusky-legged Guans right around the buildings.
Dusky-legged Guan

We saw many local specialties such as this Dubois's Seedeater, which looks like a washed-out Yellow-bellied Seedeater (and some consider them to be one variable species).
Dubois's Seedeater

Surely a caterpillar host for a local species of swallowtail, this pipevine is Aristolochia smilacina.
Aristolochia smilacina

Not all skippers are brown and boring; This firetip is Sarbia soza, and this submission was new for iNaturalist.
Sarbia soza

This wasp-mimicking katydid was a stunner. It even flicked its wings like a tarantula hawk. Thanks to the orthopterists at iNaturalist, I learned that it's in the genus Scaphura sp.
Scaphura sp.

We then had a long day’s drive across the state of Minas Gerais to São Roque de Minas, with a lunch stop where we saw both White-rumped Monjita and this Gray Monjita in an adjacent field.
Gray Monjita

Like at Caraça, we had just one full day at Canastra, which I divided into two halves. The morning was devoted to driving up the São Francisco River (locally nicknamed Velho Chico, which I roughly translate as Old Frankie), making frequent stops at all likely places for the super rare Brazilian Merganser. We practically wrung the river dry without a single duck of any kind. Our driver knew birds too, and he had a way with tinamous. First he coaxed a Small-billed Tinamou to walk across the road, then a little later he got this Spotted Nothura to walk out in the open and sing at point-blank range.
Spotted Nothura

I found another pipevine (Aristolochia), this one much larger, but I don’t have a species name for it yet.

The other half of the day was spent on the top of the national park, primarily in search for Giant Anteater. On the way up our driver stopped opposite this Red-legged Seriema which was perched by the side of the road. It was unfazed and unimpressed by this big bus.
Red-legged Seriema

Alas, we never did see a Giant Anteater, despite our odds being pretty good (the November WINGS tour has never missed it so far). Perhaps a bit of a consolation for the mammal watchers was this Pampas Deer, Ozotoceros bezoarticus.
Pampas Deer, Ozotoceros bezoarticus

While some of us birded, the non-birders enjoyed a lovely walk along the road through the magnificent grasslands. We stopped for just a few, such as this local Ochre-breasted Pipit, which was a lifebird for me just this past November.
Ochre-breasted Pipit

Pearly-breasted Seedeater turns out to be very common this time of year; in November only a very few were starting to set up territories.
Pearly-breasted Seedeater

I had hoped we could rush along to the end of the road at the top of the waterfalls of the São Francisco, where we would have one last chance at the merganser, but not only were there more specialty birds to see (like Sharp-tailed Grass-Finch, Black-masked Finch, and Cock-tailed Tyrant), but our bus was excruciatingly slow on these dirt roads, not going more than about 10-15 km per hour. It was getting to be dusk while we were still a few kilometers before the falls, so we made one last stop for plants when Jake spotted a Brazilian Merganser flying super fast, way out over the grasslands! Most of the group got it, missed by those who were standing on the wrong side of the bus and never saw which way it was flying. Not the best views ever, but still a magnificent find.

The plants here were also just amazing. There are several confusing genera in the family Eriocaulaceae, but all are fascinating, distant relatives of grasses called pipeworts.

Also typical of this region is the family Velloziaceae, most closely related to the Cyclanths and screwpines. This one is Vellozia peripherica.
Vellozia peripherica

This gorgeous member of the amaranth family is Gomphrena arborescens; it had me fooled as a composite at first glance.
Gomphrena arborescens