Friday, January 29, 2016

Overcoming the Charadrius Radius

The slow, excruciating torture of the eBird needs alert email is an awesome, but ultimately just punishment for the mortal birder's crime of having limited time and resources, while cultivating a series of dependent, voracious lists. When a Mountain Plover first popped up in Newport, OR in early December, inclement weather stopped us from driving out to the coast at the first opportunity. Holiday travel would take us to New York, and later to Texas. And throughout it all, without fail, a daily reminder of our limitations alighted remorselessly in my inbox.

Mountain Plover

For over a month, the plover has been camped out at South Beach State Park, and on January 10 the fates finally cleared the way for us to have our go at it. We parked, crested the sand dune, hiked a quarter mile north, and with only a minimum of effort found ourselves staring down our bins at a small mob of estranged friends: 9 Snowy Plovers and 3 Sanderlings - our first since leaving Georgia almost two years ago. And, oh yeah, the Mountain Plover. It's larger size set it apart, drawing our eyes right toward it, so that it ended up being the first bird we saw along the beach.

Snowy Plover

Plover snacking on an tasty invertebrate

Sanderling & Snow Plover


From South Beach it was just a short distance to Hatfield Marine Science Center, where an overwintering Bullock's Oriole has been the center of some listserv discussion over the possibility of its being an Orchard Oriole. We kept an eye out for the Oriole, but didn't make a concerted effort to turn it up. Instead, we delighted in close-approaching Surf Scoters, and a pair of Horned Grebes. A Common Loon dove and swam right under us, stretching its wings when it surfaced on the other side.

Surf Scoter

Surf Scoter shoving down a bivalve

Horned Grebe

Common Loon

Next, a pit stop at the Rogue Ales brewery, where we ran into a local birder who had just seen a hybrid Common x Barrow's Goldeneye, and a second Goldeneye that was discussed as a possible backcross with Common. Both of them males. The hybrid had intermediate markings, like the white spot in front of its eye, which wasn't quite circular, and not quite a crescent. We saw plenty of pure Commons throughout the afternoon, but no pure Barrows. It looks like we may have to wait until the Winter Wings birding festival next month before we're able to find them easily.

Common x Barrow's Goldeneye

Common(-ish?) Goldeneye

You've got to admire a gull with sideburns

Over at South Jetty, we struggled to stay on a female Long-tailed Duck that spent much more time underwater than above it. If only they were as desperate for our attention as the Golden- and White-crowned Sparrows that gallivanted a few feet away. We pulled the scoter trifecta, turned up loons-a-plenty, and even spotted a male Red-breasted Merganser in breeding plumage.

Red-shouldered Hawk

Black Scoter

Red-breaster Merganser (not the aforementioned one)

Belted Kingfisher

After such an excellent outing, we thought we'd push our luck and hopefully end the day with a Wrentit at Yaquina Bay State Park. The skulky buggers proved too elusive, so we had to content ourselves with half a dozen or more Fox Sparrows, easily the most conspicuous bird along the park's labyrinthine trails. But it would have been asking too much to find literally every bird we wanted with the same ease as the Mountain Plover.

Golden-crowned Sparrow

White-crowned Sparrow

(Sooty) Fox Sparrow

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Honduras Birding, Day 6: A Full Day at Pico Bonito Lodge

We were happy to get a bonus day with our amazing birding guide, German. We stuck around the lodge and hiked around slippery trails. Hiking these trails were some of the hardest I’ve ever walked. Although the trails were well maintained, the rain, the steepness of some of the steps, and the slippery debris compounded with the humidity and mosquitoes was all quite taxing on me, especially when wearing 10+ lbs. of gear. But, despite all of that, it was so rewarding to be in this beautiful, lush place. 

Lobster Claw Heliconia Plant

Basilisk Lizard

And of course, we were also rewarded with all of the beautiful birds surrounding us. As we started walking up a trail we had trekked before, we picked up some familiar birds from our trip, like Turquoise-browed Motmot and a female Slaty-tailed Trogon. 

Turquoise-browed Motmot
Female Slaty-tailed Trogon

A lizard in the middle of shedding

Metalmark sp.

We also got some new birds, including Violet-headed hummingbird, Tawny-crowned Greenlet, Short-billed Pigeon, White-breasted Wood-Wren, Red-crowned Ant-Tanager, and Wedge-billed Woodcreeper. How fun it is to walk the same trails just a few days ago yet pick up brand new birds. 

Wedge-billed Woodcreeper

Butterfly sp.

Some rad red bug

As we kept walking up the trail, German suddenly stopped in his tracks with a gasp. It was a Black-and-white Owl perched in the canopy just ahead of us. During our whole trip, German hadn’t been as surprised and delighted as he was with this bird, so we knew it was a good one! This was the first he had seen during the day, and he had only seen it at night once or twice before in the past few years. This was an absolute treat. This large owl could peer into your soul with those large black marbles for eyes. His bold black and white pattern was only broken up by the bright yellow-orange of his bill and feet. 

The piercing stare of the Black-and-white Owl

Black-and-white Owl

This was such a significant finding that German called up the general manager and told him about our finding and where to locate it, marking the ground with a heap of vegetation so that he would know where along the trail to stop. 

Black-and-white Owl

Crimson Passionflower with a funky leaf-footed bug underneath its left petals (see next pic)

Awesome leaf-footed bug - Anisoscelis sp.?

We made our way around the trail, but nothing topped that gorgeous Black-and-white owl. We go back to the lodge’s main lobby area and got one last treat before parting ways with German. He somehow spotted a tiny Boa Constrictor stealthily hiding amongst the branches hanging over the raised walkway from the main lobby to the restaurant. The boa had been known to perch there patiently waiting for a tasty little hummingbird to fly by. After snapping some photos of this lovely snake, we bittersweetly said goodbye to German before getting some much deserved lunch.

Female White-necked Jacobin - a potential meal for the Boa

Parting ways with our fantastic guide, German

After some lunch and a quick hammock nap, we head out to some easy, flat trails around the lodge on our own. Around the pool area, there were a pair of adult Collared Aracaris that we had seen hanging out, which we finally figured were a nesting pair. Just feet away from one of the adults in the trunk of a tree poked out a darling little head of a baby Collared Aracari, looking just as sweet and curious as can be with those baby blues. Along the trails, we spotted a Giant Cowbird hanging around, surely waiting around to leave an egg in an Oropedula nest. We were also able to get our best looks ever of the impressive Cocoa Woodcreeper. It’s kinda like a Brown Creeper on steroids crossed with a mid-sized woodpecker. 

Baby Collared Aracari

Giant Cowbird

Cocoa Woodcreeper

White Peacock butterfly

As we continued along the trail by the serpentarium, the sun delighted us with its presence, as well as another special treat. Here we had seen a pair of Gartered Trogons a few days before. They were keen on this spot as it housed a large wasp nest full of yummy grubs. This time it was just the male hanging around, but the lighting was much more favorable to really show off the bold and bright colors of this bird. We could see the shimmering iridescent green back the dark violet sheen of its head. 

Gartered Trogon

Gartered Trogon with what we think was a wasp larva

Not only was this trogon well-behaved and sat still just feet away from us, it put on quite an interesting display. He would leave his mouth agape (displaying his somewhat serrated bill), and move his head slowly 180 degrees while also slightly tilting his head in different directions and eyes wide open. It was so weird and so mesmerizing. He’d also do a little shimmy and make a little cackling sound every so often, too. We spent a good time photographing him and capturing videos of this oh-so-strange but delightful bird and his behavior.

We ended our day in one of our favorite spots – the tower that overlooked the valley of the rain forest. Here we got to see 200 magnificent White-collared Swifts swoop in front of the verdant hills in the dusky sky. These large swifts were a joy to watch sweeping across the sky with their long, slender wings. It was a brilliant way to end such a fabulous day.

White-collared Swift

White-Collared Swift

White-collared Swift swooping by at dusk