Monday, August 31, 2015

THIS WILL NEVER HAPPEN AGAIN! An Unlikely Duo Goes Head-to-Head

The weather works in mysterious ways. Oregon is certainly in no shape for me to be rooting against a much-needed bout of rain, but with ambitious camping plans we booked for this weekend our fingers were crossed that the worst of it would hold off just a little bit longer. It was not to be; Oregon's southern coast will have to wait. We tried to find a last-minute alternative, but between the storms to the west of us, and the wildfires to the east, we decided it best to sit tight. The skies mostly cleared up in the afternoon, so we were able to fit our shorebirding in after all -- just much closer to home.

Shorebird flock - Western and Pectoral Sandpipers

The sweet lovers' embrace of a couple of star-crossed orthopterans

Damselfly glamour shot

We spent parts of Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at Ankeny NWR reveling in migrant Pectoral Sandpipers, Semipalmated Plovers, and assorted peeps. Practically everything else we tried to turn into a Baird's Sandpiper, but we just couldn't make the name fit convincingly. The real highlight of the weekend, though, was a collaboration between two birds you'd never imagine seeing together, even while they share a home.

Semipalmated Plover

Pectoral and Western Sandpipers

Pectoral Sandpiper

I was crouched down inspecting a bug, when I noticed a form out on a muddy patch of shoreline that hadn't been there a minute earlier. "Rail… rail… Virginia Rail" I sputtered. We manage to (rarely) see these from time to time, but like any rail, they're more often heard than seen, and this was the most open we've caught one yet. A few seconds later and it was joined by another super secretive species, a Sora.

It's uncommon enough to see one of these skulkers out from behind their usual dense cover, but to see both side by side is practically unfathomable, like bigfoot sidling up to a unicorn. The two lingered together for nearly a minute, picking at the substrate like old friends. The Sora left first, and then came back shortly after for an encore. For all I know this was one in a long series of regular inter-rail check-ins, but truly it seemed like something that will NEVER HAPPEN AGAIN. In fact, I did hear from one researcher on Twitter who studies rails, and she told me that she's never seen a Sora commingle with a Virginia Rail. So there you go.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Honduras Birding, Day 4: Continued

After a couple of hours wandering around in Honduran dry forest, we were feeling pretty toasty. There's not a lot of shade under scrub and cacti, and the sun wasn't shy like it had been back at the lodge. As we were about to pile back into the van, exactly one sunburn later, we came across a scene striking enough for us to postpone the air conditioning just a minute longer. We all know woodpeckers can be feisty and territorial; I can't count the number of times I've seen a Pileated Woodpecker refuse to play nicely with a Red-bellied. Now we got to watch the Honduran analog play out, when this Lineated Woodpecker wouldn't dream of letting a Golden-fronted Woodpecker share his utility pole.

Lineated (top) and Golden-fronted (bottom) Woodpeckers

We made only one more stop before returning to Pico Bonito, and it wasn't for the birding. It was arranged that we would swing by a local's house for a home-cooked meal of fried chicken, pork, rice, tortillas, cheese, and fresh-squeezed pineapple juice -- everything made from scratch, and the chickens running around the yard was a testament to just how fresh it all was. What (non-poultry) birds there were had put their nesting abilities on display, with a Spot-breasted Oriole's pendulous chamber dangling away, and a Clay-colored Thrush making repeated trips to feed a hungry brood fully of fledglings.

Spot-breasted Oriole

Spot-breasted Oriole nest

Clay-colored Thrush

A small patch of yard, maybe 10' x 10', was incredibly rich was butterflies, and Maureen and I eagerly tried to chase them all down to try and keep from falling into a food coma. There was really good diversity of species, attracted to nothing more than grass blades and dandelions, including metalmarks, skippers, and blues.

Central American Checkered-skipper
Duskywing sp.
Metalmark sp.

And what's a little birding without… even more birding. Sure, we'd picked up a cool dozen lifers before lunch, but we weren't just going to rest on our laurels. Back at the lodge we kicked around the trails by ourselves for a couple of hours. We nabbed good looks at Groove-billed Anis, Black-cheeked Woodpeckers, Red-billed Pigeons, and more.

Groove-billed Ani

Red-billed Pigeon

Black-cheeked Woodpecker

Chestnut-colored Woodpecker has been one of our target birds for the trip and we were seeing them practically every time we walked the path in front of the lodge's reception. Our guide German has assured us the first time we met him that it was "in the pocket" he was so sure we'd see one.

Chestnut-colored Woodpecker

The path leading up to the lodge's reception area was great for Chestnut-colored Woodpeckers

Macro shot of an (arrowhead?) orb weaver

I think it's fair to say this was another successful day, and we were in desperate need of a power nap. After all, there was plenty more exploring to do once the sun set

Turquoise-browed Motmot

Collared Aracari

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Honduras Birding, Day 4: Honduran Emerald

Our fourth full day in Honduras was also our earliest start, loading into the van at 4:30a with our gear slung over our backs and our pillows tucked under our arms. We were heading south to the dry forests, all the way on the other side of Pico Bonito National Park from where we were staying. The drive took several hours, giving us time to catch up on sleep before stopping to breakfast in Olanchito.

Roadside Hawk

Amazon Kingfisher

The inspiration for the long drive was the chance of seeing the country's only endemic bird species, the Honduran Emerald. Even though it doesn't occur anywhere outside of Honduras, this hummingbird made headlines in recent weeks after U.S. Fish and Wildlife listed it under the Endangered Species Act. As much as we were looking forward to hanging out some dry forest, we would have been content had we just traveled the road there and back. We met some old friends, like Eastern Meadowlarks, Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, Crested Caracaras, and Great-tailed Grackles. But we also picked up lifers that closely resembled old friends: Mangrove Swallow, Tropical Mockingbird, Brown-crested Flycatcher, and Altamira Oriole.

Mangrove Swallow

Brown-crested Flycatcher

On this same stretch of highway, we picked up our first Fork-tailed Flycatcher (after dipping hard in south Florida). We also had the one and only heard-only bird we felt comfortable enough to count during the entire trip. Our guide German was unquestionably a local expert, and knew every species by sight, sound, and quite possibly by smell. We were happy to defer to him on all questions of ID, but I won't list anything unless I can confirm it for myself. We studied our asses off before heading to the Neotropics, but our lessons didn't include songs or calls, unfortunately. There was no mistaking a covey of Crested Bobwhite, though, no matter how secretive they were, so obviously Bobwhite-y were they. One other ridiculous roadside addition was a trio of Double-striped Thick-knees, a bizarre-looking shorebird species not closely related to any others in North America.

Fork-tailed Flycatcher

When we got to the sanctuary I made special note of the sign, so I could submit an eBird checklist later on: "Refugio de Vida Silvestre". Ignorant gringo that I am, all that translates to is "wildlife refuge", so it was only later on, thanks to Google Maps and my vast powers of deductive reasoning that I zeroed in on the most likely spot: RVS Colibrí Esmeralda Hondureño (Honduran Emerald Wildlife Refuge - duh). We actually wouldn't have any trouble finding the hummingbird, but first we would struggle for decent looks at a couple of other target dry forest residents: White-bellied Wren and White-lored Gnatcatcher. Both were acting secretively, and with the temperature rising quickly and no clouds in sight (this was definitely not the rainforest anymore), I wish I could have disappeared into the undergrowth just as easily.

White-bellied Wren

White-lored Gnatcatcher

The Honduran Emerald was one of two new emerald species we picked up at the refuge, and we sometimes had Honduran and Salvin's buzzing past us at the same time. There were fewer Salvin's than Hondurans, and they were much less cooperative, which is a shame, because they were a brilliant, shimmering green that more than lived up to the emerald moniker. Sometimes treated as a full species, eBird/Clements currently recognizes Salvin's as only a subspecies of Canivet's Emerald - a lifer for us either way, so I won't quibble.

Honduran Emerald

Canivet's (Salvin's) Emerald

The dry forest was also a butterfly bonanza, with such awesome species as Guatemalan Cracker, and Variable Banner. A Painted Wood Turtle proved mighty amiable, coming within just a foot or two on its way to crossing a dried up stream bed. The day was far from over (in fact, it wasn't quite 11am yet), but let's stop here and catch our breath first.

Guatemalan Cracker (Hamadryas guatemalena)

Malachite (Siproeta stelenes)

Variable Banner (Bolboneura sylphis)

Cloudless Sulphur

Painted Wood Turtle