Sunday, September 20, 2015

Shorebird Calisthenics, the Seattle Skyline, and a Vigorously Bathing Puffin

Over Labor Day weekend we traveled north to Seattle for our first visit. Mostly, we hit the tourist traps (how could we not?), which brought us to the top of the Space Needle, as well as to the EMP and Chihuly museums. We tried to bird a bit during a short boat voyage out on the Puget Sound, but our main target was Orca. While we weren't lucky enough to find any this trip (ample reason for coming back again), but we were treated to several Caspian Terns and a handful of Osprey, the original Seahawks.

Heermann's Gull

Our other must-see destination was the Seattle Aquarium, which, along with lots of other great exhibits on creatures of the Sound, has a small but lively area dedicated just to seabirds. Inhabitants included auklets, murres, and guillemots, but it was a Tufted Puffin that stole the show with its "vigorous bathing," as Maureen described it.

Tufted Puffin

We didn't make a serious effort to bird until Monday morning, and all signs indicated that Discovery Park was THE place to be. The park is huge, and if we'd had all day to explore I'm sure we could have turned up some great stuff. Unfortunately, we squandered what little time we had just getting our bearings, and trying to find any trails that would take us out to the water so we could do some serious shorebirding. We'll certainly have to try Discovery again on our next visit, but looking over eBird reports before we left town, it was clear we needed to make one last stop.

Steller's Jay

We don't seem to have any trouble turning up small numbers of Black Turnstones from time to time, but never more than a dozen. It's proved more challenging for us to see Surfbirds well, and in fact we'd only ever seen one, and it had been exactly a year and a day earlier. Now we were faced with possibly seeing 50 turnstones and nearly 100(!) Surfbirds. Needless to say, we were sold on the need to make a little detour, but how good a look could we actually get?


Black Turnstone

Pretty damn good, it turns out. We arrived at Don Armeni Boat Ramp in the late afternoon, and lugged our gear up onto the sidewalk. Just as we were deciding whether to turn left or right, we saw a couple of Black Turnstone a few feet away, directly in front of us. And there was a Surfbird. The three of them flew off a little ways, and we worried they were about to leave us for good. On the contrary, they were leading us directly to the motherlode.

There were easily 30 of each, lazing on the rocks, peacefully intermingled excepting the occasional squabble. We were set up along the rim of the Puget Sound, and directly across the water from us was the entire Seattle skyline. So our last view of the city was ripped straight from a postcard, and our last memory was of hanging out with scores of awesome shorebirds. Not bad for a first visit.


Sunday, September 13, 2015

Honduras Birding, Day 3 Continued

There was so much to share from our trip to Rio Santiago in my last post (especially with all of those amazing hummers), that I didn’t have room to squeeze in some other highlights of the day. When we pulled up to the resort, right away we noticed a “moth sheet” set up with a mercury vapor lamp much like the one back at our lodge.

Conchylodes nolckenialis

Nope, not a bumble bee. Megalopyge opercularis.

Sosxetra grata

As we were more focused on our birding at the time, we only got to OOOooo and Aaaahhhh just for a short while before we hit the trail. But as you can see, this sheet was quite awe worthy.

Schausiella santarosensis

Copaxa rufinans

Eacles masoni

Gonodonta species

Some of these moths were bigger and even more spectacular than the ones we had seen back at our lodge. There were more cool and different types of Sphynx Moths. And who couldn’t be impressed by the large and lovely Rothschild Moth, otherwise known as “cuatro ventanas” or four windows for its beautiful clear “pane” on each wing.
Clockwise from top left: Xylophanes ceratomioides; Xylophanes undata; Eumorpha species?; Xylophanes chiron

Xylophanes undata and Madoryx pluto

Left to right: Unknown; Callionima species; Eacles imperialis (Imperial Moth); Other unknown moth below imperial moth

Rothschildia lebeau (Rothschild Moth or "Cuatro Ventanas")

Another impressive creature has an impressive name to match – the Hercules Beetle. That spunky owner of the resort introduced him as his little friend. One of the resort guests chuckled as he told us the story of how he woke up his teenage daughter with this big guy. Hahaha. That beetle was glorious, indeed.

Hercules Beetle

Katydid species

Dobson Fly

After we left the Rio Santiago Nature Resort, we got back to our lodge exhausted but oh so thrilled about our encounter with the gorgeous Spectacled Owls and all of the fun grass birds, hummers and kingfishers. But our birding for the day didn’t quite end there. As we got back to our lodge to have lunch, a small swarm of hummingbirds swooshed by in quite a fuss. Our guide German yelled out, “Did you see that? Ferruginous Pygmy Owl!” And sure enough, in a nearby tree sat this little owl with a bit of lunch of his own. It was a lizard, but the hummers were still not happy about him being around.

Ferruginous Pymy Owl with a lizard

Ferruginous Pymy Owl

Ferruginous Pymy Owl

After refueling and a little cat nap, we roamed the grounds of our lodge and took in the beautiful landscape among the rain clouds. We had some lovely views of our friends the Chestnut-colored Woodpeckers as well as Blue-crowned Motmot. 

Blue-crowned Motmot

Chestnut-colored Woodpecker

And I can't forget to mention picking up this list of birds and more: Red-billed Pigeon, White-collared Swift, White-crowned Parrot, Ivory-billed Woodcreeper, Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Rose-throated Becard (which apparently don't have a rose throat in Honduras). And because having two awesome raptors wasn’t quite enough in one day with the Spectacled Owl at the Rio Santiago Nature Resort and then the Ferruginous Pygmy Owl right when we got back to our lodge, we also picked up a juvenile Gray Hawk! This was quite a day, and the trip was just still less than halfway through. My goodness.

Juvenile Gray Hawk

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.