Thursday, April 28, 2016

Spr - ing

Spring is trying to get here. Really. You may not see it unless you look but its coming for sure. Each year birders get excited in April by a few early migrants like Pine and Palm warblers and Gnatcatchers. And then, nothing else shows up and we feel bad again. But the end of April comes along and we get glad again. Here are a few things to make me feel good about spring.

First up - Yellow-throated Warbler. You may remember that we saw these in Honduras in March. Well, they are here now. Just like that. Here is one with a bug at Belleplain State Park in NJ.

Yellow-throated Warbler
Shorebirds are coming back too. Here are some Dunlin. The one flying in looks like he is conducting the orchestra. Maestro!

Dunlin
More signs of spring include flowers of all sorts. Wildflowers include this Trout Lily.


And this Violet.

And yes, these are flowers too. Pine flowers that they call "candles".


Nesting is in progress by some of our birds. Here is a Cormorant bringing a stick in to the nest colony.

Cormorant
 This Tree Swallow was pissed at Peanut who kept running around the nest box.

Tree Swallow
 This Robin has been picking wet, gooey leaves out of our pond to build her nest.

Robin
 And this House Wren is making his house in the nest box in our front yard.

House Wren
Chickadees already have 7 eggs in a nest box on our patio. The "nest box" was a bird feeder gift from Jill and Becky which was covered with birdseed. The seed was picked clean over the winter. Really bad photo taken with my iPhone but you get the gist of it.

Chickadee Eggs
Here's to spring. Its just beginning.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

A Few Cuties For You

Not much birding going on around here lately but I was able to get out to Pennypack Park a few times. Here a a couple of photos that should make you smile.

This guy reminded Connie and I of an incident that happened about 20 years ago when we came across a raccoon on the trail. This was so long ago that Daisy, our first dog was with us. The raccoon was acting funny so we hustled down the trail. On our way back, we saw the raccoon and he saw us. In fact, he started running toward us making noise. Yes, he was rabid and he was heading right for us. We grabbed Daisy's leash and ran as fast as we could. He ran too. We left the trail and ran up the hill. He left the trail too and tried to cut us off. We made it back to the car huffing and puffing. It was really scary and sad at the same time.

20 years later and with a different dog, Connie and I cam across this raccoon almost at the same place where we found the rabid raccon.  This guy was peering out of a hollow tree. He is pretty cute and didn't try to come after us. Look at his little paw/hand.

Raccoon
Some of the Wood Ducks at Pennypack hang around in winter. I think they survive by begging bread handouts with their Mallard friends. That makes these ducks so easy to photograph since they are the only Wood Ducks that I know of that swim TOWARD people on the bank of a creek.  These are handsome ducks for sure.

Wood Duck
I mean really. Look at the colors and patterns on this guy.
Wood Duck
Looks like we have some decent weather on tap for this weekend. Hopefully, we can get some power birding in.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Honduras Wrap-Up: Nemesis No More!

As stated in earlier posts, the Bird Nerds have been to Central America a few times in the past. Each visit yielded many, many birds but not the most beautiful bird in the Nerd's opinion. The bird is so magnificent that it's name is "Resplendent" Quetzal. If ornithologists call a bird "Resplendent" it must be pretty awesome. The Nerds haven't seen the bird ever but it seems as though every non-birder who goes to Central America comes back with tales and photos of seeing the bird. They all say - "oh, you MUST have seen this one" or "we pulled into the parking lot and there it was" or "look at this photo that I took with my iPhone". I hate them all.

Here is my friend James showing off his cell phone photo of the RQ. I modified the photo because I didn't get his permission to post to the blog.

RQ Show Off
This trip, I told everyone that I wasn't leaving Honduras until I saw a Resplendent Quetzal. Our guide obliged by taking us to the cloud forest at La Tigra National Park and also to another location El Jilguero which also has RQs. We managed to see a few females at La Tigra.

Resplendent Quetzal - female
You can see what type of habitat they like. This is deep cloud forest that has almost constant mist that allows bromiliads to grow on almost every tree branch and trunk. Here is one in bloom.

Bromiliad
This tree trunk is literally covered in other plants that thrive in the misty forest.


At El Jilguero gave us great looks at both male and females. The trouble with both interactions is that the birds are in dark forests so photos are not that great. Here is another female. She makes a racket when she flies in - calling the whole time. She has a gray head, wonderful green/blue back and pretty long tail.

Resplendent Quetzal - female
The male RQ is the piece de resistance with his shimmering green head, bright red breast and 2 foot long tail streamers.

Resplendent Quetzal - male
You can barely see the tail streamers in this photo. Take a good look. I cropped the photo to give you a better view.

Resplendent Quetzal - male
The experience was awesome. Seeing the RQ brought Connie to tears! It is an awesome bird. Quetzals are part of the Trogon family. We saw a few other Trogons on our trip. Here is male Slaty-tailed Trogon.

Slaty-tailed Trogon - male
 Here is a female Slaty-tailed Trogon chomping on a berry. This pair was right outside of our cabin at Pico Bonito.
Slaty-tailed Trogon - female
Here is Gartered Trogon, also from outside of our cabin. Trogons and Quetzals are pretty showy birds but I think they capture my attention by their behavior. They perch and turn their heads very slowly, looking around as if they can only see out of one eye at a time. They look up, down and side to side in deliberate motions almost as if they were robots. Most Trogons have an eye ring which accentuates the odd motion.

Gartered Trogon

Friday, March 25, 2016

Hummers!

Central America is home to many hummingbirds which can be easily viewed at lodges that put out feeders, along roadsides that have blooming flowers, in the mountains and even in the desert. We saw hummers in each of these settings during our trip to Honduras. At Pico Bonito Lodge, we were met by dozens of hummingbirds including this White-necked Jacobin. Beautiful blue and green.

White-necked Jacobin
Another stunner at Pico Bonito Lodge was this Violet-crowned Woodnymph. The green breast was only brilliant when sunlight hit it just so. I was lucky that this guy posed for me one afternoon.

Violet-crowned Woodnymph
Here is another Woodnymph sticking his tongue out after getting a big drink of sugar water from the feeder.

Woodnymph
The other crowd pleaser at Pico Bonito Lodge was this Violet Saberwing. This is a "big" hummer with long wings. As with the Woodnymph, the brilliant purple breast was only visible in sunlight otherwise, it just looked dull black.

Violet Saberwing
Other hummers at the lodge are extraordinary but not because of their color, but because of their bill.

Long-tailed Hermit
A few other notable hummingbirds are not much to look at but are very desirable to birders. Here is Green-throated Mountain Gem which is only found at high elevations.

Green-throated Mountain Gem
And here is the most desirable hummingbird of all - Honduran Emerald. This little bird was the reason for our trip to the Aguan Desert. The bird is only found there. We found this bird pretty easily in the scrubby bushes.

Honduran Emerald
We are all glad that we made the trip for this bird since there are very few of them in the world.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Owls!

When preparing for a trip to a new place such as Honduras, the first thing that I do is buy a field guide for that area. When the book arrives in the mail, I flip through the pages and wonder how many of these birds we will actually see on the trip. When I get to the owl section, I get kind of bummed out because there are so many cool owls in Central America and I know that we will probably not see them. On our other trips to Belize and Costa Rica, we saw exactly one owl - Ferruginous Pygmy Owl which is cute, but certainly not the most exotic owl on the planet.

This trip was different. On the bus ride from the airport to Pico Bonito, our guide Alex asked each person to tell him what bird(s) they would most like to see on the trip. When it came my turn, I said Resplendent Quetzal, Potoo and any owl possible. He wrote each person's targets down in a little book. On the way back to the airport, he read each person's list and didn't miss any - including my owls.

We spotted our old friend the Ferruginous Pygmy Owl flying around the gardens at Pico Bonito Lodge at breakfast on our first morning. Honestly, we couldn't miss it. He perched in a tree hooting.

Ferruginous Pygmy Owl
He flew to another tree and we could see that he had something in his talons. A unlucky frog for breakfast. You can see the frog legs dangling here.
Ferruginous Pygmy Owl with frog
We subsequently saw 3 or 4 other Pygmy Owls including this one in the desert.

Ferruginous Pygmy Owl
We headed to another resort called Rio Santiago one morning. The attraction here are hundreds of hummingbirds, however the resort had another surprise waiting for us along the trail - Spectacled Owl. This is one of the owls that I dreamed about while flipping through the field guide. The owl was skittish, so we had to be very quiet and move slowly along the trail. Alex set up the scope and called us one by one to see the owl.

Spectacled Owl
We walked the trail again after lunch and the owl was still there. He was calmer and didn't seem to mind us peering at him through the scope and camera lenses.

Spectacled Owl
You can see why they call this owl Spectacled.

Spectacled Owl
I would have been a happy camper if we didn't see another owl the rest of the trip. That wasn't the case though. We walked the trails back at Pico Bonito Lodge and found 2 Guatemalan Screech Owls roosting under a palm tree. Can you see the ear tufts?

Guatemalan Screech Owl
Here is his mate hanging out in vines a few feet away from the palm tree.

Guatemalan Screech Owl
The Lodge has more owls on the property including Mottled Owl. We heard this owl calling on our first night and went out with Alex to find it another night. This was the only owl that we did not see during the day because it roosts in deep bamboo stands. Alex found it and used a flashlight to illuminate the owl. He didn't seem to mind as he went about his business of hooting and looking around while we took a quick look. I snapped this photo while the flashlight was on the bird.

Mottled Owl
We headed into town one day after a bird hike for lunch. Alex took us to a local garden to seek Black and White Owls but we couldn't find them. The lady who runs the place said that she thinks the local kids chased them away.

Not to be deterred, Alex knew of one more species that we could see back at the lodge - Crested Owl. Seeing these owls required an arduous hike up a pretty steep mountain path. We called it the "Death March". It was really steep and I thought I wouldn't make it the whole way. We hiked and hiked and came to a place where the trail seemed to end at a rocky ravine. Alex told us to wait there while he scrambled up the steep rocky trail. He said that he would whistle if he found the owl. We waited. He whistled. We scrambled. We were rewarded with a pair of Crested Owls sitting quietly above the trail.

Crested Owl pair
Alex climbed the embankment of the trail to get a better view in the scope. I followed. That's us sitting on the steep slope tangled with vines. Todd called us snipers on the high perch.  I won't tell you about the deadly snake that was there a few minutes before . . .

Linda and Alex - snipers
Check out the Crested Owl looking right at us. You can see that he is standing on one foot and has the other curled up.
Crested Owl
Spending time with these owls was amazing. I worry that we are bothering them but then they closed their eyes and went to sleep while we quietly slid back down the steep trail and took one last look.

Death March Survivors - Crested Owl
Five owl species was honestly 4 more than I expected on the trip but Alex wasn't done yet. Due to a change in plans later in the trip (which I will tell you about later), we ended up high in the mountains at a place called El Jilguero. Alex knew that Fulvous Owls lived here and proceeded to call to them. He scrambled down an embankment and found the owls. We all (well most of us) headed down to get a view. The owl sat on a large limb with just enough sunlight peeking through the forest to light him up.
Fulvous Owl
I said that most of us made the trip down the embankment to see the owl however, the path was too steep for Anita. She waited for us at the top but I knew that she was disappointed not to see the owl. On the way back to the top, I looked over my shoulder and saw the owl from a spot close to the top. I asked Alex to set up his scope. Todd and Paul guided Anita down the path and viola, she got to see the owl. It was an emotional moment for everyone. Here is her husband Paul handing her his hanky while she looks at the owl through tears of joy.

Anita, Paul, Todd, Alex - Fulvous Owl
That's what made the trip so memorable. It isn't the birds, it's sharing the experience with friends both old and new. Getting to see their reaction when they finally see target species. Reminiscing about the tolerance of the owls over drinks and dinner. Laughing about how steep the climb was or how blasted hot it was on the trail. That's what we'll remember.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Let's Play A Game - Find the Bird

Many birds are very colorful and noisy and showy. I think that is what makes people enjoy watching them. And then, there are a few birds that use camouflage to disguise their presence. Most of these birds are nocturnal hunters and sleep during the day so they need to hide. So, let's play - find the bird.

Our guide and a few of the group members have keen eyes and spotted the birds. Here are photos. Try your luck. We'll start with an easy one. Can you find the Lesser Nighthawk?


How about now?


Lesser Nighthawks and other nightjars roost on tree branches where they sit lengthwise along the branch. You can see the white wing patch on this guy. Ana spotted it from the boat.

How about this bird. Another nightjar called Common Pauraque. These birds roost on the ground rather than a branch. Our group accidentally spooked this bird while trying to take a shortcut to the bathroom at the Botanical Garden. It flew a bit and then settled back down in the grass. Can you see it?

Common Pauraque
How about now? Can you see the bird?

Common Pauraque
Hint: The bird is in the middle of the photo. Look for the light reflection on his eye.
Common Pauraque
This bird would normally be sleeping and not showing his eye but he was being bothered by a Hooded Warbler that kept bouncing around right near him. Can you see the warbler on the rock in this photo?
Common Pauraque - Hooded Warbler
One of the birds that I most wanted to see on the trip was a Potoo. There are a few types of Potoo in Honduras. We came across this Great Potoo on our first field trip at Pico Bonito Lodge. Can you see the bird?

Great Potoo
Seeing one Potoo was a dream but when we stumbled on another along the mangroves, I couldn't believe our luck. Our guide Alex spotted the bird, stopped the boat and played this game with us - find the bird. Nobody could find the bird. Here is Northern Potoo. Can you see the bird?


Northern Potoo
Potoos take the shape of a broken branch. They stretch their necks out and sit very still all day long. I never thought I would see one let alone get a great photo like this. Zoom in so that you can really get a good look at all of the subtleties that go into the camouflage. Amazing.

Northern Potoo
More flashy, shiny, showy, brilliant, noisy, resplendent, colorful birds to come.