Saturday, July 4, 2015

Bulletin #226 - Best of 10 Years #5 - Shorebirds and Seabirds

Shorebirds include sandpipers, plovers etc and are favorites of many birders. Many of them are long distance migrants from the Canadian arctic and Alaska to South America. Here are my favorites form the first 10 years of photography.

The Wandering Tattler is an 11" Pacific coast sandpiper that breeds along streams in Alaska and winters on rocky coasts from California to Mexico. I took this photo in Monterey, California and I just like the composition of the rock, intense blue water behind and the birds yellow legs.

Wandering Tattler
Next is the female Red Phalarope. Phalaropes are sandpipers that swim. The Red Phalarope is pelagic  in that it can be found on the surface of the ocean far offshore. It can be found along both coasts but is rare and occasionally occurs inland. I haven't seen it in Texas. Phalaropes are also unusual in that the female is the more brightly colored of the pair. On a trip to Monterey in the spring, a storm blew a number of birds onto the coast and I found this bird in a pond at the famous Pebble Beach golf club. 

Red Phalarope - female breeding

Third next is the 8"  Buff-breasted Sandpiper. This bird summers in the Canadian arctic and migrates through the central states to South America. It prefers short grassy fields and can be found on sod farms but seldom on the coast. In fact, this is the only one I have ever seen, and it was in Carmel, California where they are a reportable vagrant. I found it myself which is always exciting to be the first to find and report a rarity. He is in the kelp washed up on the beach.

Buff-breasted Sandpiper

The Ruff is a Eurasian sandpiper that occasionally shows up along both coasts and a few can be found in Alaska in the summer. The male is unusual in that he has a ruff of feathers on his neck that he uses in displaying. I have seen females occasionally in Texas, but this is the only breeding male I have seen and he was in Barrow Alaska.

Ruff - male breeding
The last sandpiper is the 10" Wilson's Snipe. This is a long-billed shorebird of muddy fields. They are difficult to see on the ground and usually only seen when flushed and flying away. I found this bird in a roadside ditch in Galveston one afternoon when I didn't have my camera as I was at a meeting. I went back the next day with camera and he was there again. I parked my car and go this close-up from 15 feet away through the window.

Wilson's Snipe
Plovers are another family of plump shorebirds closely related to sandpipers. The common one that most people are familiar with is the Killdeer. 

The  9" Mountain Plover is probably the most difficult of the North American plovers to find. It breeds on the plains of Montana, Wyoming and Colorado and winters in central Mexico, although a few are seen in south Texas. It is extremely rare to find on the upper Texas coast. I did find one in Galveston in 1995 and another was not found for 13 years. However, last winter, this one spent several weeks on Bolivar flats and many birders got to see it. I had looked for this bird in California, and south Texas several times to try and photograph it without success.

Mountain Plover

Lapwings are tall plovers, often boldly patterned. Unfortunately for us in North America, there are none. Every other continent has a several resident species. This 14" Southern Lapwing was photographed in Panama.

Southern Lapwing
The Northern Fulmar is an 18" pelagic seabird member of the shearwater family of birds. These birds have a peculiar tube nose. They are found offshore on both oceans. I found this one however in Monterey Harbor, where on the water, he looks like a gull. But the tube on his beak shows that he isn't a gull.

Northern Fulmar
Finding a rare bird by yourself and reporting it and having other birders go to look at it (and confirming it) is still exciting for me even after 25 years of birding. Such was the case of the Buff-breasted Sandpiper above and that Mountain Plover in Galveston in 1995. Well the next 2 birds also fall into that category.

The 37" Northern Gannet is a member of the gannet and booby family of large seabirds. This bird breeds on offshore islands of Atlantic Canada and winters along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts, usually well offshore. I had seen it once before in Florida. In late July of 2010, I was driving along the seawall in Galveston and saw a large bird swimming close to the rocks. At first I thought it was a pelican, but as I got closer, obviously the color was wrong. I stopped and got out to see what it was. I realized it was a gannet that shouldn't even be here at this time of year. Unfortunately I didn't have my camera, but went home and returned with camera. By the time I got back, he had climbed out onto the rocks at the base of the seawall. I climbed down the stairs and went over the rocks to take his photo. I posted it on Texbirds and several others saw him and Wildlife Rescue was called and took him. Unfortunately, one can never find out from the rescue service what was wrong and what happened to the bird.

Northern Gannet
One morning during spring migration in 2008, I crossed over the Bolivar ferry early and stopped at Bolivar flats. I saw this unusual looking 'gull' on the beach. I took some photos and several more as he flew off. I knew it wasn't any gull I was familiar with. I got to High Island and asked the volunteers there to look at it. It was a Pomeraine Jaeger, not a gull. They are closely related to gulls, but now are a separate family. They are oceanic birds that come ashore only to nest, so seeing one on the beach is a reportable rarity.

Pomeraine Jaeger
Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

photos copyright 2006 - 2015 David McDonald

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Monday, June 29, 2015

Bulletin 225 - Costa Rica #6 - Finches and Sparrows

The finches (family Fringillidae) are a large (208 species) worldwide family of small songbirds that are primarily seed eaters. However, the euphonias and chlorophonias of the neotropics are fruit eaters. In the North America they are represented by goldfinches, crossbills, rosy-finches, siskins, and a few grosbeaks (pine, evening).

The male Yellow-bellied Siskin (Carduelis xanthogastra) is a 4" bird with a black back and head and yellow underparts. The female is olive. Here is a female. I didn't see a male.

Yellow-bellied Siskin - female

Much more colorful are the euphonias. The male Olive-backed Euphonia (Euphonia gouldi) is olive with a yellow forehead and rusty belly. The female has a rusty forehead.

Olive-backed Euphonia - male
The male Elegant Euphonia (Euphonia elegantissima) has a rusty breast, pale blue ap, black face and dark blue back and wings.

Elegant Euphonia - male
Closely related to euphonias are the 5 species of chlorophonias which as the name suggest are green. The Golden-browed Chlorophonia (Chlorophonia callophrys) is a 5" green and yellow bird endemic to Costa Rica and Panama.

Golden-browed Chlorophonia - male

I got a closer shot of the female. She is all green with a pale blue crown and collar.

Golden-browed Chlorophonia - female

The 181 species of the Emberizidae family are generally small seed or fruit eating songbirds with conical bills. They go under various names such as sparrow (New World), bunting (Old World),  junco, towhee, finch, and chlorospingus. The 9 chlorospingus species were formerly in the tanager family.

The Rufous-collared Sparrow (Zonotrichia capensis) is a 5" brown sparrow. The male has a gray and black striped head and a rufous collar. The female is just a typical plain brown streaked sparrow.

Rufous-collared Sparrow - male
The Volcano Junco (Junco volcani) is a montane species found above 9000' in Costa Rica and Panama. It is a 6" grayish brown bird with a yellow eye and pink beak. The sexes are similar.

Volcano Junco

The Common Chlorospingus (Chlorospingus flavopectus) is a 5" olive bird with a gray head and a diagnostic white spot behind the eye. The sexes are similar.

Common Chlorospingus
The Sooty-capped Chlorospingus (Chlorospingus pileatus) is similar except there is a white stripe above the eye rather than a spot. It is endemic to western Panama and Costa Rica.

Sooty-capped Chlorospingus

The Large-footed Finch (Pezopetes capitalis) is an 8" olive bird with a gray head and tail.

Large-footed Finch

The Yellow-thighed Finch (Pselliophorus tibialis) is a 7" gray bird with a black head and yellow tufts on his legs.

Yellow-thighed Finch
The Chestnut-capped Brush-Finch (Arremon brunneinucha) is a 7" olive bird with a black face, rufous crown and white throat.

Chestnut-capped Brush-Finch
And the last is the prettiest, the White-naped Brush-Finch (Atlapetes albinucha). This is a 7" black backed bird with white crown and back of neck and underparts with a black face and yellow throat. This bird is a real skulker according to my guide Noel Urena, and difficult to see well. I was very fortunate to get this great photo. He also does photography and said it was the best photos he had ever obtained of this species.

White-naped Brush-Finch
Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

photos copyright 2006 - 2015 David McDonald

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Sunday, June 21, 2015

Bulletin 224 - Costa Rica #5 - Tanagers

It is always a delight in the tropics to see the brightly colored tanagers. The Thraupidae (tanager) family contains 370+ species, so there are many to see and photo. Also, they tend to be medium sized birds and are readily attracted to fruit feeders, usually bananas, so can be easily photographed.

The Palm Tanager (Thruapis palmarum) is a 6" grayish-olive bird with black wings. The sexes are similar. Its range is Guatemala to Southern Brazil.

Palm Tanager

His cousin the Blue-gray Tanager (Thraupis episcopus) is also 6". It has a pale blue head and body with darker blue wings and tail. The sexes are similar and it also has an extensive range from Mexico to Amazonia.

Blue-gray Tanager

The next 3 are all various combinations of red and black and all in the genus ramphocelus.
The Passerini's Tanager (Ramphocelus passerinii) is a 6" black tanager with a red lower back and rump. The female is gray and yellowish. It is a resident of the Caribbean slope and was along with the next bird formerly known as Scarlet-rumped Tanager.

Passerini's Tanager - male

Passerini's Tanager - female
The male Cherrie's Tanager (Ramphocelus costaricensis) is identical the the above bird. The female is different in that she is brighter and has an orange breast. It is resident on the Pacific slope.

Cherrie's Tanager - male

Cherrie's Tanager - female
The third of this genus is the Crimson-collared Tanager (Ramphocelus sanguinolentus). This 7" is black with a red hood and collar. I think this was the most stunning of the tanagers on the trip. The sexes are similar.

Crimson-collared Tanager
An unusual group of tanagers are called flowerpiercers. They have a hooked upper mandible that they use to tear a hole in the base of the flower to get the nectar. Thus they don't accumulate any pollen and don't help the flowers propagate. We watched some hummingbirds using these holes created to get the nectar, as well. The Slaty Flowerpiercer (Diglossa plumbea) is a 4" bird endemic to Costa Rica and Panama in the mountains above 4000'. The male is gray and the female is olive. Here is the male and the peculiar beak is seen well.

Slaty Flowerpiercer - male
The Red-legged Honeycreeper (Cyanerpes cyaneus) is a 4" nectar feeding bird. The breeding male is dark blue with a black face and wings and red legs. The female and non-breeding male are olive.

Red-legged Honeycreeper - breeding male
The Green Honeycreeper (Chlorophanes spiza) is 5". The male is blue-green with a black hood and yellow bill. The female is a bright green with yellow bill.

Green Honeycreeper - male

Green Honeycreeper - female
The genus tangara has many of the most brightly colored tanagers species. They are all smaller at 5" in length and the sexes are usually similar. The Bay-headed Tanager (Tangara gyrola) has a blue-green breast, yellow green back and rufous head. The female is duller.

Bay-headed Tanager
The Golden-hooded Tanager (Tangara larvata) is multi-colored blue, black and white and a gold hood.

Golden-hooded Tanager
The Spangle-cheeked Tanager (Tangara dowii) has a rusty belly, bluish back, green breast, black face and white feathers on cheeks.

Spangle-cheeked Tanager
Lastly is the Silver-throated Tanager (Tangara icterocephala) is overall yellow with a white throat and black streaks on the wings and back.

Silver-throated Tanager
Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

photos copyright 2006 - 2015 David McDonald

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Sunday, May 31, 2015

Bulletin #223 - Best of 10 years #4 - Flycatchers and Thrushes

The Tyrannidae family (Tyrant Flycatchers) of the New World is the largest family of birds with some 430 species. Although many are rather plain brown or olive, a few are quite beautiful.

The beautiful Scissor-tailed Flycatcher occurs on grasslands from Kansas to Texas. This male has a pearly gray head and body, salmon underwing and exceptionally long tail feathers. I photographed this bird on the coast during spring migration.

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher - male
The male Vermilion Flycatcher of the USA southwest is another amazing bird. He has a brown back and wings with red head and underparts and a brown stripe through the eye.

Vermilion Flycatcher - male
This third flycatcher is the cute little Black Phoebe. It is a resident from west Texas to California. It likes to be near water. I photographed this on a rock by the Pacific in Monterey California. He let me walk right up to him and take his photo.

Black Phoebe
The Great Crested Flycatcher has been a life long favorite. It is a resident of eastern North America. We had a pair of them nesting in a bird house for many years when I was growing up in Canada. Flycatchers will eat fruit at times and I photographed this one at High Island during spring migration with a bright red mulberry in his mouth. He is typical of the myiarchus genus with brown back, gray breast and yellow belly. I framed a photo of this and put it in my office and some people noticed a whole parade of bugs walking on the underside of the branch. I hadn't seen the bugs!

Great Crested Flycatcher
The thrushes are a worldwide family of 180 species. They are familiar to everyone in North America as the American Robin and bluebirds are thrushes. Many thrushes are beautiful singers.

The Varied Thrush is a bird of the mountains from northern California to Alaska. I have only seen it twice and I was lucky to get this male on the ground in Alaska. It resembles a robin, but has a stripe across the chest and wing bars.

Varied Thrush - male
The Omao is the thrush on the Big Island of Hawaii. As I talked about in bulletins of Hawaii birds, extinctions have been rampant in the Hawaiian Islands. There were 4 thrushes, but 2 have gone extinct in last 30 years and a third one is critically endangered and being raised in captivity to save it. The Omao is the only one that can be seen.

The La Selle Thrush is an endemic to Hispaniola. It also sort of resembles an American Robin with the red breast. One has to go to the Dominican Republic to see this bird. I had one morning to see it, and was successful.

La Selle Thrush

The Bicknell's Thrush is a small thrush that is the hardest to find in North America as it nests on mountain tops in New England and New Brunswick, Canada. I had not made a trip to see it. I was pleasantly surprised when I was in Dominican Republic last November, to discover that 90% of the birds winter there. So I was able to add photos of this species.

Bicknell's Thrush
A cousin of the Bicknell's is the Hermit Thrush. I had seen this bird several times in California, but never in Texas until I found this one in my back yard, one Thanksgiving weekend. He spent the winter in my yard and I photographed him many times. Some mornings I would hear him singing his beautiful song. This was the best of hundreds of photos and was right outside my kitchen window. He had become used to me and I could approach to within 15 feet of him. This photo made it on the Houston Audubon web site as well.

Hermit Thrush

The last is the male Eastern Bluebird. In 25 years of birding in Texas, I have seen it in my yard 4-5 times. This one landed on my bird bath and stayed long enough for me to run and get the camera set up and take his photo. What a treat to have such a beautiful bird by your house.

Eastern Bluebird - male
Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

photos copyright 2006 - 2015 David McDonald

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Saturday, May 23, 2015

Bulletin 222 - Costa Rica #4 - Warblers, vireos, manakins and others

I saw several species of North American warblers in Costa Rica. These were Wilson's, Chestnut-sided, Tennessee and Prothonotary. However, I did see 5 of the tropical species. I have now photographed 57 of the 120 species of warblers. So I still have a lot to do, as this is one of my favorite families of birds.

The 4" Tropical Parula (Setophaga pitiayumi) does occasionally show up in south Texas. It is similar to the Northern Parula of the USA, but the face is darker and it does not have the white eye arcs.

Tropical Parula
The 5" Flame-throated Warbler (Oreothlypis gutturalis) is an endemic to Costa Rica and western Panama. It is gray above with a white belly and bright orange throat and breast.

Flame-throated Warbler
The 5" Black-cheeked Warbler (Basileuterus melanogenys) is olive gray above, whitish below with a black cheek. The top of the head has a rufous central stripe bordered by white stripes.

Black-cheeked Warbler

The last 2 are cousins. The 5" Collared Redstart (Myioborus torquatusis an endemic to Costa Rica and western Panama. It is gray above, yellow below and has a yellow face. There is a black collar across the breast. The crown is reddish.

Collared Redstart

The 5" Slate-throated Redstart (Myioborus miniatus) has gray upper parts, face and throat. The breast and belly are yellow and it also has the reddish crown. 

Slate-throated Redstart
2 vireo species that don't occur in the USA were found. The Yellow-winged Vireo (Vireo carmioli) has yellow wing bars and yellow underparts. It is endemic to Costa Rica and western Panama.

Yellow-winged Vireo

The Brown-capped Vireo (Vireo leucophrys) has a white eye line and throat and distinctly brown cap. There are no wing bars.

Brown-capped Vireo

Manakins are a small (52 species) New World family of colorful birds notable for the elaborate dance routine the males perform to attract a mate. Usually it consists of several related males who dance and jump over each other on a branch. In general. the males are brightly colored and the female are dull, inconspicuous olive or green. I saw 2 species on this trip.

The White-collared Manakin (Manacus candei) is a 4" bird. The male has a black cap, wings and lower back and tail. He is white on upper back and breast. The belly is yellow and his legs are bright orange. The female is dull olive and I didn't see her.

White-collared Manakin - male
The Red-capped Manakin (Ceratopipra mentalis) is another 4" bird. The adult male is all black except for a red head. He also has a white iris. The female is dull olive. I only saw a juvenile male. He is starting to molt from his olive as you can see some red feathers on his head. He also has the white iris.

Red-capped Manakin - juvenile male
I saw one new swallow, the Blue-and-white Swallow (Pygochelidon cyanoleuca). This 4" distinctive swallow is blue on upperparts and white below. The undertail is black. Its range is higher elevation from 1600 - 10,000 feet, so it is the only one to find in the mountains where I photographed this one. The sexes are similar.

Blue-and-white Swallow
Lastly is a member of a small New World family (4 species) the silky flycatchers. There is one member in the southwest USA, the Phainopepla. Here is the 9" male Long-tailed Silky-Flycatcher (Ptilogonys caudatus). The male is gray with a yellow head and crest and long spiky tail. The female is duller olive. Despite their name, they eat primarily fruit. It is a montane bird and will be found above 5200 feet. It is endemic to Costa Rica and western Panama.

Long-tailed Silky-Flycatcher - male

Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

photos copyright 2006 - 2015 David McDonald

To have these trip reports sent to your email, please email me at the above address and ask to subscribe