Friday, May 26, 2017

Bulletin 293 - Hong Kong #1 - birds around water

I had a quick 1 week vacation in Hong Kong last fall and had  1 day birding with guide David Dinkins of Hong Kong walks. We visited several locations in the New Territories.

Because this was my first trip to Asia, almost all the birds seen were lifers and new photos. So I thought I would start with the sandpipers and other water birds. For those bird listers, some of these names will be familiar.

The best sandpiper was the 10" Common Snipe (Gallinago gallinago), This is the Eurasian counterpart to our Wilson's Snipe and were considered a single species until split in the last 20 years. If you have looked for the Wilson's Snipe, you know they flush and fly rapidly away and are hard to see clearly. Well we were on a boardwalk in a marsh. This bird flew in and landed on the boardwalk about 20 feet away, allowing a few photos before taking off again.

Common Snipe

The 9" Green Sandpiper (Tringa ochropus) is plain in winter plumage with dark wings.

Green Sandpiper

The 9" Wood Sandpiper (Tringa glareola) has a white eye stripe and dark spotted wings.

Wood Sandpiper

The 6" Little Ringed Plover (Charadrius dubius) is a typical small plover with 1 ring on his chest.

Little Ringed Plover

The Black-winged Stilt (Himantopus himantopus) is of course an easy ID with the long pink legs.

Black-winged Stilt
There were several herons and egrets, some of which have an obvious North American counterpart. The 38" Gray Heron (Ardea cinerea) is a large gray and white heron.

Gray Heron
The 24" Little Egret (Egretta garzetta) also has yellow feet like our Snowy Egret.

Little Egret

The 35" Purple Heron (Ardea purpurea) is said to be a secretive bird feeding in reed beds and usually only seen when flying between feeding spots as this bird.

Purple Heron
The 19" Chinese Pond Heron (Ardeola bacchus) is brownish with streaked neck in winter. It has no obvious New World counterpart as this genus is confined to the Old World.

Chinese Pond Heron - non-breeding
The 36" Great Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo) is a Eurasian species that also appears on east coast of North America and is in the Sibley guide. The non-breeding adult here is black with a white throat.

Great Cormorant - adult non-breeding
The juvenile has white underparts.

Great Cormorant - juvenile

There are over 100 species of kingfishers but only 6 are in the Americas. Many of the Old World kingfishers are beautiful. The 6" Common Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) is blue above and orange below with red feet.

Common Kingfisher
Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

photos copyright 2006 - 2017 David McDonald

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Sunday, May 14, 2017

Bulletin 292 - miscellaneous local birds from winter and spring

I did not get out as much recently due to work requirements and I guess some degree of boredom, as I already have pretty good photos of most local birds. I do take photos when a good opportunity pops up to improve my existing photos of various species. And also, having been to Ecuador and Colombia, it does not seem nearly as exciting here. So here are my interesting photos since the New Year.

The Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia)  returned to the same place at Anahuac NWR for a second winter.

Burrowing Owl
A funny looking leucistic American Coot (Fulica americana). A leucistic bird is one with some white feathers, but is not an albino.

American Coot - leucistic
I had a Buff-bellied Hummngbird (Amazilia yucatanensis) once again in my yard this winter, but he was not there regularly. I saw or heard him maybe a half dozen times, but at least I got a nice photo. Such a treat to have this bird as a winter visitor.

Buff-bellied Hummingbird
The cute 13" Bufflehead (Bucephala albeola) is our smallest duck in North America. The male appears almost all white with just some purple on his head. The female is all brown with a white stripe across her cheek. This pair was at LaFitte's Cove in Galveston.

Bufflehead - pair

This spring I got several good photos of various birds. Photographers are told to get the best photos, it is necessary to be at eye level with the subject. So a bird on a fence is a better photo than one on the ground or way up in a tree.

Here is a beautiful male Scissor-tailed Flycatcher (Tyranus forficatus).

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher - male
I also got a nice 13" Forster's Tern (Sterna forsteri) on a fence post. The small size and bicolored bill is the ID for this bird.

Forster's Tern - breeding

There were 2 birds that I saw in the ponds at LaFitte's Cove in Galveston this spring, that I do not recall having ever seen there before. The first was a 30" Reddish Egret (Egretta rufescens). This bird is normally in salt water rather than fresh water ponds. It is IDed by the gray body, shaggy reddish neck and pink bill with black tip.

Reddish Egret
Also, last weekend I saw Wilson's Phalaropes (Phalaropus tricolor) in the ponds at LaFitte's Cove for the first time. Phalaropes are sandpipers that swim. They are unusual for birds in that the female is more colorful and the male looks after the eggs and raising the babies.

Wilson's Phalarope - female
A 23" Glossy Ibis (Plegadis falcinellus) was found at LaFitte's Cove last weekend as well. This bird has raised considerable discussion on Texbirds as to whether it is a Glossy Ibis or aberrant White-faced Ibis or possibly a hybrid. The discussion is still ongoing, but it sure looks classic to me for a Glossy and a number of other experts who saw it. It has classic Glossy field marks with the dark face and eye, pale blue lines above and below the face and dark legs.

Glossy Ibis

And a second photo.

Glossy Ibis
I also got photos of a new turtle at High Island this year. This large turtle (estimated 10-12") had a very long neck with a streaking. I looked in my guide book and came up with the ID of a Chicken Turtle (Deirochelys reticularia). I confirmed the ID with a Texas reptile expert.

Chicken Turtle
And a close up of the head.

Chicken Turtle
Overall, spring migration was very quiet for the second year in a row. The most warbler species I saw in a day was 8. Normally mid teens is average and 20 or more is possible in a good day. I hope this is not indicative of a severe decline in the bird populations.

Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

photos copyright 2006 - 2017 David McDonald

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Sunday, April 30, 2017

Bulletin 291 - 100 Birds to see before You Die - #2

I discovered this book "100 Birds to See Before you Die" by 2 Brits David Chandler and Dominic Couzens about 7 years ago while browsing in a bookstore on vacation. The sub title is "The Ultimate Wish List for Birders Everywhere". It sort of peaked my interest as a 'bucket list' of the rarest and most unusual birds in the world, according to the 2 authors.

It has the smallest (Bee Hummingbird)  and largest (Ostrich) birds, some of the most beautiful (Birds of Paradise) and some quite ugly (Shoebill) and strange (Hoatzin). There are birds on all the continents as well as Arctic and Antarctic regions. 

There are also a number of island endemics. In the south Pacific, there are entries for Hawaii (1), New Caledonia (2) , New Guinea (3), Sulawesi (1), Mindanao (1), and New Zealand (2). The Galapagos has 1 entry.  Madagascar has 3. The Caribbean is well represented with Cuba (1), Hispaniola (2) and Montserrat (1).

There are about 240 families of birds, so obviously they are not all represented on this list. There are 3 each of Birds-of-Paradise, Gulls and Terns, Cotingas, and Tyrant Flycatchers. There are several unique birds that are sole members of their family. These are the Hoatzin, Kagu, Oilbird, Crab Plover, Ibisbill, Wallcreeper and Shoebill, For those of us in North America, not a single New World Warbler is on the list.

Each entry has a full page photograph and facing page article of what makes the bird rare, unusual or interesting to warrant its inclusion.

This is the second group of 10 birds. The first installment is here.

Number 100 is the Arctic Tern (Sterna paradisaea). This is a small (14") tern that breeds in the Arctic around the world and winters in the Antarctic along the pack ice. They are a long lived bird 20-30 years or more and in their travels from pole to pole and back each year, they may travel 3/4 million miles. Because they spend the summer in the Arctic and winter in the Antarctic, they have perpetual daylight except during the migration. Thus these birds have more daylight in their annual cycle than any other animal species. They migrate through the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. They don't appear in the Gulf of Mexico, so it is not a bird you will see in Texas. They are typical of tern plumage with a white body and a black cap on the head. The bill is described as 'blood red' and is the ID mark. This bird was photographed in Anchorage Alaska.

Arctic Tern
Number 92 is the Rock Ptarmigan (Lagopus muta). This is a grouse of the high arctic across all regions, North America and Eurasia. They are adapted for the cold with feathered legs and feet. They have 3 molts during the year to camouflage the birds on the ground. From all white in the snow in winter, to brown mottled in the summer and half and half in spring as snow is leaving. This bird was photographed in Alaska.

Rock Ptarmigan - male molting

Number 82 is the Tufted Puffin (Fratercula cirrhata). This is one of 3 puffin species and is a resident of the north Pacific Ocean and Bering Sea. It is black bodies with a white face, red bill and yellow tufts behind the eyes in breeding plumage. This bird was photographed in Alaska.

Tufted Puffin
Number 75 is the Harlequin Duck (Histrionicus histrionicus). They seek out white water rivers in the northern hemisphere to breed....Alaska, Labrador, Greenland, Iceland and Siberia. The male has a gray head with several white patches. this bird was photographed in Alaska.

Harlequin Duck - male

Number 67 is the Bohemian Waxwing (Bombycilla garrulus). It is similar the common Cedar Waxwing that we see across North America. It breeds further north in the taiga forests of North America and Eurasia. It winters further south but they are very nomadic and don't always show up in the same place each year, thus it is hard to find.I did not see this bird in Alaska, despite looking on the tour. But I did find this bird in a flock wintering in Ely Minnesota by the Canadian border.

Bohemian Waxwing
Number 65 is the Broad-billed Tody (Todus subulatus). It is one of 5 species of Todies in the Greater Antilles. There are 2 endemic to Hispaniola. This 4.5" bird looks like a cross between a kingfisher and a hummingbird. It has a green back, pale gray underparts and red throat. The bill is red as well. I photographed this one in Dominican Republic.

Broad-billed Tody
Number 55 is the Gyrfalcon (Falco rusticolus). At 24 inches in length, it is the worlds largest falcon.Its range is the circumpolar in the tundra and taiga. Some move south in winter if food is scarce. They range in color from white to dark. The authors state the white one is the best to see, but all count. To see a white one, head to Arctic Greenland in summer or Iceland in the winter. brrrr. I photographed this bird on the nest about 50 miles outside Nome Alaska.

Number 47 is the Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiaca). This large (26") white owl is a neighbor of the Gyrfalcon. Adults are pure white with yellow eyes. The juveniles have dark streaking on the white. I photographed a juvenile in Duluth MN in winter and this adult in Alaska.

Snowy Owl
Number 22 is the I'iwi (Vestiaria coccinea). This 6" bird is the iconic bird of Hawaii with red body, black wings and semicircular red bill. It feeds on nectar mostly of the Ohia tree. It is present on all the major islands and can be seen by most visitors if they take the time to go to native forest above 4000 feet elevation.

Number 12 is the Resplendent Quetzal (Pharomachrus mocinno). This amazing bird was sacred to the native Americans in Central America. The male has long tail streamers. It is considered by many birders to be the most beautiful bird in the world and certainly up with the birds-of-paradise is beauty.

Resplendent Quetzal - male

Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

photos copyright 2006 - 2017 David McDonald

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Sunday, April 16, 2017

Bulletin 290 - Columbia #13 - Hummingbirds - part 2

Pablo Florez, the main guide, has co-written a book where to bird in Colombia. In it, he has a list of the Top 30 Most Sought-after Birds by a group of 40 birders visiting Colombia. I saw 12 of them on the trip and got photos of 10. When I show one of these birds,  I will mention its placement on the list.

This is the final bulletin of the amazing birds I saw, on my first trip to Colombia last fall. I started with hummingbirds and I will end with the rest of the hummers.

The 4.75" Sparkling Violetear (Colibri coruscans) is green with purple gorget. I had seen this bird before, but this was my best photo.

Sparkling Violetear
The 4" Mountain Velvetbreast (Lafresnaya lafresnayi) has a curved bill and white in the tail.. The male is green with a black breast and the female shown here has a spotted breast. I did not see a male.

Mountain Velvetbreast - female
The 4" Buff-tailed Coronet (Boissonneaua flavescens) is green with spotted belly and a buffy tail.

Buff-tailed Coronet
The 3.5" male Tourmaline Sunangel (Heliangelus exortis) is green with dark pink throat.

Tourmaline Sunangel - male
The 4.75" White-tailed Hillstar (Urochroa bougueri) is found close to fast moving streams and waterfalls. 

White-tailed Hillstar

The tiny 2.75" female Purple-throated Woodstar (Calliphlox mitchellii) is green on back and buffy orange below.

Purple-throated Woodstar - female
The 6" male Great Sapphirewing (Pterophanes cyanopterus) is a huge hummer with blue wings.

Great Sapphirewing - male
I have saved the best 2 for the end. The 5 species of thornbills are hummers with very short bills. This is the first I have seen. The 4" male Rainbow-bearded Thornbill (Chalcostigma herrani) is olive green with an orange forehead and crest and an amazing multicolored throat.

Rainbow-bearded Thornbill - male
The female is similar but lacks the multicolored beard.

Rainbow-bearded Thornbill - female
Lastly is the 4" Buffy Helmetcrest (Oxypogon steubelli). This is one of 4 species of Helmetcrest that live on the paramo on mountain tops. Until about 3 years ago, they were considered a single species, but have been split and each one lives on a different mountain. 3 are in Colombia and the other in western Venezuela, so the range is very limited for these birds. The presplit Helmetcrest is number 16 on the top 30 birds to see in Colombia.

Buffy Helmetcrest

Buffy Helmetcrest

We saw this bird on the Nevado del Ruiz volcano tundra. Some of you may remember hearing of a catastrophic volcanic eruption and lahar that killed 22,000 people in the 1985. This was the volcano. It was second worst volcanic disaster of 20th century and 4th deadliest since 1500 AD. Here is story on Wikipedia.

The tragic, heart wrenching story of a 13 year old girl who was trapped in the mud is here.

So it was an amazing experience to see such a rare bird on this famous volcano. It was spewing ash the whole time we were there.

Nevado del Ruiz Volcano - Colombia

There are 348 species of hummingbirds and I have photos of 118. They all can be seen here.

Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

photos copyright 2006 - 2017 David McDonald

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Sunday, April 2, 2017

Bulletin 289 - Colombia #12 - Miscellanous

Pablo Florez, the main guide, has co-written a book where to bird in Colombia. In it, he has a list of the Top 30 Most Sought-after Birds by a group of 40 birders visiting Colombia. I saw 12 of them on the trip and got photos of 10. When I show one of these birds,  I will mention its placement on the list.

I am nearing the end of the amazing birds on my Colombia trip last fall. Here are the remaining non-passerines that I have not discussed earlier.

The puffbirds are a small (38 species) New World family. 24 of them are in Colombia. Puffbirds appear to be large headed birds with heavy  bills. They tend to sit motionless and then fly out to grab an insect or lizard. I saw and photographed 3 species on this trip, 2 of which were lifers. The one I had photographed before is the 7" White-whiskered Puffbird (Malacoptila panamensis). This bird is rufous and white and a streaked belly.

White-whiskered Puffbird
 His cousin the almost identical 8.5" Moustached Puffbird (Malacoptila mystacalis) is darker brown in color and has a handlebars mustache. He was a lifer.

Moustached Puffbird
The other lifer was unexpected as we had stopped to photograph the Savannah Hawk, and this bird was perched right in front of us. This is the 8" Russet-throated Puffbird (Hypnelus ruficollis). 

Russet-throated Puffbird

The new World Barbets are another small (15 species) New World family.  The 7" White-mantled Barbet (Capito hypoleucus) is endemic to Colombia and obviously was a lifer as this was my first trip to that country.

White-mantled Barbet
The barbets are related to toucans and in between these families is a 2 species family, one of which is the colorful 9" Toucan Barbet (Semnormis ramphastinus). This multicolored bird is an easy ID. It is number 26 on the top 30 birds list above. I had seen this bird in Ecuador, but it was always nice to see again.

Toucan Barbet
Next is the 19" long tailed Andean Motmot (Momotus aequatoralis). These birds have a racquet tail in which there is a length of bare shaft on the long tail feathers. 

Andean Motmot

What was interesting to me with this bird which was coming to a feeder. was he did not have the bare shaft. The guide had not seen a bird without the raquet tail before. 

Here is a close up of his tail feathers. and they look perfectly normal. There has been some discussion as to how the bird gets the bare shaft. It was presumed that the bird stripped the shaft bare himself. But the latest I read, that the thinking now is the shaft just drops off the bristles. You can certainly see the tip of the 2 longest feathers are wider than the rest of the feather.

For comparison, here is another Andean Motmot I photographed in Ecuador. The bare shafts are readily seen below the branch.

Andean Motmot
I was surprised to only see 2 mammals on the whole trip. One was a squirrel, but the other was a monkey, the White-footed Tamarin (Saguinus leucopus). This small monkey has a very long tail. It is endangered due to habitat loss and is endemic to Colombia

White-footed Tamarin
And another of this cute monkey.

White-footed Tamarin
Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

photos copyright 2006 - 2017 David McDonald

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