Saturday, December 6, 2014

Bulletin 209 - Dominican Republic #2 - warblers, and parrots

I am interested all all aspects of the areas and countries I visit, history, geography, geology, birds, mammals, plants, reptiles etc and I try to read up before I go, so I can get the most out of the visit. In the last bulletin I talked briefly about the geography and geology of Hispaniola.

I found the early history to be fascinating as well. Columbus found Hispaniola on his first voyage in December 1492. He landed, met the Taino Indian inhabitants and on leaving on Dec 25, his flagship, the Santa Maria, struck a reef and was ruined. They salvaged much of the timber from the ship and built the first European shelters on what is now the north coast of Haiti. As he couldn't get all the men on the remaining two ships, 39 Spaniards were left at that place, which he called La Navidad.

The Taino Indians called the island Haiti (Mountainous Land). Columbus called it Spanish Island (La Isla Espanola). Peter Martyr of Angleria was an Italian historian in the Spanish court who produced detailed chronicles (1511 - 1526) of the Spanish exploration from letters and interviews with the explorers. The works were written in Latin and he translated the name as Hispaniola. His works were soon translated into English and French, and the name 'Hispaniola' became the term for the island in English-speaking countries.

When Columbus returned the next year with 17 ships and 1500 people, he found the shelters burned down and all 39 had been killed by the Indians, or succumbed to disease. Several more settlements were established along the coast and Hispaniola was to be the Spanish base in the New World with Columbus as governor as in his contract with the king.

His brother, Bartholomew Columbus, founded Neuva Isabela (named for Queen Isabella of Spain) on the south coast on the east bank at the mouth of the Ozama River in 1496. The settlement was destroyed by a hurricane 2 years later and he moved across to the west bank and founded Santo Domingo on August 5, 1498. It is the oldest permanent European settlement in the New World. It became known as the 'Gateway to the Caribbean'. Ponce de Leon's colonization of Puerto Rico, Velaquez's colonization of Cuba, Cortes' conquest of Mexico and Balboa's expedition across Panama and the first sighting of the Pacific Ocean were all launched from Santo Domingo.

In a letter dated March 20, 1503, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella decreed the building of the first hospital in the new world in Santo Domingo to look after the 'Christian poor and Indians'. This hospital was called Saint Nicholas. As a physician, I found this history of the hospital fascinating and looking further on the Internet found an article of the whole history of this hospital. Later in this bulletin you will see why I mentioned the hospital.

A number of other New World firsts occurred in Santo Domingo. In 1505, due to raiding by pirates, the first military fort was begun (Fortelaza Ozama). In 1510 a palace was constructed by Diego Columbus, Christopher's eldest son who was appointed as the Governor of the Indies in 1509. The first cathedral was begun in 1523 and the first university in 1538.

Unfortunately as elsewhere subsequently in the New World, the native population was decimated by European diseases for which they had no natural resistance. It was estimated that in 1492, there were 400,000 Taino Indians on Hispaniola. By 1512, the native population had shrunk to 60,000 primarly due to smallpox and measles. By 1542, it was just a remnant of 5,000.

There was some gold found and the natives were enslaved to mine it for the Spanish. As the local population collapsed, the first African slaves were brought to the New World in 1502, launching the Atlantic slave trade.

Eventually, Santo Domingo was surpassed in importance by San Juan, Puerto Rico (founded 1509) and Havana, Cuba (founded 1514)

In 1586, Sir Francis Drake raided and burned Santo Domingo and an earthquake 5 years later left the city ruined. The gold had been exhausted and with Cortez conquering the Aztecs in  Mexico (1521) and all their silver, and Pisarro conquering the Incas in Peru (1535) with their gold, Hispaniola became just became of minor importance. By the late 1600's Hispaniola was unprofitable for Spain, and a treaty allowed the French to settle in the western region which they named Saint-Dominge (now Haiti).

I saw a number of wintering warblers in the Dominican Republic. Not surprisingly, they were the ones from eastern North America that migrate through Florida to the Caribbean Islands.

The first was the Northern Parula (Setophaga americana). The gray with green back, white eye arcs, wing bars and yellow breast are the ID marks.

Northern Parula
I saw the Black-and-white Warbler (Mniotilta varia) on several occasions. He has a large worm in his mouth

Black-and-white Warbler
The Palm Warbler (Setophaga palmarum) is a wintering resident in Hispaniola. As you know, he is IDed by the brown streaky coloration and reddish cap. He has yellow on his rump and undertail. He bobs his tail continuously.

Palm Warbler
The Mangrove Warbler (Setophaga petechia) is a split from Yellow Warbler. These birds are non-migratory residents of South Florida, Central America, Caribbean Islands and northern South America. This is the Hispaniloan endemic subspecies albicollis. The head is redder and the crown yellower than the Yellow Warblers of North America. Some of the birds even have completely reddish-brown heads in Central America. This of course is a male with the reddish streaking on the breast.

Mangrove Warbler - Hispaniola subspecies
The next 3 birds are very uncommon in Texas as they migrate almost exclusively through Florida to the Caribbean.

The male Black-throated Blue Warbler (Setophaga caerulescens) is beautiful and looks just the same, summer or winter. He has a blue back, white wing patch and black throat. I have seen the bird about 4-5 times in 25 years in Texas. I had to go to Michigan last summer to get a photo. I saw at least half a dozen on this trip.

Black-throated Blue Warbler - male

The female is drab olive and beige with a grayish face. The large white wing spot helps the ID. I think this was only my second time to see a female, and my first photo.

Black-throated Blue Warbler - female
The Cape May Warbler (Setophaga tigrina) is another eastern bird, but it is a little more commonly found in Texas. I have seen it about 10 times in 25 years. I have not seen it since starting photography in 2006 and again had to get a photo on the Michigan trip. The male is bright yellow with streaking on the breast and reddish cheek patches.

Cape May Warbler - male

The female is very drab, but the streaky breast helps the ID. I think this may be the first female I have ever seen, and we saw several on the trip.

Cape May Warbler - female
The Prairie Warbler (Setophaga discolor) is olive above, yellow below with black streaking along the flanks and 2 black lines across the face. The sexes are similar with female duller. I have seen this bird only 3 times in 25 years before the trip, but did photo him on 2 of the 3 occasions. On this trip I saw it almost every day.

Prairie Warbler
There is a resident endemic subspecies of the Pine Warbler (Setophaga pinus) on Hispaniola. It inhabits the pine forests in the mountains. These pines are also endemic, the Hispaniolan Pine.

Pine Warbler - Hispaniola subspecies
These next two birds are both Hispaniola endemics. They were initially thought to be warblers, but recent studies suggest that they may be more related to tanagers. Consequently, they have been removed from the Parulidae family and are in the uncertain class along with 2 warblers from Cuba and the Yellow-breasted Chat, until they can figure out where they belong.

The Green-tailed Warbler (Microligea palustris) is olive above, and gray below. The adult has a red eye, but the juvenile here has a dark eye.

Green-tailed Warbler - juvenile
The White-winged Warbler (Xenoligea montana) has an olive back, dark gray head and tail, light gray underparts and a white wing line.

White-winged Warbler
Other warblers seen were Ovenbird, Northern Waterthrush and American Redstart.

There are 3 parrots on Hispaniola, 2 of which are endemic and the other introduced. The Hispaniolan Parakeet (Psittacara chloroptera) is endangered. There is a population of the birds breeding in the ruins of the Saint Nicholas Hospital in colonial Santo Domingo. That is where I got these photos. The birds nest in holes in the between the bricks where the second floor timbers had been. I think that it is fitting that an old hospital is still working to save the lives of an endangered bird species. The red shoulders are the ID mark as well as the long parakeet tail.

Hispaniolan Parakeet
And here is a pair at the nest.

Hispaniolan Parakeet
I saw fly overs of the endemic Hispanolan Parrot, and one time a pair landed in a nearby tree. However, they are devilish to find in the leaves and despite 3 of us looking, we never located them to photograph, before they flew away 5 minutes later.

Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

Lisa Kelly-McDonald

photos copyright 2006 - 2014 David McDonald

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Sunday, November 23, 2014

Bulletin 208 - Dominican Republic #1 Todies, Hawks, Falcons, Pigeons

I had a week birding in the Dominican Republic with Tody Tours. This company is owned by a retired ex -Bostonian, Kate Wallace, who has lived on the island for 20 years. She was the first person to organize bird tours in Dominican Republic and is the local guide for several international tour groups. She has several local guides to take you around. I spent most of the time with Ivan Mota who is excellent, knows his birds and really tries to bring in the birds. He also has his own tour company.

The Dominican Republic is the eastern 2/3 of the island of Hispaniola, sharing it with Haiti to the west. Hispaniola's area is 29,000 square miles. It is 2/3 size of Cuba, but much larger than Jamaica (4200 sq miles) and Puerto Rico (3500 sq miles). Together, these 4 islands make up the Greater Antilles group. The island is tectonic in origin, not volcanic like many Lesser Antilles, so earthquakes are a hazard like the major quake that hit Haiti several years ago. There are 3 mountain ranges on Hispaniola and they include the 2 largest peaks in the Caribbean (10,000 and 9,300 feet).
There are several rivers and lakes on the island. 2 of the lakes are below sea level and are saline. Both Haiti and Dominican Republic have a population of about 10 million each

Hispaniola has the most endemic birds (32) of any island in the Caribbean. These include 5 tanagers, and 2 each of parrots, cuckoos, nightjars, woodpeckers, todies, crows, warblers and finches. I was able to photograph 19 of them and saw or heard several others.

The todies are a 5 species family of birds in the Greater Antilles. Hispaniola has 2 endemic species and the other islands have 1 each. The Broad-billed Tody (Todus subulatus) is 4.5" in length. It has a bright green back, red throat and flanks and grayish belly. The lower mandible is entirely red.

Broad-billed Tody

His cousin, the Narrow-billed Tody (Todus angustirostris) is slightly smaller (4.25") but similar coloration except the lower mandible has a black tip. Also, their voices are different.

Narrow-billed Tody

There are 4 resident species of hawks and falcons, as well as several migrants. The American Kestrel (Falco sparverius) is common and we saw several. Here are a pair on a tree top. The male is above with the gray wings. Notice how little streaking there is on the belly. In USA, the birds are heavily streaked.

American Kestrel

The Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) as its name suggests is a common resident in the Caribbean from the Bahamas to St. Kitts and Nevis. It is also the most common hawk in North America. This was the only bird I saw on the trip. His red tail is clearly visible.

Red-tailed Hawk

The third is the Sharp-shinned Hawk. I saw one of those but didn't get a good photo. The last resident hawk is the endemic Ridgway's Hawk (Buteo ridgwayi). I was really pleased to see and photograph this bird on my last day. It is listed as the rarest hawk in the world with about 100 breeding pairs in Los Haitises National Park. The Peregrine Fund has set up a captive breeding program in the last few years and is reintroducing the birds on another location on the island. So far, it has not been particularly successful.

Ridgway's Hawk
The next bird was a lifer for me. Quail-Doves are a group of doves that are ground dwellers and very shy. They are very hard to even see, as they walk or fly off when they see somebody. There are 3 species of Quail-Doves on Hispaniola, Key West Quail-Dove, Ruddy Quail-Dove and the endemic White-fronted Quail-Dove. I saw the first 2 and managed a photo of the Key West Quail-Dove (Geotrygon chrysia). This bird is found from the Bahamas to Puerto Rico and as its name suggests, it is a vagrant to the Florida keys. It has a green head and neck with a horizontal white line through the cheek. The back is reddish and the underparts gray. The sexes are similar.

Key West Quail-Dove

The Common Ground-Dove (Columbina passerina) is the only small (6.5") dove in the Caribbean. It is also found from the southern USA to northern South America.

Common Ground-Dove
Other pigeons on Hispaniola include the White-Crowned Pigeon (Columba leucocephala).These birds nest in the mangroves along the coast and feed inland on fruit and berries. They can be found from south Florida through the Caribbean and Central America. As I already had a photo of this bird from Florida, we didn't look for it.

The Scaly-naped Pigeon (Columba squamosa) is found in most of the Caribbean except Jamaica and Bahamas. It lives in mountain forests and we saw several fly overs, but none landed. Here is a photo I took of this bird in Puerto Rico.

Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

Lisa Kelly-McDonald

photos copyright 2006 - 2014 David McDonald

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Sunday, October 26, 2014

Bulletin 207 - fall birds

I have found some interesting birds the past few weekends. As you may recall, several months ago I featured the Common Nighthawk (Chordeiles minor) in both male and female plumages. They are very common at Anahuac NWR and one can easily see a dozen or more. In the Sibley bird guide, he also shows a juvenile plumaged bird which he lists as being found from July to September. He didn't point out the differences, and I studied the photos for a long time before I saw that the juvenile has white tips on the primary wing feathers. So I looked for a juvie at Anahuac and never saw one.

On Oct 12, I found this bird at LaFitte's Cove on Galveston. He has the white tips!

Common Nighthawk - juvenile
Another juvie was a male Belted Kingfisher (Ceryle alcyon). These birds tend to be skittish and when you try to approach them for a photo, they fly away. I saw this one on a post in a canal and stopped the car and took the photo out the window. The juveniles have a mahogany brown breast band, that gradually molts to blue the first fall. This one is partially molted.

Belted Kingfisher - juvenile male
One of the rarer warblers in Houston is the Mourning Warbler (Geothlypis philadelphia). I have probably seen it fewer than 5 times in 25 years here. I got my only photos in Michigan last summer. Here is a first winter plumaged bird at LaFitte's Cove on Oct 19th. Because it was the first juvenile plumaged bird, I wasn't sure what the ID was. Several experts confirmed it. The grayish hood is discernible and along with the dark breast band points to either Mourning or Connecticut, but the yellow throat is the field mark for Mourning.

Mourning warbler - 1st winter
The black streaky breast band is seen better in this photo. There is also a partial white eye ring which is lacking in the adults to add to the confusion. This is the first juvenile I have ever seen, and without a photo to review afterwards, I would not have known which bird it was.

Mourning warbler - 1st winter

Another juvenile was a Cooper's Hawk (Accipiter cooperii) who flew in and landed overhead at LaFitte's Cove. He was so close, I couldn't get the whole bird in the photo.

Cooper's Hawk - juvenile
 The last photo is of a skink I saw at the drip in Lafitte's Cove. It is a Broad-headed Skink juvenile. It is very colorful with orange head and blue and purple tail. The ID was made by a Texas reptile expert. When birds are slow, I photo other nature. This was a life reptile for me.

Broad-headed Skink - juvenile
 Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

Lisa Kelly-McDonald

photos copyright 2006 - 2014 David McDonald & Lisa Kelly-McDonald

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Sunday, September 28, 2014

Bulletin 206 - Panama #13

Parrots are the another special bird. Everyone wants to see them, especially the macaws. However, as anyone who as actually done birdwatching in the tropics can tell you, they are difficult to see perched. Flyovers are very common. Despite the fact that there are 22 parrot species in the Panama bird book, we got photos of only 3. The sexes are similar.

The first was a distant photo of the Blue-headed Parrot (Pionus menstruus). This 9.5" parrot was perched at the top of a bare tree. Fortunately we were on a 100' canopy tower, so able to get him at eye level, but he was still about 100 feet from us.. He is green with a blue head and red undertail. Also this genus, pionus, is noted for their deep wing beats when flying. Most other parrots have very shallow wing beats.

Blue-headed Parrot

The other 2 species were parakeets. These birds have long pointed tails, unlike the parrots which have square tails. The first was the Brown-throated Parakeet (Eupsittula pertinax). This is a 9" green parakeet with brown cheeks and throat. There is an orange patch under the eyes that is helps with the ID.

Brown-throated Parakeet

This bird has a more yellow than orange patch. Maybe a juvenile?

Brown-throated Parakeet

The small (6.5") Orange-chinned Parakeet (Brotogeris jugularis) gave us the best photos of any parrot on the trip when several came to a feeder. His colors are almost iridescent. And like many birds, the name of the bird is a field mark that is almost never seen because it is so small. However, his orange chin can be seen in the photo. The brown shoulders are the best ID mark. This is the most common parakeet in Panama.

Orange-chinned Parakeet

We also photographed 3 species of swallows. The first is the Gray-breasted Martin (Progne chalybea). This 6.5" swallow has a bluish back, white chin and gray breast. It has a moderate length forked tail.

Gray-breasted Martin

The tiny (4.5") Mangrove Swallow (Tachycineta albilinea) is similar to our Tree Swallow, but has a white rump. here is a frontal view showing the blue-green back and the snow white underparts.

Mangrove Swallow

Here he is turned around to show the white rump.

Mangrove Swallow

Lastly is the 5" Southern Rough-winged Swallow (Stelgidopteryx ruficollis). It is brown-backed and has a cinnamon throat.. The underparts are light. This may be a juvenile with the rusty flanks and white edging on the wing feathers.

Southern Rough-winged Swallow
We saw several warblers, some of them were our familiar birds that were wintering in Panama. Among these were Black-and-white, and Chestnut-sided (most common one we saw). Here Lisa got a photo of a male American Redstart (Setophaga ruticilla) with his black and orange coloration.

American Redstart - male
Photo by Lisa Kelly-McDonald
The Rufous-capped Warbler (Basileuterus rufifrons) is an occasional visitor to southeast Arizona. It is a skulker in the brush. It is yellow underneath and greenish above with a bright rufous cap and cheek.

Rufous-capped Warbler
Photo by Lisa Kelly-McDonald
Most surprising to me was that I caught a glimpse of a Golden-winged Warbler (Vermivora chrysoptera) and snapped a single photo. This bird has been a nemesis bird for me to photograph in the USA. It migrates through east Texas spring and fall but I have had only a couple of photos in 8 years. Also, I missed it last summer in Michigan on its breeding grounds. It is listed as a fairly common winter bird in Panama. It is IDed by the golden crown and wing patch and black facial pattern.

Golden-winged Warbler
Greenlets are members of the vireo family. The only one found was a Scrub Greenlet (Hylophilus flavipes). It is olive above, yellow below and is best IDed by the pink bill and pale eye.

Scrub Greenlet
Photo by Lisa Kelly-McDonald
We saw only a single member of the manakin family. This is a 52 member family of small fruit-eating songbirds in the neotropics. You may have seen videos of the courtship routine of these birds in which several related males will perform an elaborate dance routine to attract a mate. The males are brightly colored and the females are usually dull olive. The Blue-crowned Manakin (Pipra coronata) is a tiny (3") bird. The male is black with a blue crown and the female is bright green. We saw only the female, but she was close and sat still until we got some photos.

Blue-crowned Manakin - female
A common distinctive neotropical bird is the Masked Tityra (Tityra semifasciata). It is a medium-sized (7.5") mostly white bird with black on the face and wings. The bill is red and it has red periorbital skin.

Masked Tityra - male

The female has a brownish wash to the head body.

Masked Tityra - female
The last bird is called a tanager, but it is actually in the sparrow family. The Common Bush-Tanager (Chlorospingus ophthalmicus) is a 5" bird with a dark head and distinctive white spot behind the eye. The back is olive and the underparts yellow.

Common Bush-Tanager

Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

Lisa Kelly-McDonald

photos copyright 2006 - 2014 David McDonald & Lisa Kelly-McDonald

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

Monday, September 1, 2014

Bulletin 205 - Summer birds

Summer tends to be the doldrums here in Southeast Texas - hot, humid and lots of biting insects. However, there are always a few good birds to find and photograph. It is also the time to see the babies and juveniles of our local nesting birds.

I had 2 notable birds at the house this summer. The first was the 14" Mississippi Kite (Ictinia mississipiensis). I have seen them flying over the house 2-3 times in spring or fall migration in 18 years. However, in June and July, Lisa and I noticed a pair of adults flying low over the trees several times weekly. I was sure that they must have a nest close by. Sure enough in mid-August I found a juvenile in a pine tree on our property. One can see the wing-tips extending beyond the tail which is an ID mark for this long-winged raptor.

Mississippi Kite - juvenile
The other good bird was a pair of male Eastern Bluebirds (Sialia sialis). One morning I was leaving for work and the pair was sitting on a car parked in the driveway and flitted to the bird bath. I stoppped my car to watch and one landed on my drivers side mirror! I tried to roll down the window to take a photo with my phone, but he flew off. I phoned Lisa and she came out to take some pictures. This is just the 5th time I have had this bird in my yard.

Eastern Bluebird - male
Photo by Lisa Kelly-McDonald
Both of these has the bird on the car mirror!

Eastern Bluebird - male
Photo by Lisa Kelly-McDonald
I went to Anahuac NWR several times over the summer to look for the marsh birds and waders. The baby Black-bellied Whistling-Duck (Dendrocygna autumnalis) has a striped head. Here is an adult with baby.

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck with duckling
This pair had 13 juveniles following behind!

Black-bellied Whistling Duck family
I found a nest of Green Herons (Butorides virescens). The 2 babies have a punk rock haircut.

Green Heron babies
I watched this Neotropic Cormorant catch a catfish in the canal and manipulate it around to swallow it. He was almost at my feet as I took this out the car window. He appears to be displaying his catch proudly.

Neotropic Cormorant with catch of the day

The Purple Gallinule (Porphyrula martinica) is considered by many people to be the most beautiful bird in the USA. There seemed to be more of them this year than at any other time in 20 years. I saw 12 - 15 adults on each visit. Normally, the adults are seen singly, but on one trip, I saw a pair together and stopped to photograph them from the car, and to my amazement, they started copulating. It was all over in 5-10 seconds, so I was extremely lucky to get a photo.

Purple Gallinules copulating

Moments afterwards, the male preened the female's head and neck.

Purple Gallinules

With so many birds to see, I got the best photos I have ever taken of the adult. Here is one preening after taking a bath.

Purple Gallinule

And here is another on a yellow bush showing the beautiful colors of his head and neck. This is uncropped. He was so close, I couldn't get the whole bird in the photo.

Purple Gallinule

The babies are cute little black fuzzballs.

Purple Gallinule - chick

As they get bigger, they molt into the juvenile plumage of warm beige back and white underparts. Here is one partially molted with still fuzzy black on head and neck. The wing feathers are just starting to grow.

Purple Gallinule molting from chick to juvenile

And here is another close up. This is the first time I have seen these partially molted plumaged birds.

Purple Gallinule molting from chick to juvenile

The juvenile plumage is here and the wings show bluish tinge.

Purple Gallinule - juvenile

Last weekend at Anahuac, I found this light morph plumaged Swainson's Hawk (Buteo swainsoni). He was sitting on a fence post eating his catch. This was my first photo ever of this species at eye-level, and my first of this color morph perched. What a beautiful bird. This bird is a migrant through east Texas.

Swainson's Hawk - light morph adult

Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

Lisa Kelly-McDonald

photos copyright 2006 - 2014 David McDonald & Lisa Kelly-McDonald

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