Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Bulletin 257 - Costa Rica #2 - Thrushes, Blackbirds, Silky-flycatcher

I photographed 2 species of thrush on this trip. The first was the 6" Ruddy-capped Nightingale-Thrush (Catharus frantzii). This brown backed thrush has a ruddy crown. I had photographed him on the previous trip, but this time he was on a feeder and the photos were better.

Ruddy-capped Nightingale-Thrush
 His cousin the 6" Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrush (Catharus aurantiirostris) is very similar coloration but has an orange bill and orange eye ring and legs. I was pleased to get this photo as this bird is really secretive. I had spent about an hour each in my first Costa Rica trip and again in Guatemala and never saw the bird, only the bushes moving so never even got any photo. At one of the lodges, the bird comes to the bird bath every night at 5:30 and sure enough he showed up. It is so easy in the right location. Here he is on the lip of the bird bath. Interestingly, the northern birds have a brownish crown and the southern birds like this one have a gray crown.

Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrush
I also got the last 2 orioles I was missing for Costa Rica. The first is the 8" Black-cowled Oriole (Icterus prosthemelas). It is a yellow oriole with black head, back, tail and chest.

Black-cowled Oriole
The other was the 8" Streak-backed Oriole (Icterus pectoralis). This is an orange oriole with orange back streaked with black. This species showed up one time in the Houston area about a decade ago.

Streak-backed Oriole
I also got better photos of the huge Montezuma Oropendola (Psarocolius montezuma). The males are 20" long and the females 16". The birds have brown bodies, yellow tails, black heads with colorful bare spots on the face.

Montezuma Oropendola
The 10" all black Melodius Blackbird (Dives dives) is a recent colonizer of Coast Rica having expanded south from Nicaragua. It was first reported in Costa Rica in 1987 and is now found throughout the country.

Melodius Blackbird
The 8" Black-and-Yellow Silky-flycatcher (Phainoptila melanoxantha) is the last member of this small (4 species) family of birds that I needed to photograph. The male shown here has a black head, the female is duller with a gray head

Black-and-Yellow Silky-flycatcher - male
Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

photos copyright 2006 - 2016 David McDonald

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Sunday, April 10, 2016

Bulletin 256 - Costa Rica 2016 #1 - Parrots and Cuckoos

I made a return trip to Costa Rica in March to try for some birds I missed last year. I had a new guide, Johan Fernandez and we went to several new locales.

There are 2 macaw species in Costa Rica. I found one last year, and found the other, the 35" Scarlet Macaw (Ara macao) this year.

Scarlet Macaw
The 9" Orange-fronted Parakeet (Eupsittula canicularis) is green with a tan throat and an orange forehead.

Orange-fronted Parakeet
The 10" White-fronted Amazon (Amazona albifrons) is green with a white forehead and red around the eye.

White-fronted Amazon
The 14" Yellow-naped Amazon (Amazona auropalliata) is green with a yellow patch on the back of his neck. This one has his head out of the nest hole.

Yellow-naped Amazon
The 18" Squirrel Cuckoo (Piaya cayana) is probably the most commonly seen cuckoo in the tropics. I think I have seen it on every trip. It has a rufous back and head, gray underparts and a long black and white tail.

Squirrel Cuckoo
The next 2 were both lifers for me. The 10" Lesser Ground Cuckoo (Morococcyx erythropygus) was only 15 feet away walking along the ground. It has amazing facial coloration. The bluish on the wings and tail does not show in the illustrations in the bird guide.

Lesser Ground Cuckoo
The 12" Striped Cuckoo (Tapera naevia) is brown with a plain breast and striped head. He has a rufous crest which I saw erected, but did not get in the photo.

Striped Cuckoo
Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

photos copyright 2006 - 2016 David McDonald

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Sunday, April 3, 2016

Bulletin 255 - 100 Birds to see before you die - #1

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.

I have photographed 20+ already and saw several others before I started doing photography. Interestingly I have seen 9 of them within 50 miles of Houston. This may be the most that could be seen in any location in North America, if not the world.

As most of my subscribers are in Texas, I will start with those 9 and 1 more to make an even 10 for a bulletin and do them in order from 100 to 1.

Number 99 is the Western Grebe (Aechmophorus occidentalis). This large (25") grebe is included for its mating dance, where several birds rush across the surface of the water. It breeds on large lakes in the western USA and Canada and winters on the Pacific coast and some lakes in Texas and the Gulf coast. I have only seen it once locally. There was one last winter in Galveston Bay that I saw. The authors say it is not particularly beautiful, but in the sunlight I think it is a handsome bird. 

Western Grebe
Number 96 is the Vermilion Flycatcher (Pyrocephalus rubinus). The male of this 6" tyrant flycatcher is unmistakable with his red head and underparts and brown back, wings and tail and stripe through the face. It has an extensive range from the southern USA through Central America and much of South America. The authors included this bird for its color. Houston is east of its summer range, but in the winter. a few birds can be found at Anahuac NWR and Brazos Bend SP.

Vermilion Flycatcher

Number 94 is the Magnificent Frigatebird (Frigata magnificens). At 40" in length, it is the largest of the 5 species of frigatebirds. The males are black with an inflatable red throat pouch. They all have long forked tails and long thin wings.The wingspan in 8.5 feet. Females are black with a white chest and juveniles have a white head and chest. Their range is tropical seas off American Pacific and Atlantic coasts. The breed on the Mexican coast of the Gulf, and post breeding, they migrate northwards. They can be readily found soaring high over Galveston in the summer. A good spot to watch for them is when crossing on the Bolivar ferry.

Magnificent Frigatebird

Number 91 is the Roseate Spoonbill (Platalea ajaja). This is one of 6 species spoonbills in the world and is included because of its beautiful color. The rest are almost totally white. It is easy to ID by color and the unique long wide bill. It is common on the upper Texas coast and readily found near water. Also there is a rookery at High Island where one can find dozens in the spring on their nest and tending to babies.

Roseate Spoonbill

Number 83 is the Ruff (Philomachus pugnax). This is a Eurasian sandpiper that occasionally shows up in North America. I have seen the plain female about 6 times in the Houston area, but never the male. The male in breeding plumage has a ruff on his neck and ear tufts that he displays to attract a mate. 


Number 79 is the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher (Tyrannus forficatus). This is another beautiful tyrant flycatcher that anyone can ID because of its pearly gray color and very long tail. This bird is easy to find in the summer as it breeds in grasslands from Texas to Kansas .

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

Number 70 is the Greater Roadrunner (Geococcyx californianus). This 20" member of the cuckoo family is a resident of south central and southwestern US and northern Mexico. It is famous from the cartoons where it always outwits the coyote. The authors have included it because of its speed running as it can sustain 18 mph. This is the fastest runner of any bird capable of flight.

Greater Roadrunner

Number 60 is the Red Crossbill (Loxia curvirostra). This 6.5" finch has a specialized beak for prying open cones to get at the seeds. This is the one I didn't see in Houston, although it has been recorded here ( last time 1964). The photos were taken in New Mexico. The bird has an extensive range all across North America and Eurasia. There is some question about whether it may be made up of several species as the flight calls are different in different regions as is the preference of types of cones.

Red Crossbill - male

Number 49 is the Smith's Longspur (Calcarius pictus). This 6" bird was formerly in the New World Sparrows and buntings, but recently DNA study shows that they are not closely related and they along with the Snow Buntings of the Arctic were placed in their own family. This bird summers on the Arctic tundra of Alaska and Canada. It winters in Arkansas, east Texas and Oklahoma. I saw this bird just north of Houston in 2011.

Smith's Longspur
Number 43 is the Red-cockaded Woodpecker (Picoides borealis). This critically endangered 8" woodpecker of the southeast USA nests in 100 year old living pine trees that are infected with a fungus 'red heart rot' that causes the inside to soften and easier to chisel out a cavity. Small family groups live in 'clans'. There are an estimated 12,500 birds of this species left in widely scattered areas due to the nest requirements. This represents 1% of the original population. They also require a fairly open under story caused by forest fires. There is a preserve north of Houston Intercontinental Airport called Jones State Forest where these birds were photographed and can be seen. If you are going, get there right at dawn, as the birds hang around the nest holes for a while, and then fly away for the day to feed.

Red-cockaded Woodpecker
Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

photos copyright 2006 - 2016 David McDonald

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Monday, March 14, 2016

Bulletin 254 - Guatemala #5 - thrushes and other songbirds

There were 3 new thrush species for me to photo on this trip. The first was the prettiest and the first bird of the trip. It was the 9" Rufous-collared Thrush (Turdus rufitorques). The male is dark with a rusty collar and yellow bill.

Rufous-collared Thrush - male
In the same genus is the 9" White-throated Thrush (Turdus assimilis). This thrush is a rare visitor to south Texas, but so uncommon that it isn't in the Sibley guide. It is brown with a white throat with brown streaks.

White-throated Thrush
The last is a 8" Brown-backed Solitaire (Myadestes occidentalis). It is plain with a brown back and wings and the rest gray. But like all thrushes, it is a beautiful singer.

Brown-backed Solitaire
A couple of flycatchers are always going to be found. The Yellow-bellied Elaenia (Elaenia flavogaster) has this cool double crest that is usually kept raised. 

Yellow-bellied Elaenia
The Tropical Pewee (Contopus cinereus) is a typical gray flycatcher best IDed by voice.

Tropical Pewee
The Gray Silky-Flycatcher (Ptilogonys cinereus) is one of only 4 species in the family. It is found from Mexico to Guatemala. It is gray with a crest, yellow undertail and a long tail with white at the base.

Gray Silky-Flycatcher
The 9.5" Ivory-billed Woodcreeper (Xiphoryhnchus flavigaster) is mostly brown and has spots and streaks on the head, back and underparts. It is one of the larger woodcreepes and has a white bill.

Ivory-billed Woodcreeper
I logged another new wren which is always a treat as they tend to be secretive. A pair of  7" Rufous-backed Wrens (Campylorhynchus capistratus) came to the banana feeder to feast.

Rufous-backed Wren
Lastly is a familiar bird to North Americans. This is the local resident Plumbeous Vireo (Vireo plumbeous). This subspecies is greener than birds in most of Mexico and resembles a Cassin's Vireo. This is a potential split as the populations are separate geographically.

Plumbeous Vireo
This is the last of the series on my Guatemala trip. Thanks again to my wonderful guide Knut Eisermann. I would highly recommend him to anyone contemplating a trip to Guatemala. His web site for contact is Cayaya Birding

Here is a heart-warming story about man and bird from last week LINK.

Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

photos copyright 2006 - 2016 David McDonald

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Monday, March 7, 2016

Bulletin 253 - Guatemala #4 - Finches, Jays and others

I got photos of 4 finches. The male 4.5" Black-headed Siskin (Carduelis notata) looks like our American Goldfinch except the head is all black. It is endemic from Mexico to Nicaragua 

Black-headed Siskin - male

The Lesser Goldfinch (Carduelis psaltria) occurs here in the USA as well. Here is a male taking a bath. he is all black above and yellow below.

Lesser Goldfinch - male
The fruit eating euphonias are beautiful. The 4.25" male Yellow-throated Euphonia (Euphonia hirundinacea) is navy blue above and all yellow below.

Yellow-throated Euphonia - male
Chlorophonias are similar but green. The 5" Blue-crowned Chlorophonia (Chlorophonia occipitalis) is bright green on head and back, with yellow underparts and a blue patch on top of his head. He also has a dark bar across the chest separating the green from the yellow. I have now seen several species of chlorophonias and I am always amazed at their beauty.

Blue-crowned Chlorophonia - male
I got photos of 3 neat jays. The first is call the 13" Bushy-crested Jay (Cyanocorax melanocyaneus). The crest is usually held flat so it doesn't show. The adults have black heads and throats and the rest is bright blue. The yellow eye is prominent.

Bushy-crested Jay
The 12" Steller's Jay (Cyanocitta stelleri) is well known to North American birders as it is widespread in the mountains of the west. It has a huge bushy crest. Its range extends through Mexico into Guatemala, but the local birds really don't resemble the NA birds, as it has a much shorter crest that is usually kept flat.

Steller's Jay
The last is the amazing 20" White-throated Magpie-Jay (Callocitta formasa) This bird is blue above, white on head and below with a black collar. His crest feathers arch forward.

White-throated Magpie-Jay
I had a photo of the 9" Spot-breasted Oriole (Icterus pectoralis) before, but it was in Miami where there are a number of escaped cage birds. This is the first from the normal range. The male is an orange and black oriole with spots on the breast.

Spot-breasted Oriole
Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

photos copyright 2006 - 2016 David McDonald

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Sunday, February 21, 2016

Bulletin 252 - Guatemala #3 - motmots, night birds and other non-passerines

I actually managed to photo 4 motmot species which is more than 25% of all the species. The 16" Blue-diademed Motmot (Momotus lessonii) has a blue edge to the crown. The pair here show the typical raquet tail. Motmots swing their tails side to side like a metronome. The left bird has his tail way to the left.

Blue-diademed Motmot
The 14" Turquoise-browed Motmot (Eumomota superciliosa) has the longest bare shaft on the tail of any of the motmots.

Turquiose-browed Motmot
The 2 smallest motmots lack the raquet tails. The 10" Blue-throated Motmot (Aspatha gularis) is greenish with a blue throat and long tail.

Blue-throated Motmot
The 7" Tody Motmot (Hylomanes momotula) is brownish with a rufous cap and black mask.

Tody Motmot
I got 2 owls on the trip. The 14" Mottled Owl (Strix virgata) has dark eyes, and dark brown streaking.

Mottled Owl
His cousin, the 16" Fulvous Owl (Strix fulvescens) is lighter with a pale facial disk and rufous streaking.

Fulvous Owl
I also got a photo of a 9" Mexican Whip-poor-will (Antrostomus arizonae). This typical nightjar is brown with a pale collar. This is probably a female as males have white corners on the tail.

Mexican Whip-poor-will
The only new diurnal raptor was a favorite, the 20" Laughing Falcon (Herpetotheres cachinnans). As its name suggests this bird feeds on snakes. It has brown back, wings and tail with the rest of the body cream except for a backwards brown mask on the head.

Laughing Falcon

The local cracid is the 21" White-bellied Chachalaca (Ortalis leucogastra). It is brown with a white belly.

White-bellied Chachalaca
We also found several parrots. The 9" Pacific Parakeet (Psittacara strenua) is all green but may have a few red spots on the neck.

Pacific Parakeet
The 9" Orange-fronted Parakeet (Eupsittula canicularis) is green with an orange forehead. He also has a prominent yellow eye ring

Orange-fronted Parakeet
The last parrot is the 13" Yellow-naped Parrot (Amazona auropalliata). This green parrot has yellow across the back of the neck and red patches in the wings.

Yellow-naped Parrot
Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

photos copyright 2006 - 2016 David McDonald

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