Thursday, December 19, 2013

Bulletin 187 - Puerto Rico #3 - other birds

There are 5 hummingbird species on Puerto Rico, 2 of which are endemics and we saw one of them, the Puerto Rican Emerald in Bulletin 185. However, we found all 3 of the other hummers. These were all life birds.

The most amazing is the tiny (3.5") Antillean Crested Hummingbird (Orthorhyncus cristatus). The male of this has a crest that flashes color as the gorget of other species does. His throat and underparts are gray. The crest feathers even appear to extend along the bill.

Antillean Crested Hummingbird - male
Here is another bird hovering. The feathers extending along the bill are clearly seen.

Antillean Crested Hummingbird - male

The Green-throated Carib (Eulampis holosericeus) is larger (5"). The back is dull green, the throat is bright green and the belly is blue. The bill in curved. The sexes are similar.

Green-throated Carib

The Smooth-billed Ani (Crotophaga ani) is a member of the cuckoo family. This species is a resident of south Florida as well, but now are almost gone. I saw them near the Ft Lauderdale airport in 2006, but could not get a photo. They are all black with a long tail and huge beak.

Smooth-billed Ani

There were several interesting introduced birds as well. The Nutmeg Mannikin (Lonchura punctata), a native of southeast Asia is a small (4.5") common cage bird and thus is found in a lot of populated areas due to escapes or releases. The scalloped chest markings are distinctive.

Nutmeg Mannikin
The Pin-tailed Whydah (Vidua macroura) is another small (4.5") cage bird that is native to Africa. The females and non-breeding males are sparrow-like brown with a black face and red bill. The breeding male is completely different assuming a black and white plumage and 8" tail feathers! Unfortunately, we just saw the former.

Pin-tailed Whydah - female

We saw several familiar North American birds that are winter visitors to Puerto Rico. These included Black-and-white, Prairie, and Northern Parula warblers as well as several shorebirds (Wilson's Plover, Spotted Sandpiper and Greater Yellowlegs).

This Hermit Crabs in the forest had climbed a 5 foot stick.

Hermit Crab in forest

Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

photos copyright 2013 David McDonald

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Friday, December 6, 2013

Bulletin 186 - Puerto Rico #2 - other passerines

We found and photgraphed several other birds in Puerto Rico. Some of these also occur in the USA, usually in South Florida where they may reside or just be an occasional vagrant.

The Gray Kingbird (Tyrannus dominicensis) was very common on the Island of Vieques. They loved to perch on the wires and were so common, that Lisa took to calling them 'Line Birds.' It is very similar to the Eastern Kingbird of North America, but is distinguished by a dark mask through the eye. It has a bit of a notched tail as well. I had photographed this bird in Miami previously where it is a resident.
Gray Kingbird
The other bird of this genus we saw was the Loggerhead Kingbird (Tyrannus caudifasciatus). This bird is quite similar, but the tail is square, and the whole head is dark. Like most kingbirds, it has a stripe on the crown which seldom is seen. In this species it is yellow, and I was surprised to see that I got it in this photo. This was a life bird for all of us. This bird is a resident from the Bahamas to Puerto Rico. It occasionally shows up in south Florida as a vagrant.

Interestingly, the guide told us that it may be split with the Puerto Rico population being split from the rest. I tried playing the tape (iBird Pro) on 2 different birds and neither time did they respond.

Loggerhead Kingbird

The Black-faced Grassquit (Tiaris bicolor) is a small (4.5") black member of the tanager family. It is common through much of the West Indies.

Black-faced Grassquit

The Greater Antillean Grackle (Quiscalus niger)  is a small (11") typical large-tailed grackle, all black and a pale eye.

Greater Antillean Grackle
Lastly, the Bananaquit (Coereba flaveola) is a common Caribbean bird. It used to classified with the Tanagers, but now is in its own family. It is also a vagrant to south Florida. It has a black head with white stripe above the eye, red spot on the bill, and a yellow breast.

Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

photos copyright 2013 David McDonald

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Sunday, November 24, 2013

Bulletin 185 - Puerto Rico - endemics

Lisa, Seth, and I had some vacation and birding in Puerto Rico in early November. The island is easy to get to now that Soutwest Airlines flies there from Florida. This small island (5300 sq miles) is slightly smaller than Connecticut (48th state by area) but has 18 endemic birds. Compare that to the lower 48 states and Alaska which have only 15 endemic birds.

We hired a guide for a day of birding at El Yunque National Forest. Hilda Morales was a great guide and here is her web site. As this was our first time to bird in Puerto Rico, the endemics were lifers for all of us.

There are 2 endemic warblers and we saw one, the Adelaide's Warbler (Setophaga adelaidae). This bird is identified by the gray back, 2 wing bars and yellow underparts. There is also a yellow line above the eye. The sexes are similar.

This one came and perched on the passenger window of our vehicle and pecked at his reflection in the mirror.

Adelaide's Warbler

The Puerto Rican Tanager (Nesospingus speculiferus) is a monotypic genus (means only bird of that genus). The adults have olive back, dark head, gray underparts with some streaking along the flanks. There is a small white wing spot that is a key to the ID. It can be seen in this photo.
Puerto Rican Tanager

The Puerto Rican Tody (Todus mexicanus) is a tiny bird the size of a hummer at 4.5". I don't know why the scientific name is 'mexicanus' when it doesn't occur in Mexico.  There are only 5 species in the tody family and all are in the Caribbean. This was my first time to see any tody. It has a green back, red bill and throat, white breast and yellow belly. The sexes are similar.

Puerto Rican Tody
The Puerto Rican Woodpecker (Melanerpes puertoricensis) has a solid black back and red on the throat and breast.
Puerto Rican Woodpecker
The last endemic we photographed, was the Puerto Rican Emerald (Chlorostilbon maugeaus). This is a small (3.5") hummer with a forked tail. The male is all green as shown here. The female would have white underparts.

Puerto Rican Emerald - male
Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

photos copyright 2013 David McDonald

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Monday, November 4, 2013

Bulletin 184 - Anahuac NWR birds

Anahuac NWR east of Houston has always been a favorite destination of mine for birding and photography. 2013 is their 50th anniversary year.

I haven't been there this year until the summer and then several visits this fall. I am happy to see that they have recovered from the effects of Hurricane Ike in 2008 and the devastating droughts of the last 2 years.

The Fulvous Whistling-Duck (Dendrocygna bicolor) is often seen there is large numbers, when it is uncommon elsewhere on the upper Texas coast. It is identified by the rusty color, dark back and white flank stripes and rump. The sexes are similar.

Fulvous Whistling-Duck
Another secretive bird that is easily seen at Anahuac is the Least Bittern (Ixobrychus exilis). This bird is our smallest member of the heron and egret family at just 13" in length. This one was walking in the wide open. This is likely a female. The male has a mahogany colored back.

Least Bittern

An identification problem that I often have is with the juvenile night-herons. There are normally a lot of Yellow-crowned at Anahuac, but seldom do I see a Black-crowned. On a visit on 8-11-13, I found both. They are easy to tell apart if flying or standing completely in the open. But if they are in weeds or grass, so that you cannot see the leg length, it is more difficult.

The Black-crowned Night-Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax) has extensive yellow on the bill and large white spots on the wings.

Black-crowned Night-Heron - juvenile

Here is the facial detail showing the yellow on the beak.

Black-crowned Night-Heron - juvenile detail
In contrast, the Yellow-crowned Night-Heron (Nyctanassa violacea) has a solid black bill and small white spots on the wings.
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron - juvenile

Here is a first summer Yellow-crowned. It is grayish, but the white facial stripe is starting to appear.

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron - 1st summer
An interesting sight was a group of 5 Neotropic Cormorants (Phalacrocorax brasilianus) on a dead bush in the middle of the pond. There were 4 on the branches and as I was taking the photos, a fifth bird flew in to land in the center between the others.

Neotropic Cormorants

At the old destroyed visitor center, many swallows nest. There are 2 species, barn and cliff and although they both build mud nests, the nest differences are readily apparent. The barn swallows have a typical nest with the opening on top. the cliff swallows build a gourd like nest with the opening on the side. Here is a Cliff Swallow (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota) nest with 2 babies at the opening.

Cliff Swallows in nest

An unusual find was this European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) molting from his drab gray-brown juvenile plumage to the spotted adult non-breeding plumage. An illustration is shown in Sibley with just the gray head. This one really looks ragged.

European Starling - juvenile molting
I have about exhausted the USA birds, so it is time to extend my travels further afield and bring some new birds to the blog. Stay tuned.

Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

photos copyright 2013 David McDonald

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Sunday, October 13, 2013

Bulletin 183 Kauai #3

The water birds of Kauai can be readily seen in the taro fields just beyond Princeville on the north coast in the Hanalei NWR.

The Koloa or Hawaiian Duck (Anas wyvilliana) survives as a natural population only on Kauai. It has been reintroduced to Oahu, Maui, and Hawaii. It resembles a female mallard and the sexes are similar.

Hawaiian Duck

The Hawaiian Coot (Fulica alai) was split from the American Coot in the last 20 years. It has a white shield on the forehead vs the American which has a red shield. However, a small percentage of the local birds do have a red shield. Here is the typical form.

Hawaiian Coot with white shield
I also noticed one with a red shield. The red shield appears to be larger then the red shield of the American species.

Hawaiian Coot with red shield

The endangered local subspecies of the Common Moorhen is also known locally as Hawaiian Gallinule (Gallinula chloropus). As both the Hawaiian subspecies of the stilt and coot were eventually elevated to full species status, maybe this one will be too. This was my first sighting of this subspecies.

Hawaiian Gallinule

We found a dragonfly while birding with our guide in the Alakai Swamp. He mentioned that it is the largest dragonfly in the world. It is called the Giant Hawaiian Dragonfly (Anax strenuus). It has a wingspan of 7.5".

Giant Hawaiian Dragonfly

Another interesting species of nature that we came across was a lobelia plant with a very curved flower. This lobelia served as a nectar source for the Iiwi bird with the semi circular bill. When we birded on the big island of Hawaii in June, our guide there pointed out several species of lobelia that were critically endangered with only a few individual plants known in the wild. It turns out that all the lobelias of Hawaii all descended from a single species. There are 126 species known in 6 genuses. These comprise 1/8 of all the native plant species of Hawaii. For more information on the amazing Hawaiian lobelias, read this blog where I got this information.

The flower can be seen in the upper central part of the photo.


Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

photos copyright 2013 David McDonald

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Sunday, September 29, 2013

Bulletin 182 - Kauai #2 - endemics and others

The endemic forest birds of Kauai are among the most endangered of any on the Hawaiian Islands. 3 or 4 species have gone extinct since 1990. Most of the rest are expected to disappear by 2020, so if one wants to see them, one needs to plan in the next few years.

Lisa, Seth and I hired local guide Jim Denny to take us to find the endemic forest birds.

The Iiwi is almost never seen in Kauai any more. The larger of the 2 native thrushes (Kamao) of Kauai went extinct after the hurricanes in the 90s hit Kauai. The smaller one (Puaiohi) may still be present in small numbers in the wild, but it is being raised in captivity. We didn't see any of these on the trip.

The Kauai Amakihi (Hemignathus kauaiensis) is the largest of the 3 species of Amakihi in Hawaii. It is yellow-green with curved bill and black mask. We just saw a couple of them.

Kauai Amakihi
The smallest (4") of all the Hawaiian honeycreepers is the Anianiau (Hemignathus parvus). I have a problem with pronouncing the names of the birds as written. It is good to go with a guide who knows how to pronounce them. This is pronounced ani-ani-ow. The male is bright yellow and the female is duller. We saw 2 or 3 of them, but managed only a couple of photos.

Another very rare honeycreeper the Akekee put in a brief appearance while I was photographing the Anianiau above. The guide saw it, but none of the rest of us saw the bird as we were focused on the Anianiau.

The most common of the endemics was the Kauai Elepaio (Chasiempis sclateri). We saw a number of these and had good photo opportunities as they were not concerned with our presence. The aduts are mostly gray with a brown wash on the throat, and are the plainest of the 3 species. It belongs to the Monarch Flycatcher family. The cocked up tail is the most distinguishing feature.

Kauai Elepaio - adult

The juvenile however, is a very bright red brown.

Kauai Elepaio - juvenile
And another of a bird right over my head.

Kauai Elepaio - juvenile

After struggling for more than 15 years to see a Nene (Branta sandvicensis) on Hawaii or Maui, they are all over the place on Kauai. The reason for this is there are no mongoose on the island to raid the nests. As on the other islands, they are almost all banded.

There are a number of introduced birds on Kauai as on the other islands. The new ones we saw include the Red-crested Cardinal (Paroaria coronata). The adults have a red head and crest, dark gray back and white underparts. They are native to South America.

Red-crested Cardinal - adult
The juveniles have an orange-brown head and crest.

Red-crested Cardinal - juvenile

The other was the White-rumped Shama (Copsychus malabaricus). This large (10") songbird is native to Malaysia and was introduced to Kauai in 1931. The male is black above, orange below and has a long tail.

White-rumped Shama - male
The female is gray above rather than black.

White-rumped Shama - female
Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

photos copyright 2013 David McDonald

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Saturday, September 21, 2013

Bulletin 181 - Kauai seabirds

We had a family vacation in Kauai 2 weeks ago, and I did manage to get some birding in. LOL

A special place is Kilauea Point NWR on the north coast of Kauai. There is a lighthouse on a cliff several hundred feet above the ocean and the seabirds are soaring at eye level. According to the Hawaii bird guide, it is the most visited NWR in the USA. It is listed at the place to find seabirds in Hawaii. They have nice signs around to help non-birders identify the different species.

Kilauea Point NWR

The first bird is the Great Frigatebird (Frigata minor). This long-winged bird has a deeply forked tail. The male is all black with a red throat pouch that he inflates during courtship.

Great Frigatebird - male

The female has a white breast.

Great Frigatebird - female
And the juvenile has a white head, neck and breast. The tail is shorter.  This one is scratching his head 'on the wing'.

Great Frigatebird - juvenile
Tropicbirds are a family of 3 species of gull like seabirds in the tropical oceans of the world. I had never seen a tropicbird previously, so the 2 species seen here were  both lifers. The more common one is the Red-billed Tropicbird (Phaeton rubricauda).  The adults are white with a bright red bill, and red tail streamers.

Red-tailed Tropicbird - adult
The young have black bills and no tail streamers. This is a sub-adult as the bill is mostly red, but it has none of the tail streamers.

Red-tailed Tropicbird - subadult

The White-tailed Tropicbird (Phaeton lepturus) is smaller, has a yellowish bill and long white tail streamers. From above, it has a black 'M' on the wings.

White-tailed Tropic Bird
The Red-footed Booby (Sula sula) is a large (28") seabird with long pointed beak, and pointed tail. The adult is white with brown wing edges. It has a bluish bill and red feet.

Red-footed Booby - adult
The juveniles are brown with orange legs. There is a huge breeding colony of these boobies at the lighthouse, and juvies are seen waiting in the trees to be fed.

Red-footed Booby - juvenile
The Brown Booby (Sula  leucogaster) is also 28" in length. This one was seen along the Naapali coast during a boat trip to see the spectacular cliffs. The adult has a brown head and neck.

Brown Booby - adult

The last of the seabirds I was able to photograph, was the Wedge-tailed Shearwater (Puffinus pacificus). These birds nest in burrows and lay a single egg. The gray downy young can sometimes be seen if they come out of the burrow. The adults usually feed offshore during the day, and return to feed the babies at dusk. This particular adult was sitting on the nest in a planter box outside the visitor center main door! What an easy lifer!

Wedge-tailed Shearwater - adult
Several gray downy chicks were seen, waiting at the mouth of the burrow for their parents return.

Wedge-tailed Shearwater - chick
Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

photos copyright 2013 David McDonald

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