Monday, June 23, 2014

Bulletin 201 - Panama #9 - Antbirds, Ovenbirds, and Rodents

Two families of new world birds may be unfamiliar to most people that haven't spent time in the tropics. The first is the antbirds and their relatives. The other is the ovenbirds. There is a warbler in North America named the Ovenbird, but this isn't related to the family of ovenbirds.

The antbirds and their relatives are small songbirds in 4 different families. They got their name as many of them feed by following army ant swarms and catching insects that fly off to avoid being devoured by the ants on the forest floor. Some of these birds resemble or behave like other birds, so have been named to show their resemblance. Thus we have antshrikes, antvireos, antwrens and just antbirds in the antbird family with 224 species. 3 other separate familes are the antthrushes with 12 species, gnateaters with 11 species, and the antpittas with 51 species. In general the males of these birds are black or gray with various white barring or spots. The females are brown with the white accents. They are confined to Central and South America.

In general these birds are hard to see as they tend to be in dense jungle, however the most likely one for someone to encounter is Barred Antshrike (Thamnophilus doliatus). This cute 6" bird is widespread throughout Central America and can be found in populated areas. They have hooked beaks like shrikes, bushy crests and yellow eyes. We photographed this pair in a town on the main street and also saw another pair by the beach. They are very noisy and pump their tails when calling, so are comical to watch. This bird is a favorite of many birders.

Barred Antshrike - male

The only other antshrike we saw was the 5.5" Western Slaty-Antshrike (Thamnophilus atrinucha). A pair of them kept flying back and forth, in response to the tape, over the path we were on, but we didn't get any good looks. Another time, at a lodge, where we got many of the hummer photos at feeders, I was watching the feeders and just had my camera set when a dull brown bird flew into the field and I got a single photo. When I showed the guide, he said it was the female of this species. Again, the hooked beak can be seen.

Western Slaty-Antshrike - female

The most common of the antwrens is the 4" Dot-winged Antwren (Microhopias quixensis). Its range is from Mexico to southern Amazonia. This was the only species of antwren we found and we saw it several times. The male is black with a white bar and dots on the wing and white on the tail.

Dot-winged Antwren - male

As expected, the female is similar but gray and rufous.

Dot-winged Antwren - female

The other 3 smaller families, antthrushes, gnateaters and antpittas, are secretive birds that walk along the forest floor searching for insects. We did not see or hear any, and in fact, I have never seen any of them in a half dozen tropical trips.

The ovenbird family is another huge tropical new world family of small to medium sized songbirds with 307 species. They are insectivorous and tend to be drab brown or rufous with varying spots and streaks. Many are named for their foraging habits, so we have treerunners, treehunters, foliage-gleaners, streamcreepers, and leaf-tossers. Others are named for plumage characteristics such as spinetails, barbtails, and tuftedcheeks. One group, which behave like woodpeckers by hitching up tree trunks to search for insects, are called woodcreepers. The woodcreepers used to be a separate family, but now are included with the ovenbirds. In general the sexes are similar in all these birds.

The Cocoa Woodcreeper (Xiphorrhynchus susurrans) has extensive streaking on the breast and back of head and upper back.

Cocoa Woodcreeper

Rodents and especially squirrels are often the most common mammals seen on birding trips. Here is the Variegated Squirrel (Sciurus variegatoides). It is a large tree squirrel with a range from southern Mexico to Panama. It has a dark back and light underside. Here he is taking a siesta.

Variegated Squirrel

The other rodent we saw was the almost tailless Central American Agouti (Dasyprocta punctata). It is a large (7-9 lb) rodent related to guinea pigs. It has shorter front legs than back. Their range is from southern Mexico through to Venezuela and Ecuador. They have been introduced to the Cayman Islands and Cuba. They were quite cute, and when disturbed they made a funny barking noise as they ran rapidly from the danger.

Central American Agouti

Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

Photos copyright 2006 - 2014 David McDonald

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Sunday, June 15, 2014

Bulletin 200 - Panama #8 - hummingbirds

With this edition, I have reached another milestone..#200. Looking back at the first one, it was May 2007, after 2 couples I met birding in Galveston asked me to send them some photos of the birds we had seen. I now have over 250 people who receive these bulletins. It is due to you, my subscribers, that publishing these bulletins is a labor of love. Thank you.

I suppose everyone was wondering why I had not shown any hummer photos from Panama. It was because I was saving them for #200. The hummingbirds are a large new world family of birds with 340 species. Most of them are in the tropics. North America has 18 species listed in Sibley, 8 of whom occur just across the Mexican border in Texas or Arizona. The Panama field guide has 59 species! The names of some of these tropical hummers are very imaginative such as sunangel, fairy, hermit, plumeleteer, topaz, coquette, emerald, mango, woodnymph, sunbeam, coronet, mountaingem etc. These are the jewels of the bird world.

So lets start with the hermits. This group of hummers have long curved bills and are usually brown or green in color. Some of them have elongated central tail feathers. The sexes are similar except where noted. They usually do not come to feeders.

The Long-billed Hermit (Phaethornis longirostris) is 6" in length and readily comes to feeders.

Long-billed Hermit

The Green Hermit (Phaethornis guy) is also 6" long but has dark green upperparts. The male is green on the underside, but the female shown here has gray underparts, and rufous stripes on face and throat.

Green Hermit - female

The Rufous-tailed Hummingbird (Amazilia tzacatl) is a 4" very common hummingbird from central Mexico to Ecuador and Venezuela. It looks similar to our Buff-bellied Hummingbird except belly is gray and tail rufous. Those 2 species are the same genus. Sexes are similar.

Rufous-tailed Hummingbird

Another of the same genus is the Snowy-bellied Hummingbird (Amazilia edward) is also 4" long. It has a sharp demarcation from the green throat and white belly. The tail and wings are coppery colored. Here are a couple of photos.

Snowy-bellied Hummingbird

And another bird.

Snowy-bellied Hummingbird

The Purple-crowned Fairy (Heliothryx barroti) is a large 5" stunning hummer with bright green above and snow white below. The lateral tail feathers are white as well. They do not come to feeders, so one has to be quick and lucky to catch them feeding on flowers. The male has a purple crown.

Purple-crowned Fairy - male

Another day, I caught a female feeding.

Purple-crowned Fairy - female

The Sapphire-throated Hummingbird (Lepidopyga coeruleogularis) is a small (3.5") hummer with a forked tail. The male is all green except for a violet-blue throat. The forked tail isn't seen in the photo as his tail is spread.

Sapphire-throated Hummingbird - male

The female has white underparts except for green spots along the flanks. Here the forked tail with white tips is seen.

Sapphire-throated Hummingbird - female

The Black-throated Mango (Anthracothorax nigricollis) is a 4" green hummer. The male has a black stripe from his throat to his belly.

Black-throated Mango - male

Next we have a couple birds with white in their name. The White-necked Jacobin (Florisuga mellivora) is a common 4.5" hummer that we saw everday on the trip. The male has a green back, blue head, white collar, white belly and mostly white tail. He is a stunning bird and easy to ID.

White-necked Jacobin - male

When hovering, he fans his tail and the white is obvious.

White-necked Jacobin - male

We also had a juvenile male who just had some blue on his throat.

White-necked Jacobin - juvenile male

The female is all green above and spotted green below.

White-necked Jacobin - female

Next is the White-vented Plumeleteer (Chalybura buffonii). This 4.5" hummer is named for the elongated vent feathers under the tail. The male is all green otherwise.

White-vented Plumeleteer - male

The female is all gray underneath.

White-vented Plumeleteer - female

I have saved the best for last...3 species with violet in their name. The first is the Violet-headed Hummingbird (Klais guimeti). The male of this 3" hummer has a purple crown and throat. We didn't see him however, just the female. She is green above and grayish below. The ID mark for this speices is the conspicuous white spot behind the eye. It is the only member of this genus.
Violet-headed Hummingbird - female

The male Violet-bellied Hummingbird (Darmophila julie) is a 3.5" stunner. Instead of his green throat being iridescent and flashing, the violet belly flashes when he gets the sun on it. The rest of the bird is green. The belly just looks black until it shows it color, so getting a photo of that took some patience. It is the only member of this genus.

Violet-bellied Hummingbird - male

And here is a full on view.

Violet-bellied Hummingbird - male

Lastly the male Violet-crowned Woodnymph (Thalurania columbica) is a 4.5" violet hummingbird with a brilliant green gorget and a forked tail. He is breathtaking.

Violet-crowned Woodnymph - male

Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

photos copyright 2006 - 2014 David McDonald

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Sunday, June 8, 2014

Bulletin 199 - Panama #7 - Tyrant Flycatchers

The tyrannidae family, aka Tyrant Flycatchers or New World Flycatchers is the largest family of birds with about 420 species. Many of them are fairly drab, but some are spectacular like the Vermilion Flycatcher or Scissor-tailed Flycatcher. We saw more than a dozen species in Panama. Many of them look alike and have to be IDed by voice. The smallest of these flycatchers are the tiniest birds in the world next to hummers. The sexes are similar except where noted in the descriptions.

I will start with the kiskadees and similar colored birds. The Great Kiskadee (Pitangus sulphuratus) is a stunning 8.5" bird, with brown and rufous wings, bright yellow underparts and striped head. This bird does occur in the USA in south Texas. On reviewing our photos, I guess we didn't take any as we had some from Texas, so here is the bird.

Great Kiskadee
The Lesser Kiskadee (Pitangus lictor) is similar, but only 6.5" in length and it has much smaller bill. It also has less rufous on the wings.

Lesser Kiskadee
Another similar bird is the Boat-billed Flycatcher (Megarhynchus pitangus). It is also 8.5" in length, but has an even heavier bill than the Greater Kiskadee and lacks the rufous on the wings.

Boat-billed Flycatcher

The 4th similar bird is the Social Flycatcher (Myiozetetes similis). It is the size of the Lesser Kiskadee, but the crown and sides of face are dark brownish gray rather than black and the back is more olive.

Social Flycatcher
The last of this coloration is the Rusty-margined Flycatcher (Myiozetetes cayanensis). It is smaller still at 6", but has the black head, brown back and some rufous on the wings.

Rusty-margined Flycatcher
The Streaked Flycatcher (Myiodynastes maculatus) is another large (8") flycatcher. It is IDed by the streaked back and underparts and a rufous tail.

Streaked Flycatcher

The much smaller (5.5") but similar Piratic Flycatcher (Legatus leucophaius) lacks the streaking on the back and rufous tail. It has a much smaller bill as well.

Piratic Flycatcher
The Common Tody-Flycatcher (Todirostrum cinereum) is a tiny (4") bird with a black face, dark gray head and back and bright yellow underparts.

Common Tody-Flycatcher
The myiarchus genus is well represented in North America. The Panama Flycatcher (Myiarchus panamensis) has the typical coloration with a brown back, yellow belly and gray head and breast.

Panama Flycatcher

The Paltry Tyrannulet (Zimmerius vilissimus) is a tiny (4") flycatcher best IDed by voice. But it does have yellow wing edges and gray underparts that differ from other tiny flycatchers.

Paltry Tyrannulet
Elaenias are a group of small flycatchers that can be IDed by the median crown stripe on their head. The Forest Elaenia (Myiopagis gaimardii) can be IDed by narrow bill and yellow wing bars and wing edges.
Forest Elaenia

The Long-tailed Tyrant (Colonia colonus) is small (4.5") flycatcher with 2 elongated tail feathers (longer in males). It is black with a white stripe across the face and another down the back.

Long-tailed Tyrant

The Tropical Kingbird (Tyrannus melancholicus) is gray with yellow underparts. It lacks the white tail edges of the Western Kingbird which is the only other bird of this coloration in Panama. Also, the notched tail is diagnostic. This bird occurs along the southern border of USA.

Tropical Kingbird

Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

photos copyright 2006 - 2014 David McDonald

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Sunday, June 1, 2014

Bulletin 198 - Panama #6 - Toucans, barbets, saltators and sloths

Time for some more cool tropical birds. And what could be more typical of the neotropics than toucans. There are 47 species of toucans and all are in the Americas. They go by 3 names, toucans, aracaris and the little ones are toucanets.

Every child in the USA and Canada (maybe Europe as well) is familiar with the Fruit Loops bird. This is the Keel-billed Toucan (Ramphastos sulfuratus). The black body, yellow face and throat and multicolored bill are an easy ID. The bird is 19" long.

Keel-billed Toucan
The third species we found was the Collared Aracari (Pteroglossus torquatus). Aracaris have thinner more pointed bills and tend to be a little smaller. This bird is 16" long and has a 2 tone bill.

Collared Aracari

Closely related to the Toucans are the barbets. These birds have stout bills. There are 3 species in Panama and we saw just one, the Spot-crowned Barbet (Capito maculicoronatus). These small birds (6.5") are black above with black streaked flanks. The males shown here have white throats and a yellow breast band.

Spot-crowned Barbet - male

Here is a pair in a Cecropia tree. One has his head down showing the white spots on top of his head.

Spot-crowned Barbet - males

Saltators are heavy billed songbirds that formerly were in the Grosbeak and Cardinal family. But now their relationship is uncertain. We saw 2 of the 3 species in Panama. The Streaked Saltator (Saltator striatapectus) is 7" in length. The back is olive and the breast is streaked olive. The thick bill is black.
The sexes are similar.

Streaked Saltator
The Buff-throated Saltator (Saltator maximus) has an olive back, buff throat and gray breast.

Buff-throated Saltator

Sloths are mammals confined to the New World. There are 6 species. They are related to armadillos and anteaters. We saw only one, the Hoffmann's Two-toed Sloth (Choloepus hoffmanni). Needless to say, if you find them, they are easy to photograph. Sloths are the main food for the Harpy Eagle.

Sloths have some peculiarities, compared to most mammals. Firstly, they have an unusual number of neck vertebrae. Almost all mammals have 7 cervical vertebrae from elephants and whales to giraffes. The few exception are manatees and two-toed sloths with only 6, and the three-toed sloths with 9. Additionally, on most mammals, the fur on their limbs grows towards the feet. Because sloths hang upside down in trees most of the time, their fur grows away from the feet to shed the rain. This can be seen in the first photo as well as the 2 toes.

Hoffman's Two-toed Sloth

Here is another photo showing his cute face.

Hoffman's Two-toed Sloth

Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

photos copyright 2006 - 2014 David McDonald

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