Sunday, December 20, 2015

Bulletin 246 - Ecuador #8 - Tanagers

The tanager family is a huge New World family of generally colorful birds. We have seen many in previous bulletins from Panama and Costa Rica. Here are some new ones I photographed in Ecuador.

The common Blue-gray Tanager (Thraupis episcopus) comes in a variant with white on the wings and tail. This is known as the eastern race.

Blue-gray Tanager - eastern form
One of my favorite groups is the genus ramphocelus. These are generally black and red birds. I found 2 new species in Ecuador. The Silver-beaked Tanager (Ramphocelus carbo) is a dark cherry red with a silver lower mandible.

Silver-beaked Tanager - male
The male Lemon-rumped Tanager (Ramphocelus icternotus) is all black with a bright yellow lower back and rump.

Lemon-rumped Tanager - male
The Fawn-breasted Tanager (Pipraeidea melanonota) is blue and black above, beige below and has a red eye.

Fawn-breasted Tanager
The Golden-crowned Tanager (Iridosornis rufivertex) has a black head with gold crown, purple back, bluish wings and rufous undertail.

Golden-crowned Tanager

The Blue-backed Conebill (Conirostrum sitticolor) has a black head and throat, rufous underparts and blue back and wings.

Blue-backed Conebill
The Masked Flowerpiercer (Diglossa cyanea) is a beautiful royal blue with a black mask and red eye. He has a hook on the end of his upper beak that he uses to open flowers at their base and directly obtain the nectar.

Masked Flowerpiercer
Lastly are some tangara genus tanagers which are generally very colorful. We can only wish we had some of these beauties in our yards.

The Golden Tanager (Tangara arthus) is orange-gold with a black spot on the neck and black wings.

Golden Tanager

The Green-and-gold Tanager (Tangara schrankii) is exactly as described with a black face.

Green-and-gold Tanager

The Golden-eared Tanager (Tangara chrysotis) is also green and gold, but he has an orange cheek patch and rufous belly.

Golden-eared Tanager

The Blue-necked Tanager (Tangara cyanicollis) is black with a blue head and neck.

Blue-necked Tanager
The Spotted Tanager (Tangara punctata) is mostly green with black spots.

Lastly is a bird I had really wanted to see as it was a lifer. Unfortunately it doesn't come to feeders and I didn't get a great photo. This is the gaudy Paradise Tanager (Tangara chilensis). He has an apple green head, blue underparts, red rump and the rest is black.

Paradise Tanager
Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

photos copyright 2006 - 2015 David McDonald

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Sunday, December 13, 2015

Bulletin 245 - Ecuador #7 - raptors, owls and other non-passerines

I just had a couple of good hawk photos of new species. The first was a juvenile Double-toothed Kite (Harpagus bidentatus). This 13" raptor is IDed by the dark midline whisker below the chin. This bird sat quietly for a long time and was a puzzle. In my naivete, I told the guide I thought it was a Double-toothed Kite because I knew of the field mark and really nothing else about the bird. However, he agonized over it for a while before agreeing, as most juveniles are heavily streaked on the breast but just a few have plain breasts as this one does.

Double-toothed Kite - juvenile
Buenaventura Lodge
The other was a 26" juvenile Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle (Geranoaetus melanoleucus). This bird was soaring over the road as we drove between 2 lodges. As we stopped, he landed in a small tree just 50 feet above us. The juvie is brown with a darker chest. The adult would be gray with a black chest.

Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle - juvenile
I only saw a single toucan on this trip, the 17" Choco Toucan (Ramphastos brevis). It is similar to the larger Chestnut-mandibled Toucan and best IDed by voice. It is black with a yellow face and yellow and brown bill.

Choco Toucan
Buenaventura Lodge
Closely related to toucans is the small family (15 species) of New World barbets. I photographed my second and 3rd species on this trip at Copalinga Lodge. I think the best known is the 6" Red-headed Barbet (Eubucco bourcierii). The male is green with a red head and chest and yellow bill.

Red-headed Barbet - male
The female is very pretty too, but doesn't look at all like the male other than green body and heavy yellow bill. She came to the banana feeders at Copalinga.

Red-headed Barbet - female
The other species was the 7" male Gilded Barbet (Capito auratus). He is black with an orange throat and yellow underparts

Gilded Barbet - male
Puffbirds are a New World family of 37 species. My guide was able to show me 2 species, but we tried very hard for a couple of others, but no response. The 7" White-whiskered Puffbird (Malacoptila panamensis) is brown with white on the cheeks and orange breast.

White-whiskered Puffbird
Buenaventura Lodge
The 8" Barred Puffbird (Nystalus radiatus) is brown with horizontal barring all over.

Barred Puffbird
Buenaventura Lodge
I saw several species of doves, but the only notable one was the White-throated Quail-Dove (Geotrygon frenata). Quail-doves are very difficult to  see and photograph as they walk along the forest floor and are extremely shy. This is only the second species I have managed to photograph. However, it was a slam dunk as they have a feeder for them at Tapichalaca Lodge. Just a couple of minutes after putting the corn on the stump, the bird appeared and I could get photos from the blind.

White-throated Quail-Dove
Tapichalaca Lodge
The only motmot species was the 19" Andean Motmot (Momotus aequatorialis). This bird has gone through a number of name changes as it was part of the Blue-crowned Motmot complex and also know as Highland Motmot in the Birds of Ecuador. The blue crown and long raquet tail ID this bird. It is the only motmot at 1000 - 2100m elevation.

Andean Motmot
Copalinga Lodge
The 9" Coppery-chested Jacamar (Galbula pastazae) was only my second jacamar species to get on film.

Coppery-chested Jacamar - male
Copalinga Lodge
I saved my favorites for last of course, the owls. Pygmy-owls are diurnal and can be called in to the tape in daylight which makes them easy to photo if they land in the open. We caught the 6.5" Pacific Pygmy-Owl (Glaucidium peruanum) on the first day as we drove to Buenaventura Lodge. Pablo Andrade, my guide, played the tape and sure enough a bird flew right in. They come in 2 colors, reddish and brown. Here is a brown one.

Pacific Pygmy-Owl
A short time later, a second bird flew in and it was the red one. My guide said he had never seen the 2 color morphs together previously.

Pacific Pygmy-Owl - pair
Lastly was the 15" Black-and-white Owl (Strix nigrolineata). This beautiful owl is one of the target birds at Buenaventura Lodge as a bird regularly comes to hunt insects under the street light in the parking lot. But he only appears about twice weekly. Finally on my third and last night there we heard him hooting, as we were finishing dinner. There is no ID problem but note the orange beak and feet.

Black-and-white Owl
Buenaventura Lodge
A moment before this, he had caught and devoured a large grasshopper. I consider this my most amazing bird photo ever as you saw in my favorites last week.

Black-and-white Owl
Buenaventura Lodge
Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

photos copyright 2006 - 2015 David McDonald

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Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Bulletin 244 - Best of 10 years #10 - New World tropics

The sheer diversity of birds in the New World tropics is staggering. 6 of the top 7 countries with the most species are in South America. Columbia is number 1 at 1934 species or almost 1 in 5 of all the birds in the world can be found in that country!  Brazil has 1850 and Peru is number 3 at 1844. Ecuador comes in at #5 with 1686, followed by Bolivia at 1431 and Venezuela at 1414. Indonesia is the only country outside South America to make the top 5 at number 4 with 1724 species. China and India are number 8 and 9. We all think of the wonderful wildlife in Africa and for mammals that is true, but the Democratic Republic of Congo is the only one in the top 10 with only 1186 species.

There are 2 'A' words to explain this..Andes and Amazon, leading to so many different ecosystems and habitats. There are several families of birds that are only in the New World tropics such as toucans, tinamous, trumpeters, screamers, antbirds and relatives, cotingas and many others.

I have had the pleasure of birding in Costa Rica, Panama, Ecuador and Guatemala in the last 2 years. So here are some of my favorites from these countries. Many have already appeared in Bulletins, but a few from haven't yet. So here are a dozen of my favorites. All will be confined to the New World families unless noted.

Toucans are perhaps the best known family of birds from the tropics due to the breakfast cereal Fruit Loops that has a toucan as the mascot. My best photo is a Collared Aracari.

Collared Aracari

Parrots are worldwide, but the largest parrots are, of course, the macaws. They are confined to the New World. The only macaw I have photographed so far is the Great Green Macaw.

Great Green Macaw

Jacamars look like large hummingbirds with their long pointed beaks. Here is the Rufous-tailed Jacamar.

Rufous-tailed Jacamar

The motmots are plump birds and most are distinguished by a long racquet tail. Here is the Rufous Motmot.

Rufous Motmot
The cracidae family includes chachalacas, guans and currasows. The 36" Great Currasow is probably the largest. The male has a curly feathered crest and large yellow knob on his bill.

Great Currasow - male

The cotingas are a family of songbirds that contain several unusual looking birds. One of these is the Andean Cock-of-the Rock. The male is orange with dark wings and tail. He has a large crest and even his bill is orange and difficult to see in this photo.

Andean Cock-of-the-Rock
Tinamous are chicken like birds of the forest floor. Generally they are shy and difficult to see, but in Ecuador at Copalinga, they had a feeding place and blind so this Little Tinamou was in the open, 20 feet away.

Little Tinamou

Puffbirds are a family of large headed birds who sit quietly waiting to spot a lizard or large bug. This is the White-whiskered Puffbird.

White-whiskered Puffbird
Manakins are small colorful songbirds noted for there elaborate courtship dances in which several related males perform to attract a mate. This is the male White-collared Manakin.

White-collared Manakin - male
Antpittas are small tailless looking birds that walk upright on the ground. Generally they are exceedingly difficult to see. This Jocotoco Antpitta came to a feeding station in Ecuador.

Jocotoco Antpitta
Trogons and Quetzals are a small worldwide family of colorful birds. Most of them are in the New World tropics and the most famous and beautiful is the Resplendant Quetzal. The male has long tail feather plumes.

Resplendant Quetzal - male

New World Warblers are in the temperate climates as well as tropics of the New World. This Pink-headed Warbler photographed recently in Guatemala is the prettiest one I have yet found. The photo is made even more artistic as the sky behind the leaves was pink at sunrise.

Pink-headed Warbler

Lastly is a Black-and-white Owl photographed in Ecuador. This is my most amazing photo ever as the grasshopper in its mouth is facing the camera and in focus. It is my first owl photo with some prey in its mouth.

Black-and-white Owl
Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

photos copyright 2006 - 2015 David McDonald

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Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Bulletin 243 - Ecuador #6 - Antbirds and friends, Ovenbirds

The antbirds and relatives are New World families of birds that tend to associate with army ant swarms, at least some of them do. There are 3 families, antbirds, antthrushes and antpittas and the names suggest the habits of the other bird families. There are 234 antbirds, 12 antthrushes, and 53 antpittas.

The large antbird family includes antshrikes, antwrens, antvireos and plain antbirds. If you have ever birded in the tropics and looked for these birds, the only ones that are easy to see are the antshrikes as they tend to be in the trees, The rest stay on or close to the ground and hide in thick brush.

The antpittas and antthrushes are even worse. To see either well is about 50% as difficult as seeing the Loch Ness monster. Getting a photo of one is even less likely.

My first tropical trips in the 1990's was with groups of 12 - 16 people plus a couple of guides. It was impossible. Now just by myself and a guide, I finally am able to see some of them.

The antbirds tend to be black for male and brown for females, so not too colorful. The challenge is the pursuit!

The female 4" Slaty Antwren (Myrmotherula schistocolor) is all brown. The guide IDs them by voice.

Slaty Antywren - female
The 7" Zeledon's Antbird (Myrmeciza zeledoni) is a recent split from Immaculate Antbird. The male is charcoal and there is a blue bare skin patch around the eye. The guide book says it is heard much more often than seen.

Zeledon's Antbird - male
The 6" male Blackish Antbird (Cercomacra nigrescens) stayed very hidden.

Blackish Antbird - male
I did get one antbird in the open! The 5" female Chestnut-backed Antbird (Myrmeciza exsulis the same genus as the Zeledon's above and has the blue patch around the eye. The female has a gray head and brown body.

The Blackish Antbird was photographed near Copalinga Lodge. The rest of the above birds were at Buenaventura Reserve.

Antpittas are another story. I had never seen one well and certainly was hoping to on this trip. In the bulletin with the parrots, I mentioned that Buenaventura Reserve was established to protect the El Oro Parakeet. Well the Tapichalaca reserve in the cloud forest was established to preserve the habitat for an antpitta.

Robert Ridgely (coauthor of Birds of Ecuador guide book) who found the parakeet also found a new antpitta in 1997. The story is that he asked the natives people what they called the bird. The voice sounds like the hooting of an owl and when he played it for them to see if they knew the bird, they said it was a jocotoco (an owl). So he mistakenly called the bird the Jocotoco Antpitta. In 1998, the Foundation Jocotoco was established and bought the acreage for the preserve. They also own the Buenaventura reserve.

So that bird is the star attraction at Tapichalaca Reserve and I was hoping to see it. It is one of the world's rarest birds with an estimated 300 birds in the reserve. Another small population was found in adjacent Peru in 2006, but the area is inaccessible.

Antpittas are plump birds with long legs and appear almost tailless. They have been described as an egg with legs.

To facilitate observation of the bird, they have an antpitta feeding station, so I was excited when I saw that on the trail map. My guide didn't tell me any more the night before. As we walked a long slippery muddy trail in, he heard another antpitta and played the tape. The bird flew to the edge of the trail. I looked through my camera and saw well my first antpitta, the 4" Slate-crowned Antpitta (Grallaria nana). 

We continued down the trail and finally came to a shelter with benches and a roof. I was not prepared for the most amazing birding experience of my life. The attendant from the lodge that accompanied us, had a Tupperware container of chopped earthworms which he put on a stump, while we made ourselves comfortable and readied the cameras. Then he started calling the antpittas like you would call your dog! Sure enough a couple of them started walking down the path to get their breakfast. So here was a 9" Jocotoco Antpitta (Grallaria ridgeleyi) walking past our feet about 7-8 feet away. I was mesmerized. We sat there for about 1/2 hour and 2 or 3 birds made repeated trips to feast on the worms. It is an attractive bird with a black head and white spot below the eye.

Jocotoco Antpitta
One of the called while we were watching and it really does sound like an owl.

Jocotoco Antpitta
The funarids or ovenbirds is another New World family of mostly brown birds. There are 312 species. Most are difficult to see well except for the 60ish species of woodcreepers that climb up tree trunks.

The first one we found was in the preserve for the Horned Screamer. It was easy to see on the ground in the open. It was the 7" Pacific Hornero (Funarius cinnamomeus). It kind of looks like a large wren.

Pacific Hornero
If you wonder why this family is known as ovenbirds, here is his nest. Hornero is Spanish for oven.

Pacific Hornero mud nest

The 6" Scaly-throated Foliage-gleaner (Anabacerthia variegaticeps) is all brown. Foliage-gleaners tend to be difficult to see well. This must be an easy one as we had several different species, but this was the only photo.

Scaly-throated Foliage-gleaner
The 6" Pearled Treerunner (Margarornis squamiger) is the only one that I IDed myself. It has its whole underside with white spots.

Pearled Treerunner
Finally, xenops are 7 species of small funarids (4-5") with white stripes across the face.. The Plain Xenops (Xenops minutis) has plain brown underside.

Plain Xenops
The Streaked Xenops (Xenops rutilans) has streaked underparts.

Streaked Xenops
Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

photos copyright 2006 - 2015 David McDonald

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