Sunday, January 24, 2016

Bulletin 249 - Ecuador #10 - cotingas, becards, cardinals

Cotingas are a diverse neotropical family with 66 species. They have names like bellbird, fruitcrow, umbrellabird, plantcutter and fruiteater along with, of course, cotinga. They are usually forest residents and are difficult to find. I have seen about 10 of them in 25 years birding. On this trip I was fortunate to get photos of 3 and saw a 4th bird, but it flew before I could take his picture. All were lifers.

The most unusual was the Long-wattled Umbrellabird (Cephalopterus penduliger). There is a lek of these birds at Buenaventura Reserve, and in fact the lodge is called Umbrellabird Lodge. The first morning we went early and heard and saw a bird or two high in the canopy, but it was at dawn and too dark for any photos. So we went back the next morning armed with spotlights, like we were going owling. One bird was quite low on a branch and there was a small hill we ascended so the bird was just above eye level and so close that I couldn't get the whole bird in the photo. This is a large bird at 16" in length and all black. The wattle is a long inflatable tube from his throat that he inflates to make his deep voice like blowing across the mouth of an empty bottle. In this first photo, you can see the umbrella-like crest of feathers arching over his forehead. Also the wattle can be seen in front of his feet.

Long-wattled Umbrellabird - male

I repositioned the camera to get a head shot, and the umbrella can be seen. His umbrella is all black.

Long-wattled Umbrellabird - male

When I first set up the camera and looked through, I saw this feathery thing and wondered what the heck is that? Of course it was just his 10" wattle I was seeing hanging down. You can see his feet in the top left.

Here is the wattle inflated.

This has to be one of the strangest birds I have ever seen. At Copalinga we also saw an Amazonian Umbrellabird. His umbrella has white at the base. He flew before I got a photo however. So I saw 2 of the 3 umbrellabirds on the trip..

The second cotinga for the trip was a 7" Green-and-black Fruiteater (Pipreola riefferii). There are 11 species of fruiteaters and all are in South America. This bird was right outside the lodge at Tapichalaca in the cloud forest. The bright orange-red beak and feet are distinctive. He also was the first fruiteater species I ever saw.

Green-and-black Fruiteater
The third cotinga was the striking 12" Andean Cock-of-the-Rock (Rupicola peruvianus). The males come in 2 different colors. On the east slope they are orange like this one with charcoal wings and tail and a yellow eye. On the west slope they have a red body.

Andean Cock-of-the-Rock  - male
Becards and tityras were formerly in the flycatcher family, but they have been reassigned to their own family. The Yellow-cheeked Becard (Pachyramphus xanthogenys) has a white belly, black cap and lemon yellow face and breast.

Yellow-cheeked Becard - male
The male One-colored Becard (Pachyramphus homochrous) is all dark gray. The female is a beautiful rufous color.

One-colored Becard - female
There was another flycatcher called the Royal Flycatcher, because of an elaborate crest, that was also moved the the becard family. It was also split into several species. The one I saw at Buenaventura was the Pacific Royal Flycatcher (Onychorhynchus occidentalis). The crest is usually kept flat against the head. It is orange and black and if you look closely, you can see part of it.

Pacific Royal Flycatcher
I also got photos of a couple of members of the cardinal family. The White-winged Tanager (Piranga leucoptera) is very similar to our well known Scarlet Tanager, but it has 2 white wing bars.

White-winged Tanager - male
The other was the Slate-colored Grosbeak (Saltator grossus). The bird is all gray, but has a bright red bill.

Slate-colored Grosbeak
Well this completes my photos of the trip to southern Ecuador. Thanks again to my superb guide, Pablo Andrade. I guess I will need to go back as they are still about 1500 birds in Ecuador I need to photograph!

Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

photos copyright 2006 - 2016 David McDonald

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Sunday, January 17, 2016

Bulletin 248 - Best of 10 years #11 - others

This is my final episode in the series as I looked back at my first 10 years of bird and nature photography. Obviously birds are my passion, but I will also shoot other subjects that interest me. Each photo brings back a pleasant memory as I can recall exactly where I was when I took the photo and usually at least the year, if not the month I took it.

Most of these will be mammals, but they are few and far between to see while out in the daytime looking for birds. Squirrels and deer are about the only subjects that one can reliably find.

First is a newborn Northern Raccoon. Normally, raccoons live in hollow trees and a mother will have her babies there. Well this mother had her babies on a pile of reeds at Anahuac NWR. Fortunately for us observers, it was right below a boardwalk. This was on 4/1/2006 in my first 4 months of photography and I had gone to Anahuac for spring migration. I was hoping that I would watch the babies grow over the next few weeks, but of course by next weekend she had moved them to a hidden location. This is one of the 2 most memorable photos of that first year. 

Northern Raccoon - newborn
And here is mother holding one of the babies close to her. The tenderness of the maternal instinct of all animals is innate and a joy to behold.

Northern Raccoon - mother and baby
Striped Skunks are very common, but nocturnal. I have only seen one in the 10 years. It was Jan 2, 2010 as I was leaving Anahuac NWR in the late afternoon. I saw this skunk walking along the shoulder of the road. I turned around and drove past him in the direction he was walking. I wanted a memorable photo so I sat on the grass to get to his eye level. When I looked at the photos, I realized that he didn't have any white stripes down his back, just the white crown on his head. I posted 2 of the photos with the caption 'Striped Skunk without stripes!'. The first had his nose sniffing the ground, but in this one, I think he caught my scent and was looking around. This photo has had 4250 'hits' , the most of any of the 4000 photos on my pbase web site. It was also honored by being selected for the 50th anniversary of Anahuac NWR book in 2104.

Striped Skunk - without stripes

A trip to Alaska with the Texas Ornithology Society in the summer of 2010 produced several notable large mammal photos. The first is a Humpback Whale, while we were on a pelagic trip. We got close enough that when he breached, I was able to clearly see the barnacles on his lower jaw.

Humpback Whale
Also on that pelagic trip we encountered a Black Bear on a cliff who was looking for eggs in seabird nests among a field of flowers. I had seen this species a few times before, but this is the only one I have photographed.

Black Bear
This is the only Grizzly Bear I have ever seen and he came walking right past the van we were in. This picture was taken from inside the vehicle, when he was about 100 feet away.

Grizzly Bear
The members of the dog family are seldom seen, except for coyotes which I have photographed a couple of times. I have never seen any wolf. I have seen a Red Fox 3 times and photographed twice. This one on the Alaska trip is my best 'dog' photo.

Red Fox
Pronghorns are related to deer and antelope, but are in a separate family of their own. I have only seen them 3 times. On a trip to Big Bend National Park in April 2009, we had a pair quite close to the road. They have very colorful rufous and white markings and the pink flowers add a bit of art to the picture.

My trips to the tropics have produced a couple of favorite photos. In Panama in Feb 2014, we had a troop of Mantled Howler Monkeys stop right above the car. We watched and photographed them for about 20 minutes. I call this one 'Chilling Out'.

Mantled Howler Monkey
Chilling Out
Well if dogs are hard to find, seeing cats in the wild (outside of Africa) is almost a lost cause. I have only seen 2 species. I saw a bobcat 3 times in my life and got a distant photo once. So this Puma (aka Cougar, Mountain Lion) on my Costa Rica trip at Easter 2015 was the most amazing wildlife experience ever. To have this big cat just lying in the woods 60 feet away was unreal. We watched him for 20 minutes along with many other lucky people who happened to be at La Selva that day.

La Selva, Costa Rica

Monarch Butterflies are known for their incredible migration. Pacific Grove outside Monterey, California hosts a colony of hibernating monarchs from west of the Rockies. All the ones east of the mountains go to Mexico for the winter. I took several photos of the skeins of monarchs in February 2008. Some of these butterflies have tags on them to measure their travels. This is my second most viewed photo, after the skunk above, with 1800 hits.

Monarch Butterfly hibernation
Pacific Grove, CA
I am not good with flowers as I don't photograph them often. However, beginners luck on the same day as the raccoon newborn produced my favorite flower photo and the other favorite from the first year. Imagine, the 2 best photos from a whole year were just several hours apart. What are the odds of that? This is apparently a False Indigo, as best as I can tell. It was also selected for the Anahuac book in a full page spread.

False Indigo
The last is the only non-nature photo that I consider a favorite. Carmel, CA is a favorite vacation spot and there is a small wetland at the Carmel River mouth and beach where I would frequently go birding. One morning in 2007, there was not much happening bird wise, so I looked up towards the sun rising over the trees and saw this cross on a hill. I thought it would be neat to have the yellow sun with bright blue sky behind the cross. I had to position the tripod several times and of course, looking straight at the sun wasn't a great idea. So I would move the camera slightly and quickly take a glance. I snapped several photos. When I got back to the hotel and looked at the photos, it was extremely overexposed, but, the error is amazing and several friends have asked for copies to hang in their homes.

Carmel Cross

Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

photos copyright 2006 - 2016 David McDonald

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Friday, January 1, 2016

Bulletin 247 - Ecuador #9 - More Hummingbirds

There are 131 species of hummingbirds in Ecuador and I saw 34 of them on this trip in basically just 3 locations. Some were the same species I had seen previously, but many were new species and lifers. I showcased a number of them in Ecuador #1.  Here are the rest.

Among the more unusual hummers are the 2 species of sicklebills. They have unique almost semicircular bills. They feed on heliconia flowers and cling to the flower while feeding. They do not come to feeders and thus are harder to find. I missed this one in both Costa Rica and Panama. However, as we were getting ready to leave Buenaventura Lodge, one flew into the dining room and I was able to get photos before he was caught and released. The 4.75" White-tipped Sicklebill (Eutoxeres aquila) has a streaked breast and white on the tips of the tail feathers.

White-tipped Sicklebill
The 4.5" Green Hermit (Phaethornis guy) is unusual for hermits as most are brown. This one came to the feeder at Copalinga Lodge. Most hermits have long white central tail feathers that allows ID as to genus.

Green Hermit
The Violet-headed Hummingbird (Klais guimeti) is an old friend as I had seen it in Panama and got great photos in Costa Rica. The male has a purple head, but the ID mark is the white spot behind the eye. This one was feeding at a flower and appeared to turn and look at me.

Violet-headed Hummingbird - male
The 4" male Fork-tailed Woodnymph (Thalurania furcata) is green with a purple belly.

Fork-tailed Woodnymph - male
An similar colored species is the male 3" Violet-bellied Hummingbird (Damophila julie). 

Violet-bellied Hummingbird - male
The 3.25" Speckled Hummingbird (Adelomyia melanogenys) came to the feeder at Tapichalaca Lodge. It is a monotypic genus.

Speckled Hummingbird
Brilliants are large hummers that the guide book describes as 'readily coming to feeders' and most male are 'exceptionally attractive'. The 4.5" male Green-crowned Brilliant (Heliodoxa jacula) occurs on the west slope and was photographed at Buenaventura Lodge.
He is all green with a purple throat patch.

Green-crowned Brilliant - male

The 4.5" male Violet-fronted Brilliant (Heliodoxa leadbeateri) occurs an the east slope and has a purple forehead. The juvenile male shown here has a blue forehead, bronze face and lacks the solid green underparts.

Violet-fronted Brilliant - juvenile male
The next 3 species are all residents of the cloud forest on the east slope and were photographed at Tapichalaca Lodge. The 4" male Chestnut-breasted Coronet (Boissonneaua matthewsii) is green with a bright rufous breast and belly.

Chestnut-breasted Coronet - male

The 4.25" Collared Inca (Coeligena torquata) is dark green with a white chest and long bill.

Collared Inca
The 7.25" male Long-tailed Sylph (Aglaiocercus kingii) is green with a blue crown and long turquoise tail.

Long-tailed Sylph - male
The last 2 birds are called woodstars. They are tiny bee-like hummers. They usually have white flank patches. The 2.5" female White-bellied Woodstar (Chaetocercus mulsant) has a white throat and central white belly with rufous sides. The white flank patch is clearly seen on this bird with her tongue protruding.

White-bellied Woodstar - female
The 2.5" female Purple-collared Woodstar (Myrtis fanny) is green with mostly rufous underparts.

Purple-collared Woodstar - female
Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

photos copyright 2006 - 2015 David McDonald

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