Thursday, May 26, 2016

Bulletin 260 - Spring Migration

After last years pretty dismal migration, this year was spectacular. I actually was at LaFitte's Cove in Galveston for 2 days when we had fall outs and the trees were teeming with birds. These were Monday April 18 and Saturday April 30. What fun! 

I still had 2 birds to photograph despite 10 years of spring migrations. These were a male Golden-winged Warbler, and an adult Black-billed Cuckoo.

Here are a few highlights from 1/2 dozen trips to the coast.

The Prothonotary Warbler (Protonotaria citrea) is a beautiful bright yellow with blue-gray wings. This is the only 1 I saw this year and it was on the 18th.

Prothonotary Warbler

A Wood Thrush (Hylocichla mustelina) was practically at my feet in the open. This is unusual for this normally shy bird. The bold spots on his breast can be seen to be individual feathers.

Wood Thrush

My friend Martin Jackson from New York and his son Thomas from LA flew in for a day of birding and they hit the jackpot on the 30th. Martin especially wanted to see a Yellow-headed Blackbird. Well as you know, that is a western species and is rare here. Well as luck would have it we found a pair at Anahuac NWR. I didn't get any photos, but Martin saw both the male and female!

There were a pair of King Rails (Rallus elegans) in the open at Anahuac as well.

King Rail
We headed to High Island after lunch and on the way to the famous rookery, I found my Golden-winged Warbler (Vermivora chrysoptera) right overhead. He is gray with gold wing patch, gold cap and black facial pattern.

Golden-winged Warbler - male
Next we went to LaFitte's Cove to see if there were any late afternoon arrivals as a strong front with rain had come through and that may bring in a fall out. Well it sure did. When we arrived, we were told that both golden-winged and the cuckoo were in the woods.

Martin spotted the Black-billed Cuckoo (Coccyzus erythropthalmus) in the canopy. It is IDed by the red eye, black bill, and long tail. This was the first one I had seen in the 10 years of doing photography.

Black-billed Cuckoo - adult
A short time later, another male Golden-winged Warbler flew into the drip. So 2 of them in one day. Most years, I don't see a single bird.

Golden-winged Warbler - male

At LaFitte's Cove on April 10th I had some interesting photos of a Great Egret hunting. This long legged wader can be found walking the trails in the woods and I always wondered what he was eating. Well that day I found out.

First he caught several lizards.

Great Egret with lizard
Later he tackled an 18" garter snake.

Great Egret with Garter Snake1
The snake wasn't excited about what the egret had in mind and he tried to grab onto a stick or anything when he was dropped. This stick however was broken and didn't help.

Great Egret with Garter Snake2
On a couple of occasions, the snake was able to get wrapped around the bill of the egret and he had to drop it once again.

Great Egret with Garter Snake3

Finally, the egret is making progress and gets the snakes head in his mouth and starts to swallow it, but the tail is flailing around and wraps around the neck of the egret and starts to choke him, so again he lets go and drops the snake.

Great Egret with Garter Snake4
After once more wrapping itself around the beak of the egret, the snake itself ends up tied up in knots, and the end is near as he can swallow it now.

Great Egret with Garter Snake5
And after more than 6 minutes, the egret completed the task.

Great Egret with Garter Snake6
Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

photos copyright 2006 - 2016 David McDonald

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Friday, May 20, 2016

Bulletin 259 - Costa Rica #4 - Raptors and other large birds

I had been surprised that I had seen so few raptors on previous tropical trips, but this trip made up for it.

The adult 22" Common Black-Hawk (Buteogallus anthracinus) is an all black robust hawkwith a white band on the tail.

Common Black-Hawk - adult
The juvenile is brown and the breast heavily streaked.

Common Black-Hawk - juvenile
His opposite is the 23" White Hawk (Pseudaster albicollis). He is all white except a few black stripes on his wings and tail

White Hawk
The 15" Roadside Hawk (Rupornis magnirostris) is a very common hawk in the Americas with a range from Mexico to Argentina. I was surprised that I had not a photo previously except a very distant one. This trip there was one beside the road and I took photos out the window of the car. The bird is IDed by the gray head and brown streaked chest and belly.

Roadside Hawk
The tiny 9" Pearl Kite (Gampsonyx swainsonii) has been expanding its range from Amazonia recently and was first reported in Costa Rica in the mid 1990s and now is into Nicaragua.

Pearl Kite
This 16" Yellow-headed Caracara (Milvago chimachima) was sitting in the road and just flew up to a fence post beside the road. I took this photo out the window and just got a head shot as I was so close. 

Yellow-headed Caracara
I got 1 new toucan on this trip, the 17" Fiery-billed Aracari (Pteroglossus frantzii). The red and black bill IDs this bird.

Fiery-billed Aracari
A pair of 22" Black-mandibled Toucans (Ramphastos ambiguus) were in a tree and decided to get into a disagreement and locked bills in the dispute.

Black-mandibled Toucans
And another photo

Black-mandibled Toucans
I got better photos of 2 cracids this trip as well. The 24" Black Guan (Chamaepetes unicolor) came to the feeder at the first lodge.

Black Guan
The 20" Gray-headed Chachalaca (Ortalis cinereiceps) also showed up at a feeder at another location. It is brown with a gray head and neck and rufous on the wings.

Gray-headed Chachalaca

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. 

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Bulletin 258 - Costa Rica #3 - Boat trip in mangroves

The mangroves on the coasts provide protection from erosion of beaches and shorelines. They also provide a unique ecosystem and habitat. There are several Costa Rica birds that use the mangrove habitat and many of them are named for it.

One morning the guide and I took a boat trip on a river on the Pacific coast to look for some of these species.

I had previously photographed the 5" Mangrove Swallow (Tachycineta albalinea) at quite a distance. This time a pair landed on the roof of the boat, so I was 12 feet from the bird! It is a beautiful swallow with snow white underparts, and a blue back. It has a distinctive white rump. Notice the small white line above the eye which gives the bird its scientific name.

Mangrove Swallow
Next is the 5" Mangrove Warbler (Setophaga petechia) has been split from Yellow Warbler by the IOU but the AOU still considers it a subspecies. However, the song is different and the rufous head is really neat. The male has the red streaks on the underparts.

Mangrove Warbler - male
The 4" Mangrove Hummingbird (Amazilia boucardi) is endemic to the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. I only saw the female. the male would have a green throat.

Mangrove Hummingbird - female

Of course we saw some Kingfishers along the river as well. The 16" Ringed Kingfisher (Megaceryle torquata) is the largest of the kingfishers in the Americas. It has a blue back and head with a bushy crest. The male has rufous underparts.

Ringed Kingfisher - male
The female has a blue chest band.

Ringed Kingfisher - female

The 5" American Pygmy Kingfisher (Chlorceryle aenea) is the smallest kingfisher in the Americas. It is green with rufous underparts. The female here has a green chest band. The male would be all rufous underneath. The white belly is another field mark of this tiny kingfisher.

American Pygmy Kingfisher - female

The 9" Northern Jacana (Jacana spinosa) is brown bodied with a black head and neck and yellow bill and a yellow cap. It has long legs and long toes for walking on aquatic vegetation on the waters surface.

Northern Jacana
The Muscovy Duck (Cairina moschata) is dark with a white wing patch. The male is huge at 33" while the female is 25" long. They have that red knobly beak

Muscovy Duck
The last bird is the 30" Bare-throated Tiger-Heron (Tigrisoma mexicanum). The adult is gray bodied with a striped neck and a yellow throat.

Bare-throated Tiger-Heron - adult
The juvenile has a brown body and wings.

Bare-throated Tiger-Heron - juvenile
Lastly is the American Crocodile (Crocodylus acutus). It certainly needs no description to ID it.

American Crocodile
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.