Friday, May 31, 2013

Boom: Blue-crowned Motmot

By Luke Musher
I haven't started banding or working yet, so I decided to go for a short walk this morning to see what kind of birds I should expect and start learning some calls and songs.  As I left my bunk I was treated to Rufous-capped Warbler, Clay-colored Thrush, Great Kiskadee, Red-billed Pigeon, White-tipped Dove, and Rufous-collared Sparrow. I crossed the street to enter InBio Parque's rear entrance and immediately saw a Blue-crowned Motmot fly from within the forest to a wire by the road.  It was in perfect light, so I snapped about 300 photos.
Blue-crowned Motmot, InBio Parque, Santo Domingo, Costa Rica

I had a few other species as well including Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Blue-gray Tanager, Melodious Blackbird, Great-tailed Grackle, Black and Vaux's Swifts, Blue-and-white Swallow, House Wren, and Grayish Saltater.
Red-billed Pigeon
Grayish Saltater
Grayish Saltater
Clay-colored Thrush
Clay-colored Thrush

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

BOOM.....Not a bird!!

By Cory DeStein

Earlier today I decided to hit up the mountains of Fayette County again, rather than spending a day focused on the birding I decided to spend my morning looking for some of the regions reptiles! Unfortunately with my limited time schedule I was only able to come up with three species, but it was a great morning to be out exploring. I started my morning off along the Youghiogheny River, searching for Northern Copperheads. Of Pennsylvania's three species of venomous snakes, the Copperhead is the most widely distributed and abundant. The cryptic coloration of this species allows them to melt into their habitat of dried leaves on the forest floor. Earlier in the week my friend Aaron and I checked an area along the Yough River and nearly missed a snake right infront of us as it blended into leaf litter.
iPhone photo of Northern Copperhead

Heading back to the same area today, I did not find any snakes along the rocky hillside. Instead I checked along the river and along some of the rocky ledges where we had 2 copperheads earlier in the week. Sure enough not far from the original spot, the two snakes were sunning themselves in the early morning. A great start to the day!
2 Northern Copperheads

With the temperature increasing rapidly I decided to head up the ridge for rattlesnakes, before they retreated to the rocks to escape the heat. Timber Rattlesnakes can be found in the spring and fall basking at primarily southern facing outcrops, boulder fields, and forest openings. One of the most feared snake in Pennsylvania, I find they are one of the most timid, docile, and misunderstood. This is my third summer going out with the goal of finding these pit vipers, and the hunt has taken me to some truly beautiful habitat. Timber Rattlesnakes prefer forested habitat above 1800 feet in elevation, and Fayette County is exactly that. The first spot I hit was a secluded boulder field, where I have had up to 13 rattlers in the past as well as 4 different species of snake. This spring I have only observed two gravid(pregnant) females, but today only 3 Northern Ringneck Snakes were found.
Flipped a rock to find these 3 Northern Ringneck Snakes

Striking out on rattlers at the meadow, I headed over to a rocky outcrop that is reliable for the snakes through out the spring. Venturing out onto the rocky ledge, I encounter 2 Five-lined Skinks scurrying across the stones. Near the edge of outcrop I came upon the rock that has been most reliable for snakes, 9 rattlers were out sunning themselves along the boulder's edges. A few retreated under the rock as I approached, but a majority remained still and silent, relying on their perfect camouflage. Quite a few of these snakes were clearly gravid, impregnanted the previous summer and due to give birth to live young this fall. I was excited to find a small yellow phase hidden among 3 black phases, only the second yellow I have seen in the county.
First Yellow Phase I have seen in the county since 2010.

Soon the males and non-gravid females at this location will begin to move off into the forest, the males up to 2 miles from the den. The gravid females will carry out their 14 month gestation typically within 200 yards of the den. They will not typically feed during this time and will give birth to live young in late August to September. These females are not sexually mature until the age of 7 or 8, and males mature around the age of 5 years. Protecting the locations of these maternity sites is crucial in protecting the species from illegal collecting and poaching. In Pennsylvania snake hunters are allowed to collect 1 Timber Rattlesnake a year with a permit, only males over 42 inches in legnth with 21 or more sub-caudal scales. These are beautiful misunderstood creatures that for me represent the Pennsylvania Wilds. They face constant human threats everyday from vehicles, habitat destruction, poaching and just senseless killings.

Black Phase
Gravid females

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Photo Study: Birds of Northern Minnesota

By Cory DeStein

In late February I joined a birding tour group lead by Ethan Kistler and Frank Nicoletti through the bogs of northern Minnesota. The main destination of the trip was Sax-Zim Bog, a well known wintering location for Great Gray and Northern Hawk Owl as well as over 240 breeding and migrant birds in the spring! The trip was highlighted by 5 species of owl; Great Gray, Northern Hawk, Snowy, Northern Saw-whet, and BOREAL Owl!!!
Freaking Boreal Owl!!!!!!
While owls were certaintly a highlight of the trip, the boreal species of the northern woods were unbeatable. The feeding stations at the Bog were filled with Pine Grosbeaks, Gray Jays, Common and Hoary Redpolls, as well as Evening Grosbeaks. A Short-tailed Weasel even made his home at one of these stations!

Female Pine Grosbeak
Short-tailed Weasel
Heading up to the Superior National Forest we got very lucky with 9 Spruce Grouse in the middle of the road, many of them displaying. The birds were exceptionally tame, allowing everyone in the group to get fantastic looks, and some great pictures as well. Grays Jays and Pine Grosbeaks were through out the forest, and we were also treated to a pair of Red Crossbills feeding along the road.
Male Spruce Grouse

Male Red Crossbill
Back at the feeding stations in the bog, peanut butter did the trick to attract a Boreal Chickadee at eye level for the whole group. Hoary Redpolls were numerous throughout, and offered great practice for the group in identification. Frank had a recent sighting of a Northern Hawk Owl nearby and lead the group for great closeups of the gorgeous owl. On the way out Frank was able to spot a Northern Goshawk perched in the distance.
Boreal Chickadees

Female Hoary Redpoll

Northern Hawk Owl
In all it was a great trip for me, resulting in 5 lifers. Visitors to Northern Minnesota can hope for all the birds mentioned above as well as other birds in the area; Sharp-tailed Grouse, Black-backed Woodpecker, Northern Shrike, Rough-legged Hawk, and Bohemian Waxwings. I highly suggest a winter (or spring!) trip in your future!
Bohemian Waxwings
Black-backed Woodpecker 
Gray Jay
Great Gray Owl 
Pine and Evening Grosbeaks, Common Redpolls, and American Goldfinch.

Male Pine Grosbeaks

Common Redpoll

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Snowy Owl

Male Spruce Grouse

Northern Saw-whet Owl

Friday, May 24, 2013

Shorebirding on the Delaware Bay and an ID quiz of sorts

By Lukas Musher

On Tuesday I drove down to southern NJ to help David Mizrahi of NJ Audubon with his shorebird project that I worked on last year.  He didn't have me do any banding, bleeding, netting, or flagging.  Instead he had me go onto the beach and re-sight flagged Semipalmated Sandpipers.  The beaches are off limits this time of year due to shorebird migration, so I was very lucky to be able to get up and close with the birds themselves, and to get some phenomenal photographic opportunities.  

As I have talked about in the past, several species of shorebirds stage along Delaware Bay each Spring in coincidence with the spawning of the horseshoe crabs.  The fat-rich horseshoe crab eggs provide an invaluable calorie source for the migrating shorebirds, enabling them to finish their journey north to the breeding grounds in the high arctic.  

Fortescue is often one of the best places on the Delaware Bay shore to see the staging shorebirds, and that's where I was.  Above, you can see a few thousands shorebirds or several species (predominantly Semipalmated Sandpiper, Red Knot, Ruddy Turnstone, Sanderling, and Dunlin) roosting on the beach, and getting ready to begin feeding as the tide goes out.
Ruddy Turnstones are one of my favorite shorebirds, and what they lack in rareness, they make up for with charisma – or as Richard Crossley puts it, they are "the sausage dog of birds."
 Semipalmated Sandpipers greatly outnumber all other species, and yet they are one of the most severely declining shorebirds on Delaware Bay.  Red Knots are more famous, but in fact their numbers may be recovering, perhaps due to a strict moratorium on the harvesting of horseshoe crabs in the bay.  David Mizrahi has been studying this small and plain, albeit fascinating Calidris sandpiper for twenty years.  One of the biggest conservation concerns for this species has always been rampant hunting for food many countries throughout Latin America.

 I spent a lot of time scoping and sorting through the tens of thousands of birds looking for flags.  I found Red Knots from Argentina, Ruddy Turnstones and Sanderlings banded in previous years on Delaware Bay, and Semipalmated Sandpipers banded on the bay and two that were banded in Brazil.  I got tired of scoping, though, and took asylum behind the remnants of a disintegrating wooden fence covered in mold and algal residue.  It provided me with enough cover so that I could sit patiently as the shorebirds walked within ten feet of me allowing for fantastic photo ops.
A group of mostly Dunlin and Red Knot begin to take flight as I am noticed from behind the wooden remains.

A Semi banded on Delaware Bay!

One of several Red Knots I found that were flagged in Argentina!
Another D-bay Semi!

Exhausted by their long flights from South America and in preparation for the long flight to the arctic, Semipalmated Sandpipers recover and feed ferociously on the fatty crab eggs.

Incoming!  The Semipalmated Sandpiper landing on the right was flagged on Delaware bay by David's team.
Dunlin, Semi Sandpipers, and a Red Knot take flight, as the rest of the weary flock, including a couple of Short-billed Dowitchers, anxiously scamper forward.
Perhaps the most charismatic and infamous of North American shorebirds, a Red Knot in flight steals the frame from the other species taken to wing.
I may have spooked these Dunlin and Semis, but they know where they want to feed (AKA where the eggs are) and they come right back in to where they were before after two to three laps around the beach.
Finally, I leave you with a few photos of this bird.  I believe this to be a male Western Sandpiper, and upon consulting an expert, he agreed, though said he could not be 100% certain without photos of the underside.  I can tell you this, though, the bird was stockier and ever so slightly larger than the other Semis, and I remember thinking right away that it could be a Western based on build, rufous tones on the upper parts, and longer breast streaking than the typical Semi.  I welcome other opinions on this bird so feel free to post thoughts in the comments.  If it is a Western Sandpiper, this late date in NJ would make it very, very rare.  I will also be consulting more experts over the next few days, so maybe we can figure something out....most likely there won't be consensus.
Note rufous tones on scapulars, cheek, and cap, relatively long bill (though on the small side for Western, making it a likely male if confirmed), and blocky (not round like Semi) head.  I personally see some streaking making its way down the flanks, which Semi doesn't have.

He looks fat from this angle, more in favor of Western in my opinion.
I hope you enjoyed this post.  Don't forget to follow us on our new Twitter @boomchachalaca and like our facebook page.