Tuesday, July 30, 2013

No Toquen Nada

Let me give you some advise about the tropics.  Don't f***ing touch anything. It's the rainforest.  The snakes will be happy to kill you.  There are countless eyelash vipers hiding in the vegetation waiting for an excuse to take down a Gringo.  Don't heedlessly put your hand on any branch you want.  Jabba the Hutt®©™over here (below) will create a burning sensation on your skin that will cause even the manliest amongst us to retire from all things natural and nocturnal, all the while whimpering like a small child.
Let's be honest.  I have no idea what this is.  It's a poisonous moth.  That's all I can tell you.  No lo toquen.
Boas are non-venemous but their mouths are filthy places filled with flesh-eating bacteria.  Don't touch that unless you are trained in the arts of snake grabbing or are a reckless gringo like me.
Don't go touching frogs all willy-nilly.  Are you a tourist gringo or a naturalist?  It is okay to touch a frog if you do not have bug repellent on your hands.  If you have repellent or residuals from a venemous frog on your hand it's best not to even look at a frog, but if you must touch (I can rarely resist the urge myself), then "wash" your hands with some moist rainforest soil.  Oh, but there are parasites in that too, one species of which finds its home under your fingernails! Gross.
What I'm trying to say is, no toquen nada.  Don't touch anything.  Stinging plants, venomous animals, and friendly parasites are lurking behind every corner.  Having said that.  You're in the rainforest.  Have a blast.  I will end with this mediocre to slightly better than average photo of a Mangrove Swallow in pre-basic molt, ridding itself of disgusting formative plumage.  I feel like a real jerk for not doing bird things for a while, so here is a common bird for good measure.  Okay it is a pretty good photo...

Hasta luego folks,

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Frogs and Opossums

By Luke Musher

Quick break from birds.  I have been going out at night looking for frogs, snakes, and mammals (heard a Black-and-white Owl, but haven't seen any), and have been getting some cool photos, and seeing some fun, bizarre and really awesome wildlife.  Thanks to my friend David Segura (http://spadebill.blogspot.com), and he's been showing me a lot.  Enjoy the photos.
Red-eyed tree frog trying to blend in with my hand (above) and a leaf (below).  Love the blue and orange in these guys.

Hammer or Ding Frog.  These tiny little amphibians are usually higher in the canopy, but we were lucky enough to see a few.
Cat-eyed Snake.  These guys specialize in eating frogs and small lizards.
David spotted this amazing 2-meter boa constrictor actively hunting.  

I hate spiders.  No idea what this is. These are some sort of wolf spider I presume.  (As I publish this, somebody tells me the spider below is called Brazilian wandering spider)

This katydid was in serious peril.  Hanging by a single spider thread.  Very strange.  I took pity on him/her and set him/her free.
We were attacked by this Morpho butterfly, and spent about 5 minutes trying to capture it has it endlessly flew into our headlamps. 

Judging by its teeth, some sort of rodent 
My favorite animal ever.  The most adorable in the world.  Mouse opossum.

Another weird grasshopper thing.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Tiny Hawk in a Big World

Well helloooooo.

I have been rained out for the past several days (it's the wet season), and haven't banded.  I haven't been taking photos, and haven't really been doing all that much of anything.  I just wanted to post these cool photos of a Tiny Hawk we caught several days ago.  This Accipiter is even smaller than Sharp-shinned Hawk, but what it lacks in size, it makes up for in rowdiness.  It's a hard bird to see, and a rare bird in our nets.  What a treat.  Hope you enjoy these great photos by my banding partner Sara Estrada.
Tiny Hawk (Accipiter superciliosus) by Sara Estrada.  Captured and banded at Cano Palma, Tortuguero, Costa Rica.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Glacier National Park; Alpine Birding

Living here in NW Montana puts me within 3 hours of Glacier National Park, this past weekend I did a 3 day camping trip focusing on the birds the park has to offer, and to unsuccessfully search out a wolverine! The 1,013,527 acre park boasts over 2,000 plant species, 60 species of mammal and 260 species of birds. I focused mostly on the east side of the park, in the Many Glacier Valley as well as Logan's Pass at over 6.500 feet elevation. 
Hidden Lake, Glacier National Park
 My first morning I headed up Logan's Pass, the highest point on the park's famous Going to the Sun Road located along the Continental Divide. Here I easily picked up Gray-crowned Rosy-finches(lifer) and plenty of American Pipits. On my way back down from the Hidden Lake observation deck I was able to watch a female White-tailed Ptarmigan with her chicks feeding not far from the trail. Recent trends have shown the ptarmigan numbers at Logan's Pass dropping in recent years with the rise in temperatures and the rapid snow melt. This birds rely on the snow-line at this elevations to help remain cool during these hot days, this particular morning was ranging in the low 80's well before noon. The bird was situated just below the snow-line in a small wet spot, created a sort of airconditioning effect to tolerate the abnormal temperatures. 
Heading over the divide I ended up in east end of the park in the Many Glacier Valley. Boreal Chickadees were abundant through out most of the trails I hiked, especially the crowded Iceberg Lake Trail. White-crowned Sparrows, American Pipits, Pine Siskins, and Gray-crowned Rosy-finches were present through out as well. 

The Many Glacier Valley is also excellent for the mammal species of the park. Glacier NP is one of the few places left in the lower 48 states where all the native carnivores remain intact. Wolves independently returned to the park from Canada to den in the late 80s. In the late evenings the local lakes are excellent for moose viewing. I had 7 moose in one day of hiking in the area, including a cow moose with twins at Fishercap Lake. 

Hopefully I can make it back to Glacier at least once more this summer, and my goal is to spend a weekend in Yellowstone this fall.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Flocks of Furnariid Friends

I just returned to Heredia after 10 rather windy days in Talamancan cloud forest 2500m above sea level.    I think my favorite bird that we captured since I've spoken with you last is this incredible (/incredibly bad-ass) Streak-breasted Treehunter, a member of the family, Furnariidae, which includes ovenbirds (subfamily: furnariinae), miners and leaf-tossers (Sclerurinae), and woodcreepers (Dendrocolaptinae).
A closer (above) and even closer (below) look at this remarkable species.  Too much? Sorry but it's awesome.
I know that I keep saying what families I like and don't like, but I have to say that this morphologically and behaviorally diverse family, Furnariidae, is another one of my favorites.  With 293 currently recognized species, it is an amazing group to study from the perspectives of evolution, biodiversity, and ecology.  It is not uncommon to be watching 5 or more (in some cases many more) species of these often audacious birds in one mixed feeding flock moving through tropical rainforest.  Granted in the Costa Rican highlands 5 species at once is somewhat uncommon, but I did commonly see a few including Spot-crowned Woodcreeper, Ruddy Treerunner, Red-faced Spinetail, and Buffy Tuftedcheek.  Such diversity of species can be noted simply by pointing out that the family is well-represented in just about every habitat type in the Neotropics from the hot, dry Atacama desert to Polylepis forest in the high Andes, to cloud forest and Amazon rainforest.

Interestingly enough, 97% of the species-level and 100% of the genus-level diversity (currently recognized of course) is found in South America.  That means that the vast majority of this giant 33 million-year-old radiation of Sub-oscine Passeriformes birds took place in South America, only spreading north into Central America after the closing of the isthmus of panama 2.5-4 mya (or one newer study indicates as early as 15mya!)

Maybe it's my lack of very much old-world exposure, but the new world is, well, mejor, as they say down here in the CR.  Point not arguable.  Don't try.  Or do, I won't care.

¡Tuanis mae!


Brumfield, Robb T. Inferring the Origins of Lowland Neotropical Birds (2012) The Auk, 129(3): 367-376

Derryberry, Elizabeth P. et al. Lineage Diversification and Morphological Evolution in a Large-scale Continental Radiation: The Neotropical Ovenbirds and Woodcreepers (Aves: Furnariidae) (2011) Evolution 65:2973-2986

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Night Stuff, Antbirds, and Toucans

Why yes, I am in Costa Rica.  Can't you tell by this red-eyed amphibian above?  [Photo by Katia Alpizar]
I just left Tortuguero the other day, and tomorrow am headed back up into the Talamanca highlands to Madre Selva for a nice break from the mosquitos (moscos) and sweating.  Just want to leave you all with some of the highlights from my last few days there.
This Jesus Christ lizard was not so happy with me after I snatched him off a branch while he was trying to sleep.  They're called that because they turn water into wine.  Or run on water.  I can't remember which. [Photo by Katia Alpizar]
Super pissed.  Sorry pal. [Photo by Katia Alpizar]
Back to the birds...

So we banded at some pretty cool places and caught some great stuff including a couple species of antbirds, 9 species of Hummingbirds, a White-whiskered Puffbird (yeah you saw that one already), and a KEEL-BILLED TOUCAN.  Yes these colorful birds are common-az-ell down here, but come on, holding that bad boy was a treat to say the least.  And speaking of treats, just put some fruit loops in your net next time and you're sure to catch one.  Get's 'em every time.  Hummingbirds included 4 species of Hermits (Long-billed, Bronzy, Stripe-throated, and Band-tailed Barbthroat), White-necked Jacobin, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Purple-crowned Woodnymph, Blue-throated Goldentail, and something that I'm missing.  All of these were both seen out of the net and banded.
Streak-headed Woodcreeper looking like a BAMF
Caught several of these – Western Slaty-Antshrike.  This one is a male with a pretty obvious, and slightly unusual molt limit.  Can you find it?
And this is the female.
And we caught this Squirrel Cuckoo.  Somebody needs a manicure....
NM really, just banding this Chestnut-backed Antbird 
Here is Sam "smiling" for the camera.  We take one picture of him in his lifetime, the least he could do is emote for us.
Yes, Sam is bigger than Katia's head.  Wow.  He also bites like you wouldn't believe.  Angry as sh*t.
Speaking of angry, if you've ever pulled a bat from a mist net, you know that they are probably the angriest animals on the planet.  They will literally do anything to get a chance to bite you.  Luckily I employed the oldest trick in the book.  Come from behind.  I don't know what it is (help anyone?) but my friend Chris Heckel (no relation to the founder of ecology, and great 19th century evolutionary biologist Ernst Haeckel) that it is in the leaf-nosed bat family to which vampire bats belong.  [Photo by Katia Alpizar]
Thanks for listening,
<3 Luke

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Guys, It's a Puffbird

OK!  Wow.  How embarrassing. Two people responded to that photo quiz, and one of them is a writer on this blog.  Is it more embarrassing for me for not sparking the interest of enough neotropical bird nerds, or is it more embarrassing for you for not knowing how to use a field guide (Boom)?  I'll never admit defeat, but just know this, America, Seagull Steve got it right.  It's a Whiskey Whiskey Papa Uniform, or in non-military 4-letter code a WWPU, or in standard English a White-whiskered Puffbird.
A more birder-friendly, though certainly less mind-boggling, angle of White-whiskered Puffbird.  [Photo by Katia Alpizar]
I FUGGING love this family of birds (Bucconidae).  By far the one of the coolest avian families on the planet, and that's not an opinion, nor is it up for debate.  I take my bird families very seriously and the the two best competitors in no particular order are Tyrannidae (New World/Tyrant Flycatchers) and Trochillidae (Hummingbirds).  Maybe it's my affinidae I mean affinity for the neotropics that makes me choose these three, but their epicness will not be disputed; not on my watch.
Another member of the family, a Swallow-winged Puffbird in Caxias, Brazil.
Two specimens of the other top bird families Tyrannidae: Black-capped Flycatcher (above) and Trochillidae: Green-fronted Lancebill (below).  
As a side note, Cory Ritter of BoomCha "fame" had an interesting name for the quiz bird, Ivory-bristled Fluffball.  Either he knew the bird's true identity and decided to use synonyms as some sort of sick, twisted, midwestern-style joke (people from Wisconsin shouldn't be trusted and there jokes not tolerated), or he happened to name the bird very similarly to how taxonomists did in the past.  Either way, I prefer his name.  Say it with me, Ivory-bristled Fluffball.  Very good...

Happy Independence Day.  I'm feeling pretty free today.  There's free healthcare down here in Costa Rica for example.


Monday, July 1, 2013

A Neotropical Quiz

Here is a bird we all know and love.  Well, maybe that's a stretch.  If you don't know it, you probably can't love it.  If you don't love it, chances are you don't know it.  If you know it and don't love it, you can go away.  You are pretty much the worst, and also you are an actual crazy person.

Tell me what it is.  Hint: it's name is what it looks like, and if you have a field guide to just about any Central (or south?) American country you should have no problem.  If you made up a name for it, chances are you'd probably be at least close to correct.  If you have no idea, then make up a name and if it's funny I will laugh, and maybe even let you know that I laughed.  Post your answers as comments right here.