From the Field
May 22: Gavin Bieber on his just completed Arizona: Owls and Warblers tour
We managed to see an amazing nine species of owls this year, including superlative views of a roosting Spotted Owl (below), and warblers were cooperative too with snazzy Red-faced and Olive Warblers (below). As with any trip to SE Arizona, hummingbirds are always a hit, and we had great views of a male White-eared (below) among the nine species recorded. Among the remarkable18 species of flycatchers we had excellent views of Tropical Kingbird (below) perched near the Rio Rico Ponds. The weather was relatively mild (by Arizona standards), the mountains are recovering from the fires of 2011, and the scenery was as fanrastic as always (below). It's hard to think of a more spectacular place to bird in the U.S. in May.
May 8: Paul Lehman on his just-completed "repositioning" cruise from San Diego to Vancouver
The inaugural WINGS Pacific Coast "repositioning" cruise 14-17 April was a great success, with superb birds, a fine ship, excellent food and service, and all at a remarkably reasonable price. We experienced strong headwinds for two of the days but our ship the Holland America "Zaandam" sailed steadily through it with flying colors, and the pterodroma petrels were all up and flying! We had a great showing as our group saw one Hawaiian Petrel (below), one "Dark-rumped" Petrel, 10's of Murphy's Petrels, and one or two Cook's Petrels. We also tallied a fine Laysan Albatross, a rare Flesh-footed Shearwater, many Black-footed Albatrosses and Fork-tailed, Leach's, and Black Storm-Petrels, a number of Parakeet Auklets and Scripps's Murrelets, several Black-vented Shearwaters, and over 500 Sabine's Gulls--as well as Humpback and Fin Whales--and all in grand style and comfort!
May 6: Gavin Bieber on his just completed tour of South Florida
Our survey of the habitats and avifauna of this remarkable region took in such wonderful sights as the seemingly endless “sea of grass” of the Everglades, the heavily developed metropolitan coastline of Southeast Florida, which maintains a nice selection of protected areas and shelters many more species than just the celebrated “exotics,” the stunning cypress bottomlands, heavily laden with epiphytes and flowers, the upland pine/oak scrub and grassland savannahs of the central peninsula, coastal mangroves and bays, and stretches of sparkling white sand beaches. We enjoyed a myriad of birds too, from breeding Brown Noddies (below) and an incredible fallout of over 200 Yellow-billed Cuckoos on the Tortugas to migrant Bobolink and Blackpoll Warblers (both below), and even saw a few vagrants from the Caribbean like Black-faced Grassquit and Western Spindalis (both below). Add to that mix 19 species of reptiles and amphibians, 16 species of fish, and a host of pretty butterflies and dragonflies and the diversity of south Florida in the spring becomes hard to beat!
April 29: Paul French from his on-going tour to Georgia and the High Caucasus
We’ve just reached the half-way point on our tour of Georgia, and are currently reflecting on our time spent in the Greater Caucasus, the highest mountains in Europe. All of the hoped-for specialities performed admirably, and we were treated to extended encounters with Guldenstadt’s Redstart and Great Rosefinch (images of both below) at their only Western Palearctic location. Indeed, the rosefinches provided “walkaway” views as we watched several at close quarters feeding among the buckthorn. The redstarts will depart for higher altitudes in the spring, and we witnessed one Guldenstadt’s climb high into the thin air and disappear into the clear blue skies above us, suggesting that we got our timing of this trip spot on! Other highlights included daily sightings of Lammegeier (below), including one that buzzed us twice within 30 meters, confiding Caucasian Chiffchaffs (below), lekking Caucasian Black Grouse, strutting Caucasian Snowcocks and a pair of unconcerned Wallcreepers (below). Raptor migration was also evident whenever we remembered to look up; the species list includes Eastern Imperial, Steppe and Golden Eagles, Honey and Steppe Buzzards, Marsh, Montagu’s and Pallid Harriers, Levant Sparrowhawk and Osprey. We feel in top form for the raptors that are to come when we enter the rolling steppes of Chachuna tomorrow…
April 24: Gavin Bieber on his just-concluded Colorado: Lekking Grouse tour
Early spring in Colorado is a dynamic time, both for weather and for birds. This year we found the prairies to be much colder than average, although the previous week was very warm and many trees were already leafing out. Over much of the Rockies there was little snow, but during the tour a good winter storm (which we largely missed) brought a lot of snow and high winds to most of the state. If the weather and habitats were varied the birds were even more so. Of course the highlight honors of any spring Colorado trip must fall to the grouse. This year we had perhaps the best views of displaying Greater Prairie-Chickens that we have ever had, and viewed the stately but somehow supercilious displays of Greater and Gunnison Sage-Grouse against beautiful backdrops. The supporting cast was wonderful as well; from the first-returning shorebirds using prairie reservoirs as stopover sites, to our hard-fought views of a Mountain Plover in a windswept field and a Prairie Falcon perched on a red rock cliff near Denver, there just seemed to be quality birds at every turn!
April 22: Rich Hoyer on his just-concluded tour of Jamaica
For the first time in about 20 years (personally my 14th tour here), we managed to see all possible endemic species and subspecies – many of which will eventually be considered full species once the data is in (45 taxa in total). Perhaps the most difficult two of the group are Greater Antillean Elaenia, rather uncommon and requiring a late spring visit, and Plain Pigeon, which is downright rare; we had good looks at both. Everyone was especially charmed by Jamaican Tody (below), fortunately a common bird, bewitched by the Crested Quail-Dove, a secretive bird I haven’t missed but never take for granted, and impressed by Marshall’s Pen and our host there Ann Sutton. It was here we had a Jamaican Owl on its day roost each of three days, Vervain Hummingbirds feeding in the garden (they don’t make hummingbird feeders small enough for this one), and the endemic Jamaican Mestra (all with photos below). Another favorite were two Yellow-breasted Crakes chasing each other, with two more calling unseen across the channel, and nearly as exciting was a Northern Potoo in the Port Royal Mountains, probably on a “nest” (photo below). Add in the lovely scenery, many endemic lizards, plants, and bugs, delicious food, and friendly people, and this turned out to be a superb tour.
April 8: Steve Howell and Jon Dunn on their just-concluded scout of Honduras
Yesterday we visited the cactus thorn forest of the upper Aguán Valley (below), home to the endemic Honduran Emerald (below), rediscovered only in 1988 but common and thriving now in a large reserve. The suite of other species not found on the humid coastal slope included endearing White-bellied Wrens and dazzling Salvin's Emeralds (both below). With reluctance we finally had to leave the luxury of Pico Bonito, where the grounds (below) and adjacent forest host many wonderful birds. Birds on our last morning around the lodge included toucans, motmots, 2 flocks of "White-chinned" Swifts, ethereal White Hawks, and (all below) another male Lovely Cotinga (seen to be molting when in flight!), four species of trogons including Black-throated, and a fiery-headed male Red-capped Manakin glowing in the forest understory. We look forward to returning next year with a group to this wonderful country, off the beaten track but with a stunning array of avian riches.
April 5: Steve Howell and Jon Dunn from their on-going scout of Honduras
Who knew that Vermiculated Screech-Owls called in the daytime, but the roosting pair we watched (below) sang several times over the course of our leisurely study. At the other end of the spectrum, we saw flocks of a species of Cypseloides swift (below), presumably White-chinned (except they looked unlike White-chinned in South America... Could they have been White-fronted Swift, known only from Mexico, or a new species altogether?). Less problematic to identify were the burningly bright male Lovely Cotingas, for which Pico Bonito is justly famous: we saw our first on the afternoon we arrived and then another while having breakfast the next day - what an amazing bird! Then into the forest, where migrants mixed with residents at fruiting trees, such as male Scarlet Tanager and Golden-hooded Tanager (below). The river offered a very refreshing swim, and 12 species of hummingbirds at the feeders ranged from an understated but nonetheless handsome Band-tailed Barbthroat to the decidedly overstated Violet Sabrewing and dazzling Violet-crowned Woodnymph (all below).
April 3: Steve Howell and Jon Dunn on their scouting trip to Honduras
After the short flight from Miami, and within 3 hours of our plane touching down, we were watching a stunning Keel-billed Motmot (below), having just enjoyed a delightful male Black-crested Coquette (below) and striking Northern Royal Flycatcher - what a great introduction to birding in this often-overlooked country. Yesterday we were suitably intoxicated by point-blank views of an incredible male Wine-throated Hummingbird (below) and appreciated how birdy this part of the world is - with over 150 species in an easy day, from migrant Mississippi Kites and Golden-winged Warbler, regionally endemic Bushy-crested Jays, and widespread but nonetheless wonderful tropical species such as very vocal Laughing Falcon (which must have been told a great joke) and the always impressive Montezuma Oropendola (below). Today, after three species of motmots before breakfast, the supporting cast included such stunners as White-collared Manakin and Keel-billed Toucan (both below). We then drove to the wonderfully comfortable cabins at Pico Bonito Lodge, with the surrounding trees including plenty of Cacao (= chocolate), and a Great Potoo (below) roosting out front of Jon's cabin. Now, time for a cold beer and dinner... What will tomorrow bring?
April 1: Gavin Bieber from his just-completed Panama in Spring tour
Panama was, as usual, superb and with only two lodges, we got to know many of the resident creatures well. There seemed to be an endless parade of fascinating birds from the gaudy Black-mandibled Toucan and boisterous Red-crowned Woodpeckers to understory gems like Blue-crowned Manakin and overstory dwellers like Masked Tityra (all four below). By looking closely into both the canopy and the leaf litter, we found a perched Great Potoo and a dazzling Black-and-Green Dart Frog (both below). The extension to Burbayar Lodge revealed a host of gaudy tanagers and honeycreepers, lengthy views of a perched Ornate Hawk-Eagle, and a nesting pair of the enigmatic and very poorly studied Sapayoa!