Life List Birding

Jabiru Stork by Richard Kostocke - La Paz Group

Jabiru stork taking flight from the Blue Creek rice fields, Orange Walk District, Belize

The name “Jabiru” is derived from the Tupi–Guarani family of languages from South America and means “swollen neck”; an apt description. This is the tallest flying bird in South and Central America and is second in wingspan (excluding pelagic flyers like albatross) only to the Andean Condor.  This denizen of wetland habitats is a voracious, opportunistic forager on a wide variety of animal matter, living or dead.  Needless to say, an impressive bird and I was ecstatic to see it!

It was past the mid-point of our Belize vacation, and as good and enjoyable as the birding had been, life birds (new species that I had never seen before) were fewer and farther between than I had anticipated/hoped.  I guess that was to be expected given that I have visited the Neotropics several times previously.  I had already seen many of the common, easy, widespread species (e.g., many if not most of the hummingbirds, parrots, motmots, etc.) that make birders new to the Neotropics giddy.  After talking to the local guides, apparently most of my desired life birds were the tough ones (hard to find, rare, skulky, etc.).  As I went through my list of target birds, they just kind of smiled and shook their heads. Continue reading

Laying Eyes on the Ocellated Turkey

Ocellated Turkey Details Photo Credits: TL: Leander Khil, TR: Seth Inman, BL & BR: Richard Kostecke

When we first met recent guest (and now contributor) Richard Kostecke at Chan Chich Lodge he shared that the Ocellated Turkey was a life list bird for him. Like many birders we’ve met here, he was thrilled by the fact that this near-threatened species is so prevalent around the lodge and throughout our 30,000 acres.

This is especially true during the past several months, when we see the parades of chicks running behind the attendant adults throughout the property.

As a parting gift Richard had sent us a link about the species from Cool Green Science, a site we frequent ourselves.

Found only on the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, Guatemala and Belize, the ocellated turkey (Meleagris ocellata) certainly bears a resemblance to the American wild turkey.

But it’s a different species. It is smaller and lacks the “beard” typical of the more familiar wild turkey. Its mating call is higher pitched than the usual “gobble.” The most striking difference, though, is the color.

The vibrant, almost unreal color: iridescent feathers, large spots on the tail, a bright red ring around the eye and a blue head covered with red and yellow nodules (nodules that swell and become brighter in males during the breeding season).

It’s a turkey as conceived by Dr. Seuss. Or perhaps Alexis Rockman. Continue reading

Yellow-bellied Slate-colored Dark-eyed Junco

 

On a trip to Acadia National Park, I photographed this unusual  Dark-eyed Junco. It had a very distinct yellow belly and yellow up into the chest.  I showed the photo to the Park Ornithologist, Seth Benz, and he had this to say about it.

“It is an oddly colored Dark-eyed Junco. The yellowish underside is unusual.
I don’t know of anyone marking juncos using picric acid (which turns white feathers yellow).

Continue reading

Rich Versus Ostentatious

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Ocellated turkey / Pfauentruthuhn (Meleagris ocellata) | Detail of the side of a male individual.

I am not even a novice birder, which is strange considering that my work is primarily dedicated to birders. But birds are well placed in the pantheon of natural wonders that I worship, and a photo that I just received from a recent guest of Chan Chich Lodge (a photo similar to the one above, which I have commented on before) helps explain why. During seven years in India, where the peacock is the national bird and so is in its natural habitat, I got accustomed to their ostentatious display.

Peacocks are often awkward animals, noisy and bumbly in places and at times (as when in the habitat of tigers) I have wished for silence. Those otherwise annoying behaviors are compensated for by their plumes. The colors in the image above, belonging to the ocellated turkey, are rich but only during mating would these birds ever be described as ostentatious. The more time I spend in Belize, and specifically at Chan Chich Lodge, the more I see the beauty in humble display of rich color.

Birds Banging On Drums

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A male palm cockatoo, right, drumming with a stick for a female. Credit Christina Zdenek

Todd Rundgren, a musical talent better known to an earlier generation, had an oddball hit song about banging on drums. It came to mind immediately when reading this oddball story about cockatoos. If you do not already know the song, you might want to find it to accompany your reading of this story:

Whales and songbirds produce sounds resembling human music, and chimpanzees and crows use tools. But only one nonhuman animal is known to marry these two skills.

Palm cockatoos from northern Australia modify sticks and pods and use them to drum regular rhythms, according to new research published in Science Advances on Wednesday. In most cases, males drop beats in the presence of females, suggesting they perform the skill to show off to mates. The birds even have their own signature cadences, not unlike human musicians. Continue reading

Laguna Seca

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Yesterday afternoon, Emily and I went on a walk at Laguna Seca with Luis, the nature guide who picked me up from the airport on the first day. This experience is one of many guided walks offered at Chan Chich Lodge.

The tour started as soon as we hopped into the truck. Throughout the 25-minute drive to Laguna Seca, Luis would stop whenever he saw a bird among the trees along the road. He would intricately describe what and where he was looking, because to the untrained eye, it seemed like he stopped the vehicle for no reason.

How he can spot an olive-colored parakeet in olive-colored vegetation in his peripheral vision I will never know, but he – along with the several other guides at Chan Chich – offers an invaluable skill to the property and the nature surrounding it.  Continue reading

Cactus Tales

On Seth’s invitation, I am honored to have a chance to contribute to the group. I have a biology background, but am now retired and have an interest in photographing birds. I use point and shoot cameras, starting two years ago with a Canon SX60HS, graduating to a Sony RX10iii this year. I teach classes in bird photography with these cameras. My interests are in telling a story of birds in a small ecotype such as a pond, or in this case one plant species, a cactus, the cardon of the deserts of Northwest Mexico. These photos were taken over two trips to the Baja California Sur Cape Region, and the majority were on one cardon that was outside the bungalow I was staying at in Cabo Pulmo, Mexico while having my morning coffee.

Pachycereus pringlei, also known as Mexican giant cardon or elephant cactus, is a close relative of the Saguaro of the desert southwest. It is the tallest cactus in the world, lives for several hundred years, and has a fungal-bacteria symbiotic relationship that allows it to grow on bare rock. For birds, it is the perch of choice for everything from hawks to wrens, a source of abundant food,  a prolific producer of fruit and used by all woodpeckers for their nesting holes. On larger cardons it is not uncommon to see several bird species on a cactus at once and most birds whose territory includes a cardon will touch it several times a day for a song, a snack, and good luck.

 

 

Gallon Jug’s Bird Friendly Coffee

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This other post today reminds me of the value of geeking out from time to time. Most of my attention to coral reef comes from Phil Karp’s posts on this platform and I admit to preferring stories featuring real people and their entrepreneurial approaches to conservation. But science is the other best friend of conservation. Today my attention is turning to coffee, in advance of the arrival this week of an intern coming from Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Just one of the many topics for an intern, with science and research on her side, to help us tackle over the next ten weeks, bird-friendly coffee has been on been on my mind in the last year but I have been waiting for the perfect moment to focus. Nothing like the arrival of an intern to focus your mind. And so today in my task-oriented wanderings I came across this website (click the banner above), which I loved immediately for sharing this news on capsules, but the rest of the site is a great resource for present purposes as well:

A short round-up of coffee news.

Longform Escape & Corrections

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There are two dynamic illustrations in this piece by David Samuels that cannot be replicated here, but are worth visiting the website of The Atavist for, so the images above and below are placeholders. Anyway, the words are the thing so I take a paragraph from near the end as an example of why to read this:

…In the 1970s in Brooklyn, where I grew up, pigeons were everywhere, which is probably why I am here. Some of my earliest gray-scale memories include pigeons, which fluttered and occasionally nested on the windowsill of the first place I was aware enough of to call home, a housing project near the Brooklyn Bridge built for working families like mine. There was a bona fide pigeon coop on the roof of a building nearby, like in the famous scene from On the Waterfront. Sometimes I could see a man on the roof waving a flag, which in my imagination was red but in fact could have been any color. The pigeons he guided back to their loft every night were a promise of safety that New York City in the 1970s was obviously unable to keep, which is why my parents moved to the suburbs, where the birds in the trees outside my window twittered and cooed in foreign tongues that signified nothing…

I am not surprised that this is the article on their website that I gravitated to. The author wrote an item in the New Yorker at a time when I was just completing many years of work in Montenegro and Croatia, and I knew the landscape he was describing well, and still he brought the place alive for me in a way that living there had not. He does not need photos, gifs, or other illustrations to make his words dance better. And in this piece he does something even more magical, providing a correction for me.

Seven years in south India had at least one unexpected effect on me, and it is embarrassing. I developed a passionate dislike for pigeons. Pigeons caused continuous problems in one of the properties we developed and managed, an urban location pigeons loved as much as people. And pigeons express their love in messy ways, so they became my bane. At our home, pigeons would coo on the window sill and I remember that at the time I posted this, which was peak pigeon problem, my enthusiasm for conservation was red hot but I had an unwanted, guilty ability to imagine why passenger pigeons disappeared. Reading David Samuels just now, I have snapped out of that.

pigionssa-1436823680-87 Continue reading

Naming For The Sake Of Conservation

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The Helmeted Honeyeater, a subspecies of the Yellow-tufted Honeyeater and the state bird of Victoria. Photo © Dylan Sanusi-Goh / Wikimedia Commons

Thanks to the Nature Conservancy for its conservation and scientific work in Australia, and for this finding shared on Cool Green Science:

…Recognizable common names are often critical for species protection, but subspecies miss out on this public perception benefit. A new paper argues that standardized English names are key to conservation success for Australia’s fantastic avifauna, and creates a definitive list for every subspecies on the continent. Continue reading

Strengthening Our Birding With Citizen Science

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Team Belize finished with 242 species. From left: Roni Martinez, Andrew Farnsworth, Steve Kelling, Brian Sullivan.

Seth, since his time working for the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and even after his time in Ithaca, has helped me to see how important the Lab’s work is to what our company has been doing since he was an infant. Citizen science is an essential component, and at Chan Chich Lodge guests have responded to the passion the guides have for eBird, which is why we put so much attention into this year’s Global Big Day. And it is why we are already planning the next collaboration with the Lab, a collaboration Seth will lead on our side. For now, a final roundup of stories from last weekend, starting with our favorite team:

…After pooling their lists, the teams ended the day with a whopping 327 species combined—reflecting not just great birding but the region’s importance to an immense diversity of birds. Team Belize topped the friendly group competition with 242 species (including 40 species the other teams didn’t find); Team Mexico found 224 species (with 43 unique to their list); and Team Guatemala tallied 213 (with 23 unique)…

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Flame Robin by John Cantwell/Macaulay Library, taken on Global Big Day

Also, the final numbers are in and news published late yesterday confirmed what I suspected as day was breaking in Belize, titled Global Big Day 2017: birding’s biggest day ever:

…On 13 May 2017, almost 20,000 birders from 150 countries around the world joined together as a global team, contributing more than 50,000 checklists containing 6,564 species—more than 60% of the world’s birds. This is a new record for the number of bird species reported in a single day, Continue reading

The Bells & Whistles Of The Forest At Daybreak

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We post a few times a day, sharing information about initiatives in our own realm of work and frequently observations on news links that we find interesting. For the record, here is a bit of news worth celebrating. As I type this at 5:30a.m. Belize time, the Global Big Day page on eBird shows the latest tally of the species count as seen above. At the same time, on the eBird Facebook page I am looking now at the last post, dated May 15 midday, that says:

The #GlobalBigDay total is now 6,255, less than 100 away from a new record for a single day of birding!

Looks to me like a new record has been set. Where are all the bells and whistles? They are outside my door right now, where the wildlife is whirring, cling-clanging, whooping and shrieking as the forest lights up…

Sticking To Mission & Unintended Consequences

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In recent months, as we prepared to host Team Sapsucker Belize at Chan Chich Lodge, our goals were focused on the citizen science mission. Using a couple simple metrics, the event was a clear success, comparing the number of species counted in Belize this year versus last year, and especially looking at the number of checklists submitted.

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If you look at this as the third iteration of an event that we hope to grow in future years, the progress from beginning to present is promising. As I type this there are still more than 40 hours of data entry remaining for this year’s event, so the increase in this year’s participation and species identification will likely grow larger by this time Wednesday.

GBDResult15.jpg Continue reading

Global Big Day 2017, Results

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When I left Team Sapsucker late last night it was pouring rain, a perfect punctuation to the day, telling them to stay under cover on Chan Chich’s deck since no bird would be out in the deluge. They were reviewing their lists, waiting to see if the rain would pass, allowing one final outing of the 24-hour period. I did not ask the final number, but I could tell they were happy with the day.GBD2017Result

As I type this at 5am the rain has long since stopped, the early birds are out in full sonic force, competing with the howler monkeys it seems, and results on eBird’s website look impressive. My eye is drawn to the Central America numbers. Partly because I moved to the region two decades ago and have worked in each country. Partly also because the region has embraced its ornithological importance, and yesterday provided one more metric for that embrace. But mainly, because I am here in Belize and the Lab team we had here was exactly as expected, not only as birders but as people.

The Chan Chich guide team had an amazing day with the Team Sapsucker on Friday, and over lunch that day they all celebrated several firsts, the details of which escape me now, but they involved two new species being added to Chan Chich’s list on eBird (a big deal) and our guide Ruben adding a life list bird that day to his nearly two decades of birding accomplishments at the Lodge.

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The Lab team explained the rules of the game for the following day. No assistance of any kind would be possible after midnight. Continue reading

Winged Muses

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The composer John Luther Adams in Central Park, listening for his winged muses. Credit James Estrin/The New York Times

Occasionally we have reason to think of muses; every day we think of birds. Today birds are the muse. We have linked to this composer’s work once previously, and I am happy with the coincidence of reading again about this composer on Global Big Day in this review by Michael Cooper, Listen to ‘Ten Thousand Birds’ and Its Warbling, Chirping Inspirations:

New York is not usually considered a naturalist’s paradise. But John Luther Adams, the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer and former environmental activist, did not have to walk far from his Harlem apartment this week to be serenaded in Morningside Park and Central Park by choirs of robins, sparrows, flickers, catbirds and, finally, a wood thrush, with its poignant “ee-o-lay” song.

”That’s the one that started it all for me, 40-however-many years ago,” Mr. Adams, 64, said as he paused in a sun-dappled spot in Central Park’s North Woods to savor the wood thrush’s melody. Continue reading

Introducing The Team Prepping For Global Big Day At Chan Chich Lodge

GBD1On day two in Belize with Team Sapsucker introductions are due. The photo to the left, taken at about 5am today in front of Chan Chich Lodge’s reception area, shows two of them. The best information I could find to share with you about Andrew Farnsworth is on Songbird SOS Productions, where he says:

“I like the challenge of trying to figure out how to go birding when there’s a traffic jam on first avenue. It’s cool to be able to study birds in a city… Some people have seen technology as the end of all things natural, but there’s a whole other side to it that gives us access to a world that we would otherwise not have seen.” Continue reading

Baja Desert Birds

As I approach my 100th checklist submitted to the Villa del Faro eBird hotspot, I’ve been putting together video compilations of footage taken over the last seven months here. The one in this post happens to be about birds, and most of them are, but I’ll also be sharing some whale breaches, ray jumps, and non-avian desert animal behavior. In the video below you can see two Greater Roadrunners (filmed months apart), a California Quail, and a Gray Thrasher (endemic to the Baja Peninsula) recorded at or ten minutes from Villa del Faro.

Make sure you have the volume up for the Greater Roadrunner section in particular, as the first individual engages in some interesting bill-clacks, and the second one was vocalizing in a low toot that I’ve only heard the one time so far, but seems to be a mating call.

Continue reading

Counting Down To Global Big Day

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A world of birders has already marked out where they’ll be on 13 May. Where’s your place? Add it today!

Thanks to eBird for the one week marker until Global Big Day, which we look forward to supporting at Chan Chich Lodge. Click the map to the left to mark your territory, so to speak. This countdown notice uses one species to illustrate a conceptual premise of the annual event, and we are happy to report that this species is frequently seen at Chan Chich Lodge on birding walks, and excursions to Gallon Jug Farm, where the barns are accommodating:

The familiar Barn Swallow (right) has been recorded in eBird from 222 countries. You can hope to spot a Barn Swallow almost anywhere on the planet, from Alaska to Argentina, Siberia to Australia, Iceland to South Africa. Barn Swallows criss-cross the equator and traverse the Eastern and Western Hemispheres. Their movements not only span an entire planet of birds, but connect a worldwide community of birders.

In the same way, Global Big Day and eBird connect all of your local birds with the rest of the world, making a real difference in the collective understanding of birds worldwide. On 13 May, every bird that you report contributes to the global team total for an unprecedented snapshot of our planet’s bird diversity. Every bird counts.

To join the Global Big Day team from more than 150 countries, all you have to do is go birding on 13 May!  Continue reading