Flycatchers

 

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Tropical Kingbird

It’s mid-November in British Columbia but I’m out looking for a Tropical Kingbird. Yes –  tropical!  I think I’ve mentioned these wayward birds before. A few of them seem to show up somewhere on the coast each winter. It’s their brain wiring apparently – a misread of the magnetosphere by mostly young birds.

The Kingbird belongs to the Tyrant flycatcher clan, a family that includes some spectacular and engaging species. And they are tyrants in terms of attitude. Fierce little birds when they need to be, and very protective, driving away even the largest raptors.

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Vermilion Flycatcher

Vermilion Flycatchers are favourites of mine. I think they look more tropical than the Kingbirds. Easy to imagine these small, bright red birds flitting through a jungle canopy somewhere far to the south, maybe near a squad of Toucans. Like many flycatchers, they don’t try to hide, so photographing them is relatively easy. The same is true of Scissortail Flycatchers like the ones I saw recently in Texas. Extravagantly long tails and peach-coloured sides – beautiful!

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Scissortail Flycatcher

 

 

 

 

 

The Owl

The woods around the visitor center at Laguna Atascosas in Texas. Like almost every other birder here, I’m looking for a Tropical Parula, a rare and pretty warbler that nobody’s seen today. I pass little knots of people scanning the trees with their binoculars. Soon we’re all on nodding terms.

It’s hot and too late in the day for birds to move around much, which means that the Parula (if it’s still here) will be hunkered down deep in the foliage. I still haven’t had breakfast and it seems silly to stick around. Then the amazing happens. A raucous group of Green Jays push out an Eastern Screech Owl. The bird stops for pictures about ten feet away! The chances of this are remote but when it happens it’s wonderful, like finding treasure. It’s one of the things I love about birding.

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Eastern Screech Owl

 

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So you’re here!

Raptor Day

I’m at a birding festival in Texas. It’s unseasonably hot and very humid. My destination is the Laguna Atascosas Wildlife Refuge where I’m hoping to see rare Aplomado Falcons. The day doesn’t start well. I’m up early and keen but my GPS takes me to a bridge that is out and poorly marked detours have me driving around in circles for three hours. Twenty miles of so in three hours! I finally luck out and spot the road in, which turns to be one of the worst thoroughfares I’ve ever been on. I do see a gorgeous White-tailed Hawk but then nothing.

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White-Tailed Hawk

I’m getting discouraged but then, wonder of wonders, I spot two Aplomados and brake. They’re on adjacent fence posts about thirty feet away – beautiful- but when I get out to take pictures, my lens fogs up – something about air conditioners, humidity, and glass. Physics again, my nemesis!

I finally clear things up but as I try to line up a shot, the falcons, disgusted, hightail it. It’s not my day. Or is it? Birding is funny. After I resign myself to failure, my luck changes. The day becomes a raptor day – and one of the my best. I see a dozen birds of prey – the Aplomados, Peregrine Falcons, White-tailed Kites, Kestrels, Harriers, Crested Caracaras, White-tailed Hawks and the highlight, an Eastern Screech Owl. I’ll talk about that marvellous bird in the next post.

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Crested Caracara

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Peregrine Falcon

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White-tailed Kite

For those who don’t know the Aplomado, I offer a picture of a bird rehabilitated by the Raptor Project, an organization that looks after injured birds who are too damaged to be released. You can see what I missed when my lens fogged up back at Atascosas! The wild birds looked angular and deadly, not the least bit cute like this chap.

 

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 Raptor Project Aplomado, with Harris’s Hawk

Autumn Ducks: Hooded Merganser

Is there a prettier duck than the ‘Hoodie’? A group has just arrived in our little bay, the males posturing and flashing their crests as they compete for females. Buffleheads are here too, right on time – the 3rd week in October for us. And our Widgeon have returned, tumbling in on the winds of the last October storm. Coming home for the winter, I guess, and soon to be grazing on the local park lawns. No sign (yet) of the crimson-headed Eurasian Widgeon that spent last winter here. A squadron of young Surf Scoters has joined the Buffleheads, a bit of a surprise in such shallow water.

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Hooded Merganser Drake

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Surf Scoter Teens

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Competition

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Today’s Champion

 

Mexican Birds 1

Amid the ruins of Muyil, a Mayan city in the Quintana Roo, an Violaceous Trogon. Seeing a marvellous bird like this in a place like Muyil helps one forget about the heat, the bugs, and the early morning. The guide’s cheese loaf at mid-morning was nothing to write home about either.

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Violaceous Trogon

The excavated part of a much larger city. Muyil, a trading center, was inhabited for over a thousand years and abandoned more than five hundred years ago.

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Muyil, Quintana Roo

 

 

Between Pacific Storms: October Memories

Our perennial Low in the Gulf of Alaska is setting up nicely, so the autumn storms are starting. And the remnants of a ‘weather event’ in the western Pacific are heading our way too. Makes me think the archaic word ‘tempest’ ought to be revived. Even so, birding between fronts is not a bad idea. You never know what will arrive on the heels of a great storm. The big blow is due in a day or so but I won’t go far today. Out past the pumpkin patch, I think, and Swan Lake.

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Picked Over

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Canada Geese Incoming

Rain softens everything and I mean more than the mud-making mixing of earth and water, although there’s plenty of that too. For all its pleasures, summer has a bright, loud harshness to it that needs to be relieved by early mornings and late evenings. Fall pleases me more.

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Mallards Flaps Down

Migrating waterfowl are passing through. Lots of them. A mixed flock of Mallard, Pintail and Widgeon drops into a now harvested grain field, sounding off as they land. Skeins of vocalizing Canada Geese and the smaller Cackling Geese decorate the skies in every direction.

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Wilson’s Snipe

I see nothing unusual in the fields so I check out some newly replenished ponds. The rain quietens my footsteps and makes it easier for me to arrive at a finger of slough undetected. I’m in luck. A Wilson’s Snipe is out and very visible. Somehow these secretive birds must know that hawks generally avoid flying in the rain. I stand dead still, watching, until the bird wanders off into the long grass.

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Rain Bird – Wilson’s Snipe

There are other birds to see too. A young, slightly bedraggled Cedar Waxwing looks like he’s going to a punk event somewhere. The black mask only adds to the illusion. He gives me the ‘once over’ as I go by but stays put. The punk attitude, I guess — I don’t care what you think as long as you notice me. Not to be outdone, a Steller’s Jay hops into view. I think the blue is Cerulean (more or less). Must be Crest Day at the Lake.

 

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Waxwing Punk

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Another Crest – Steller’s Jay

And speaking of illusions, I catch a glimpse of a Barred Owl, too deep in a thicket to get a good photo, but looking very ghostly on this pre-Halloween ramble. He or she is wide awake in the half light of the interval between storms. No flying tonight perhaps. Not in the teeth of (at least) gale-force winds. Not in a tempest!

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 Ghost Owl

The Godwits

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An Alice in Wonderland Bird

I’m on the Washington coast looking for a rare Bar-tailed Godwit. Apparently, one has attached itself to a large flock of Marbled Godwits, a common enough bird here in autumn. Common, but cool. At least to me. I’m not sure why Godwits amuse me but I think Alice in Wonderland when I see them. It’s the long, pink, black-tipped upturned bill perhaps — a parliament of councillors in a Through the Looking Glass world, with their long noses poking into everyone else’s business.

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Godwits

In real life, the Godwit bill is a precision instrument; I suspect the tip is a bit flexible too. I’ve seen Godwits head down, bills eyeball deep in the sand. A seaworm, small crustacean or other delicacy is retrieved and slurped down. Very efficient. They nest in the prairies, by the way, and are monogamous, although how they tell each other apart is beyond me.

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More Godwits

Finding the Bar-tailed amongst its Marbled cousins isn’t easy — a case of ‘one of these things is not like the other‘ or ‘Where’s Waldo‘. They all look pretty much the same. I finally spot the bird just as the flock, for some inexplicable reason, takes to the air and flies off. How long it will remain with the flock is anybody’s guess. Bar-tailed Godwits make the longest cross-ocean migration of any bird – some 7000 miles! That’s Alaska to New Zealand without touching down. Amazing.

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Out o’ Here! – More Godwits

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California Sea Lions

As the Godwits wheel by, I take ‘bursts’ of photos hoping to catch a picture of the elusive rare bird — like a gunfighter in a western movie with dozens of bullets in his six-shooter. Maybe I had success– I’m not sure. I look through my pics until my eyes wither and I still can’t pick out the Bar-tailed. As a consolation, I take shots of California Sea Lions hauled out, barking like crazy and virtually sinking the dock.

 

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Godwits and Heermanns’s Gulls – Hard To Pick out A Bar-tail!