Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Off to Panama to See Canompy Tower and Lodge!

Rob writes: Panama has always been a birding destination that I've dreamed of visiting and I can't believe that Stephanie and I will be arriving there tonight! From the time I started seriously birding, everyone has always said that I needed to visit Panama and specifically Canopy Tower and that's exactly what I get to do this week.

In addition to being extremely excited to see this wonderful place myself, I'm equally excited to take Stephanie to the tropics for the first time and to see her reaction to watching wild toucans, parrots, and monkeys.

Canopy Tower is unlike any other birding lodge in the world as it's located in an old US Air Force radar tower. The base of the tower has been turned into the lodging and the deck around the radar ball offers a panoramic view of the surrounding rain forest and the Panama Canal! Not only is it an incredibly scenic view, you get to see many of the birds that spend their time in the canopy at eye level.

A view of the Tower and the surrounding forest. (Thanks to Canopy Tower for the photo)
I can't wait to be standing on the observation deck tomorrow with my friends from Canopy Tower! (Thanks to Canopy Tower for the photo)
From there, we will travel a couple hours to the west and visit Canopy Lodge. This property is located at a higher elevation and offers the chance to see many additional species such as Yellow-eared Toucanet which is a species I have wanted to see for years.

Canopy Lodge will be our second stop while we are in Panama. (Thanks to Canopy Tower for the photo)
My friend Brian has also lent me some awesome photo equipment which I can't wait to use! Be sure to check back as I'll be posting photos from each of the lodges as time permits. We'll also be announcing a Sabrewing Nature Tours trip to Panama in October 2015 very soon! If you want to see all of the amazing places that I visit on this trip, keep an eye out for details for this trip that we will be announcing in just a few weeks.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Spotlight on a Hotspot: Francis Bay Trail, St. John, US Virgin Islands

It seems that not many birders make it to the US Virgin Islands, likely due to the fact that the islands aren't home to any endemic species and pretty much all of the birds can be easily seen in other places. If you do happen to find yourself in the Virgin Islands and on St John in particular, you might be surprised at the number and quality of the birds that you find.

My favorite birding hotspot on the island in the Francis Bay Trail on the north side of the island. The trail starts in some scrub type habitat and proceeds down to a boardwalk through the mangroves and along a small lagoon. The birding is wonderful throughout the trail but you should plan to arrive early for the most activity. You can learn more about this awesome birding hotspot by following this link!

I was lucky to observe an American Flamingo when I visited the Francis Bay Trail in 2012.

Pearly-eyed Thrashers are one of the most common birds on St. John.

Green-throated Caribs can be found along the trail.
It was easy to see Mangrove Cuckoos along the Francis Bay Trail.
Where do you like to go birding in the US Virgin Islands?

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Visiting the Detroit River Hawk Watch

I had always wanted to visit a hawk watch but living in central Indiana, there's not really a great place to go that's close by. So when a friend invited me to join him at the Detroit River Hawk Watch while I was in northwest Ohio last week, I jumped at the chance! This trip also happened to coincide with the typical peak of Broad-winged Hawk migration which is the highlight of many hawk watches in the eastern US.

Each day, the hawk watch posts it's number online and when we saw that they had 68,000 Broad-winged Hawks the day before we were planning to go, we feared that we might have missed the major movement. Even so, we decided we should still head up to the count and see if maybe, there would still be a good migration the next day.

We arrived around 9am and the count started rather slow with only 44 raptors seen, none of which were Broad-wings. As it started to warm up outside and the thermals started to rise, the raptor movement quickly improved! Over the next several hours, we saw thousands of Broad-winged Hawks as well as 9 other raptor species.

A blurry photo of one of the American Kestrels that we saw during the hawk watch.

Sharp-shinned Hawks came by the hawk watch in good numbers with 264 tallied throughout the day.
We finally decided to take a break from the raptors and head into the woods near the watch to see if any passerines were moving. The woods were pretty quiet but we finally come upon a small flock that included a beautiful Golden-winged Warbler as well as single Wilson's and Tennessee Warblers, and Blue-headed Vireo.

When we got back to the hawk watch area, there were very few birds migrating over so we packed up and headed home. Only later did we find out what a huge mistake this was! In the hour after we left, the count tallied just over 30,000 Broad-winged Hawks! Even though we had a great day at the count and saw more hawks migrating than we had ever seen, we were very disappointed to have missed this major spectacle of migration. I guess this just means that I'll have to head back next fall and hope that I can be there on a day with even more migrants.

You can learn more about the Detroit River Hawk Watch on their website and can keep up with all of their reports on Hawkcount.org. You can also find a hawk watch near you on the Hawkcount.org website.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Birding and Photography at Laguna del Lagarto

After my tour group headed home, some friends and I decided to continue on to check out a couple other Costa Rican birding locations. Our first stop was the little known Laguna del Lagarto Lodge in the northern part of Costa Rica very near the border with Nicaragua.

We left early from San Jose and arrived at the lodge before lunch leaving us plenty of time to bird in the afternoon. Everyone quickly realized that the deck in the dining area was the place to get some awesome photograph and I don't think we even checked in before we were snapping away.

This is one of my favorite photos that I took while in Costa Rica. Keel-billed Toucans are so photogenic!

This Black-mandibled Toucan wasn't quite as cooperative as the Keel-billed above.

It can be hard to get photos of parrots when they are perched but since the Brown-hooded Parrots
come to the feeders at the lodge, it's much easier to get some shots.
Red-legged Honeycreepers are normally all blue but this molting bird was extremely interesting!

This Shining Honeycreeper was extremely cooperative!

The Chestnut-colored Woodpecker was one of my favorite woodpeckers that I saw during my trip.

I had really looked forward to spending a lot of time hiking around this property and the surrounding roads but rain ruined those plans for the most part. Whenever the rain would stop, I'd emerge from the covered observation platform and make it as far as I could before the driving rain sent me looking for cover again. In my short trips out on the trails, I did find some good birds such as Black-faced Grosbeak!

While birding and photographing from the deck, we met a birder from Holland named Herman. Herman was traveling around Costa Rica much like we were and we all immediately hit it off . On our second day at the lodge, while Brian and George continued to photograph birds from the deck, Herman and I headed off to a trail a little farther down the road. We were hoping to find an Agami Heron that had been seen in the area about a month before but luck was not on our side. Even without the heron, we did find some nice birds along the trail such as Lineated Woodpecker and Slaty-tailed Trogon. Brian also spent some time in the King Vulture blind while we were gone and got some amazing shots, one of those can be seen here!

Herman and I almost accidently grabbed this boa constrictor as we ducked under the branch it was on.

After dinner on our final night at the lodge, we tried to find some owls but weren't having al that much luck. We could here a Black-and-white Owl but it was rather distant and didn't seem to be getting any closer. Awhile later one of the guides rushed over and said that the Black-and-white Owl had landed in a tree right next to the lodge!

The view of my lifer Black-and-white Owl was incredible! (Photo by Brian Zwiebel)
Overall, Laguna del Lagarto wasn't one of my favorite stops on our trip. The lodge is rather rustic and the humidity coupled with the lack of fans made it tough to sleep at night. For birding, I'm not sure that I would return to this location (maybe in a different season) but Brian and George felt that it was one of the best photography stops on our whole trip.

Friday, September 19, 2014

A Berylline Hummingbird in . . . Michigan?

Where would you normally find a Berylline Hummingbird?  Not Michigan of course.  This gem of a hummingbird isn't common anywhere in the United States; although it is regularly occurring in Southeast Arizona.  They are most commonly found in Mexico and Central America.

The MI Berylline Hummingbird

This bird was first found on the 17th.  When all the birders quickly rushed up on the 18th to add it their lists, the hummer was a no-show.  Everybody thought it was a one-day wonder.  But a report in the evening, of the same hummingbird, coming to a feeder about a mile away got the birders back in their cars.  Everyone that came today, on the 19th, only needed to wait 15 minutes at the most before getting great views of the hummer.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Whitefish Point: Shorebirds

With the shorebird season winding down here at Whitefish Point, I thought I would share a few photos of a few of the species.  So far, 23 species have been recorded.  An additional 3-4 new shorebird species should also be added by the end of the season.  

A resting Baird's Sandpiper
A Buff-breasted Sandpiper-one of my favorite shorebird species
A Sanderling-the most common shorebird at the point
Two American Golden-Plovers

Friday, September 12, 2014

Spotlight on a Hotspot: Waikamoi Preserve

In honor of the 2014 State of the Birds Report that was put out this week (more on that report in a later post), I've chosen to write about Waikamoi Preserve on the Hawaiian island of Maui. One conservation issue that the report highlights is the plight of the birds in the Hawaiian Islands and Waikamoi happens to be one of the preserves that is at the leading edge of saving some birds that are in very big trouble.

I first visited Waikamoi Preserve in 2008 while on my honeymoon to Maui. I didn't really know much about the property other than that you had to go onto the preserve with one of the hikes that are led through Haleakala National Park so my wife and I joined one of the hikes. As it turned out, the hike didn't go to the best birding area and I missed a lot of birds. I did have one major highlight, finding a Kiwikiu or Maui Parrotbill. Seeing such a rare and endangered bird (about 500 left in the world) got me really excited about Hawaiian birds and I was very eager to learn more.

A sign welcoming you to the Rose Gardner Memorial Boardwalk
When I returned in 2013, I was sure to really do my research on the preserve. It's owned by the Nature Conservancy and protects one of the few remaining native forests on Maui. Access is strictly controlled to the property in order to protect the sensitive habitat. I was able to set up a private tour of the property including a trip to the Rose Gardner Memorial Boardwalk which offers the best birding on the property. You can read all about my visit by reading this post.

'Akohekohe was one of my favorite birds that I saw at Waikamoi. There are only around 2,000 of these beautiful birds left in the world.
'Apapane is one of the more common Hawaiian forest birds.

Kiwikiu (Maui Parrotbill) is one of the rarest birds that I have ever seen. With only 500 left in the world, I feel very lucky to have seen this species.
I can't think of a more wonderful way to spend a morning in Maui than to hike in this incredible preserve. You can learn more about the property on NuttyBirder.com.