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.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

A Surprise Trip to Carara National Park

On our final night at Savegre, I told my group that we had scheduled a surprise stop for them the next day. Instead of heading directly back to San Jose, we would be heading to the Pacific Coast and Carara National Park. We hadn't planned to visit this area at all and everyone was extremely excited about the possible additions to our trip and life lists!

We started out on our 3.5 hour journey just after breakfast and arrived in the Carara area around 11:30. On our way to do a mangrove boat tour, we spent some time birding along the roads in Tarcoles. It didn't take long before we had found some Scarlet Macaws and a pair of Turquoise-browed Motmots! Other highlights included Golden-napped Woodpecker, Black-hooded Antshrike, and Rufous-napped Wren. (Complete eBird List).

A couple of Scarlet Macaws that flew right over our heads!
These Turquoise-browed Motmots seemed to enjoy the attention we gave them as we took their photo.
We finally made our way down to the mangrove tour around 2 pm. The boat ride started off a little slow bird wise but quickly picked up! We ended up finding 56 species in just two hours on the boat including several lifers for me such as Collared Plover and Mangrove Hummingbird! (Complete eBird List)

An adult Green Heron stood watch as we took photos of this young bird from the boat.
Although it was getting late and looking like it was going to rain, we really wanted to make a stop at the River Trail that is part of Carara National Park. We had the driver drop us off so that we could bird for a bit and man were we glad that we did. After seeing howler monkeys and White-faced Capuchins in the parking lot, we started down the trail and immediately ran into a nice flock of birds! We weren't able to identify all of the birds in the fading light but what we did identify was amazing! We were all very excited about the Ruddy-tailed Flycatcher that was in the flock and as most of the group moved ahead to keep watching it, Tyler noticed another bird sitting quite still. He got me on the bird and we were both thrilled to see that it was a Pheseant Cuckoo!

We didn't have much more time but we were still able to add a few more birds including awesome looks at three Chestnut-backed Antbirds! (Complete eBird List)

We piled back into the van and made the short drive to the Rio Tarcoles Bridge to look at the huge crocodiles that live in the river below and to watch the sunset. It was a wonderful ending to a magnificent trip!

Me with Ethan and Tyler at the end of a very successful Costa Rica trip!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Whitefish Point Waterbird Count

A sunrise over Whitefish Point.
Since my last post, there have been some ups and downs for the waterbird count.  My best Red-necked Grebe day occurred but there were also a couple days with only a handful of birds.  August 31st was exceptionally productive.  Passerine numbers have significantly increased through September, with many coming in off the lake during the first couple hours of some mornings.

A small portion of a flock of Common Terns
As I said, August 31st was a great day to be at Whitefish Point.  Over 2500 Red-necked Grebes were counted during the 8 hour count alone.  It was also a great day for jaegers; 6 total with 1 each of Long-tailed and Parasitic.  The other 4 jaegers being too distant to identify to species.  It also turned out to be a great day for shorebirds.  The highlights were Whimbrel (9) and Buff-breasted Sandpiper (2).

This is the usual bad looks you get at jaegers. This bird was a Parasitic but
you can't tell from this photo.

A Red Knot in flight.
Other recent highlights have been a single Hudsonian Godwit and a significant increase in dabbling duck numbers.  The dabbling duck provide much more of a challenge than the endless flocks of Red-necked Grebes.  Both the identification and counting is more difficult with mixed dabbler flocks.

A first year Whimbrel that has spent a few days at the point.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Spotlight on a Hotspot: Magee Marsh

Many birders in the US are very familiar with Magee Marsh in Northwest Ohio as one of the best spring migration locations in the whole country. But what a lot of folks don't know is that it's also amazing for fall migration, and there aren't nearly as many people around.

Just like in the spring, the boardwalk at Magee Marsh can be hopping with migrants anytime during the month of September. Flycatchers, vireos, and warblers abound, and if the conditions are right at the end of the Crane Creek Estuary Trail, you can expect to find a good number of shorebirds. Although the warblers might not be as colorful in the fall, I love fall migration because there are so many more birds on the move. With all of the adults and this year's young heading south, the potential to see huge numbers of birds is very high.

Blackpoll Warblers can be seen at Magee Marsh as they make their long migration to South America.
Palm Warblers also frequent Magee Marsh in the fall.
Prothonotary Warblers breed at Magee Marsh, but they can also been seen throughout August and into early September.
I encourage everyone to check out Magee Marsh during the fall migration season! You can learn more about this location by visiting out NuttyBirder.com location guide for the property here, http://goo.gl/CIDS4M.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

My Time at the Beautiful Savegre Mountain Lodge

After the warm temperatures that we experienced while birding in the Caribbean foothills, it was a relief to get up the the higher elevation of the Savegre Mountain Lodge. When we arrived, it was about 65° and sunny and I was surprised to find a small space heater in my room. I never expected to really be cold in Costa Rica but when I woke up in the middle of the night and it was about 50° in my room, I knew why they put a space heater in each room!

The view from these windows in the restaurant and bar was fantastic!
The view from Savegre Mountain Lodge.
We enjoyed birding along the river that runs right in front of the Savegre Mountain Lodge.
Our morning started out with some easy birding from the deck in front of the main building at the lodge and plenty of coffee to keep us warm. After a few minutes on the deck, we loaded in the van and headed down the road in search of quetzals.

When we arrived at the location, there were already several other vehicles there. Many of the people there and come to the area not really to go birding but to specifically see a Resplendent Quetzal. They all had a guide that they had hired and I was extremely disappointed in most of the guides behavior. There was no effort to find the birds on their own, instead they were all using speakers to blast out the call of the quetzal in an attempt to lure it in. It was shocking to me to see so many "professional guides" doing this all at once. I walked down the road farther to see if I might be able to find a quetzal away from all of the commotion. I ended up finding another guide with his two clients but he wasn't harassing the birds with their call, he was patiently scanning the trees to find one. It didn't take long before the two of us had found a male quetzal!

This male Resplendent Quetzal was found later in the
day but was in a better spot for photos!
I was able to catch Tyler's attention and the rest of the group joined me for great looks at the bird before the hoards of people caught up to us. Once the whole group caught up to us, the guides continued to use their speakers in an attempt to "get a better look." The quetzal didn't put up with this for long and took off never to be seen again.

We spent the rest of the day birding and hiking on the grounds of the lodge. Our hikes too us all over the property and we found some awesome birds including another quetzal that was spotted by Ethan after several others had walked right by it!

Collared Redstart was one of my favorite birds that we saw while at Savegre. They are known locally as "hombre del amigo" or
Friend of Man. One of them had taken to sneaking into the bar when the door would open and eating any insects that it could find inside!
Although it might be kind of plain colored, I really enjoyed seeing Eye-ring Flatbills.
The Long-tailed Silky-Flycatcher is incredibly common at Savegre.
They tend to congregate in large groups and it wasn't uncommon to find 5-10 in a flock.
Costa Rica's Resident Red-tailed Hawks look a little different than we are used to in the Eastern US but they are the same species. 
This is the female Resplendent Quetzal that Ethan found during one of our hikes. What a great spot!
This beautiful bird is a Chestnut-capped Brush-Finch.
It was tough to get a photo because it spent it's time digging around in the leaves deep in the shadows. of the forest.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Grebes, Grebes, and More Grebes

A sunrise at Whitefish Point
The last few days, here at Whitefish Point, have been quite incredible.  Before the 26th, my highest daily total of Red-necked Grebes was 65.  I was happy with a measly 323 Red-necks on the 26th.  If you told me I saw 323 grebes over the last two days, my reaction would be, "yeah, that's a typical hour".  With all the east winds during the first week and a half of the count, I think all these grebes were just held up.  Once the winds started coming out of the NW, the grebes started flowing through.  

The typical, distant view of Red-necked Grebes from Whitefish Point.

So, how many grebes did I count?  1482 Red-necks during the 8 hour count on the 27th.  Another 1410 in 2.5 hours on the evening of the 27th.  And, 2200 in the eight hours of the waterbird count today.  I thought I had seen lots of Red-necked Grebes before I started this count, I definitely hadn't.

One of the Broad-winged Hawks that have been around the point.

Most of the Red-necked Grebes are single species flocks but a handful are more interesting.  Most commonly Blue-winged and Green-winged Teal join the grebe flocks.  Less commonly the grebes join the teal flocks.  And, even less commonly, scoters join in the flocks as well.  A couple times, a Horned Grebe has also joined in with the Red-necks.

Sometimes when you are counting these thousands of birds you wish there were a little more diversity.  Don't worry, Whitefish Point will usually try to satisfy this craving.  Today, a beautiful, adult, Parasitic Jaeger passed closely by the point in the afternoon.  There isn't a better way to top the day than with a jaeger!