Monday, January 11, 2016

Book Review: Birds Of South America Passerines

It's hard to image how you can even fit 1,952 species in a single book but Birds of South America manages to cover all of them in a book that is still a manageable size.

What I Like -

  • Family Description Section - This section does a great job of summarizing each family of passerine that is covered by the book.
  • Having all passerines from South America in one book. It's really nice to be able to compare all of them even if they occur in different countries.
What Could Be Better - 
  • I feel that much of the artwork lacks detail. While the drawings are beautiful, I don't think they would be extremely helpful when trying to identify a bird.
  • I know space is an issue when covering this many species but the range maps are tiny. When covering a whole continent, the range maps have to be bigger in order to really see where the species occurs.
Overall, I feel putting together a book with all these species covered is quite an accomplishment. It's not a book I would use in the field but it is nice to flip through and get a feel for the passerines of South America.

Title: Birds Of South America Passerines
Author: Ber van Perlo
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication Date: September 23, 2015

We received a copy of this book from the publisher to review on The links are to our Amazon Affiliate account.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Birding with Leica in Honduras

Anyone that reads this blog frequently knows that I love birding in Honduras. It was the first country in Central America that I visited for birding and I've now been a total of four times over the last 2 years. The last trip was one of the most fun birding trips that I've ever been a part of. A group of nine writers and bloggers was invited to join Leica Sport Optic's Jeff Bouton at The Lodge at Pico Bonito to test out the brand new Leica Trinovid HD binoculars.

We were all pretty serious birders and I've never spent so much time in the field while in Honduras. We didn't just spend the daylight hours in search of birds, we spent hours at night searching for owls, insects, reptiles, amphibians, and mammals! With all this effort, we put together an incredible list of species for just 6 days of birding.
This young Spectacled Owl spent
a long time posed for us at Rio Santiago Nature Resort!
For me, there were a couple of highlights during the trip. The first was learning a lot more about digiscoping. Jeff had brought along a PhoneSkope adaptor for me to use with my phone and the Leica scope that I was using which made digiscoping easier than ever! Not only could I take photos but I could shoot video as well! Look for a lot more digiscoping from me because I'll have all the parts I need to use it with my scope for my next tour.

Keel-bill Motmot
I was amazed at how well my video turned out of this Keel-billed Motmot.

This was one of our best mammal
finds, a Mexican Tree Porcupine
 The other highlight for me was our hike to Unbelievable Fall in Pico Bonito National Park. It's certainly the hardest hike I've ever done and it wasn't any easier the second time (read about my first trip to the falls in this previous post). We left early and spent nearly exhausting 8 hours out on the trail. The birding was absolutely incredible and I got my only three lifers of the trip on that hike, Azure-hooded Jay, Gray-headed Piprites, and Rufous Piha. We also enjoyed incredible views of Yellow-eared Toucanets along the way! Not only was the hike difficult this time, crossing the river at Unbelievable Falls was quite the challenge with the very high water. What an adventure!

Thanks to Jeff Bouton of Leica Sport Optics for putting together such a fantastic group of people for this amazing trip. It was a pleasure to travel with this group. Also thanks to all of my friends at The Lodge at Pico Bonito for showing us all such a great time!

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Birding in Ecuador: Part 7 - Wildsumaco Lodge

We made several stops during our drive from Cabañas San Isidro to Wildsumaco Bird Lodge including several along the well-known Loreto Road. When we arrived at the lodge, it started pouring and we figured that our afternoon would be rained out. Even with the rain, we decided to go ahead and see if the antpittas would come in to be feed at their usual afternoon feeding time. After sitting in the rain for well over an hour, the Plain-backed Antpitta finally come in!

Although we didn't get a picture of the Plain-backed Antpitta, this Ochre-breasted Antpitta did pose nicely.
We started early the next morning and spent nearly all day out hiking on the incredible trails at this lodge. We tallied 131 species on the day with highlights including, Coppery-chested Jacamar, Military and Chestnut-fronted Macaws, White-backed Fire-eye, Chestnut-crowned Gnateater, Buff-throated Tody-Tyrant, Scarlet-breasted and Fiery-throated Fruiteaters, Gray-tailed Piha, Paradise Tanager, and Golden-eared Tanager.

Spotted Tanagers were one of the more common species at Wildsumaco.
While I was out birding with Edison, Brian spent the day working with his multiflash setup and the many species of hummingbirds that visit the lodge. These are a few of the incredible images he captured that day.

Booted Racket-tail might be common but it's extremely impressive!
On the eastern slope, this species has orange boots but on the western slope, they're white.

This Green Hermit was very shy but Brian's patience paid off.

With a hummingbird this is a little more drap, like this Many-spotted Hummingbird,
having a beautiful flower for additional interest in the photo is key.
The next day we were headed back to Quito and just about finished with our trip. Check back soon to see what we did on our final two days in Ecuador.

Black-mantled Tamarins were common around the lodge.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Book Review: Birds of Botswana

I always get excited when I'mm sent a book to review that is a field guide to a location that I've always wanted to go. When Birds of Botswana arrived in the mail, I immediately opened the package and started flipping through the book and studying the birds of this incredible country. What I found when looking through the field guide was one of the best guides that I have reviewed in a long time.

The book has a fantastic intro section that covers a lot of habitat and birding hotspot information in a concise but thorough way. I also found their Glossary of Terms and Bird Topography sections to be very useful.

The artwork in the book is wonderful and very life like. With all 597 species of birds found in Botswana covered and 1,200 total illustrations, I have no doubt that this book would be very useful in the field. The range maps are large enough to be helpful to the travelling birder as well. A new feature that I've not seen in other field guides is the "Breeding Bar" provided for each species. It indicates a species' seasonal presence as well as their breeding patterns.

This book is a must-have for anyone that is planning to go birding in Botswana!

Title: Birds of Botswana
Author: Peter Hancock and Ingrid Weiersbye
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication Date: December 5, 2015

We received a copy of this book from the publisher to review on The links are to our Amazon Affiliate account.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Birding in Ecuador: Part 6 - Cabañas San Isidro

After Guango Lodge (read about my time there by clicking here), we moved on to another well-known lodge on the eastern slope, Cabañas San Isidro. We arrived late in the day but still had time to check out the hummingbird feeders before it got dark.

Two Chestnut-breasted Coronets deciding whether to keep chasing each other off or to rest for a bit.
The next morning we rose early and spent nine hours birding around the property. During that time, we found 79 species including great looks at special species like Barred Antthrush, Azara's Spinetail, Rusty-winged Barbtail, and Chestnut-breasted Chlorophonia. The full eBird list can be found here.

Ince Jays (Same species as Green Jay now as they have been lumped)
were a common sight about Cabañas San Isidro
In the late afternoon, Edison and I decided to see if we could find one of our big targets for the trip, Torrent Duck. The small town below Cabañas San Isidro sits on a beautiful rushing river and is a great spot to look for this amazing duck. It didn't take us long to find a pair once we arrived!

Since we knew Brian would really want to see this species, we ran back up to where he was photographing hummingbirds and took him back down to the river to see the birds. Although they never got very close, Brian managed a pretty good photo of the male.

A male Torrent Duck ready to jump in the rushing water.
The next morning, after some brief birding and breakfast, we continued on farther down the eastern slope, birding our way to the next lodge, WildSumaco.

This Collared Trogon posed quite nicely for Brian.
Southern Lapwings can be found just a few minutes down the road form Cabañas San Isidro.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Enjoying my Time at the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival

I've just returned back home in Indiana after spending a wonderful 6 days guiding field trips for the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival (RGVBF) in south Texas. There are many events that I look forward to attending year after year and the RGVBF is certainly one of them. The birding is always fantastic and like all of the big festivals, it brings together many of my birding friends from all over the world that I only get to see a few times a year.

I enjoyed watching as many as eight Anhingas at a small fish hatchery.
During my five days of birding, I saw 160 species including some of the awesome RGV specialties such as Green Jay, Altamira Oriole, Plain Chachalaca, and Olive Sparrow as well as the very rare for Texas "Western" Flycatcher (either a Pacific-slope or Cordilleran).

Many people have identified this as a Pacific-slope Flycatcher based on its call but it didn't vocalize while I was watching it so I'll just leave it as "western" flycatcher.
If you've never attended the RGVBF, I highly recommend that you consider coming in 2016. Keep an eye on the festival's website for more information.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Birding in Ecuador: Part 5 - Guango Lodge

Once we crossed over Papallacta Pass, it was just a short drive to get to Guano Lodge. Although this is just a small lodge, the birding on their property is incredible. There are numerous hummingbird feeders that you can see immediately as you get out of the car which makes it really hard to do anything other than start birding right away.

Buff-tailed Coronet - Photo by Brian Zwiebel
Long-tailed Sylph - Photo by Brian Zwiebel

Sword-billed Hummingbird - Photo by Brian Zwiebel
Tourmaline Sunangel - Photo by Brian Zwiebel
Once you get past the incredible hummingbirds, the birding along the trails is great as well! Some of the highlights included Crimson-mantled Woodpecker, Chestnut-crowned Antpitta, Citrine, Black-crested, and Russet-crowned Warblers, Hooded, Lacrimose, Scarlet-bellied, and Buff-breasted Mountain-Tanagers, and Mountain Cacique.

Masked Flowerpiercers are common at the hummingbird feeders at Guango Lodge  - Photo by Brian Zwiebel
After birding at Guango for a few hours the next morning, we noticed that it looked clean up at Papallacta Pass so Edison and I jumped in the car and headed that way. It turned out to be one of the most beautiful days in the pass. The skies were clear and we could see all the way to Quito! Since it was clear, the birding was much easier than when the area is covered in fog. Our major highlight was incredible views of Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe!

Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe - Photo by Edison Buenaño
We spent the rest of the day and the next morning birding at Guango before packing up and making our way towards Cabañas San Isidro. Along the way, Edison had a special bird for us to see, Black-and-chestnut Eagle. Although we only saw them from a distance, this was one of the highlight species of my entire trip!