Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Off to Panama to See Canopy 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 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 over the next couple weeks, 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.

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.