Thursday, October 30, 2014

Whitefish Point: Some Boreal Highlights

Eric writes: It has been an interesting couple weeks at Whitefish Point.  Many irruptive species have made their way to and past the point.  The biggest highlight was a Northern Hawk Owl that spent half of a day at the point.  I was able to watch it for a couple minutes as it successfully hunted.  "Winter" finches have also shown up in good numbers.  Hundreds of Common Redpolls and Pine Siskins have been around on many days and a handful of Evening and Pine Grosbeaks as well as Bohemian Waxwings have been seen.  A couple Northern Shrikes have also provided lots of entertainment on slow waterbird days.

A male Evening Grosbeak about to come down to the feeders.

A female Evening Grosbeak.  The highest daily total of Evening Grosbeaks
has been 25.

Pine Siskins, Purple Finches, and an Evening Grosbeak that looks like a giant.

A juvenile Northern Shrike that spent a day at the point.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

On to Canopy Lodge and Many New Birds

Rob writes: After an extremely exciting morning of birding along the road to Canopy Tower, think ant swarm and a Crested Owl, we were ready to head on to Canopy Lodge about two hours away in El Valle. (You can read about our time at Canopy Tower here) This property sits at a higher elevation than Canopy Tower and offers a huge variety of birds that you just don't have to opportunity to see in the lower elevations of Panama.

The drive from Canopy Tower to Canopy Lodge was beautiful and the scenery certainly made the drive seem much shorter than two hours. As we pulling into Canopy Lodge, we were greeted by our guide and friend Eliecer. Although lunch was ready for us, we did stop to look at a few birds along the way and picked up a few lifers!

The forest surrounds you while staying at Canopy Lodge.

This is the main building at Canopy Lodge. It's a wonderful place to sit and watch many birds!

The rooms at Canopy Lodge are huge and very comfortable!
During lunch, we were lucky to have some time to chat with Raul Arias de Para and his family. Raul is the visionary that created and owns all of the Canopy Family properties. It was wonderful to hear his stories about how everything came together when he started Canopy Tower. Before we knew it, it was time to head off and do our first serious birding around Canopy Lodge.

Over the next few days, we birded at a wide variety of elevations from the beach all the way up to the cloud forests. We had 203 species during our 3.5 days of birding at the Canopy Lodge including 29 lifers for me!

Here are a few of our favorite photos from our time at Canopy Lodge. Photography was a little difficult here since we had cloudy weather for most of our trip.

Barred Antshrikes were very common in many of the birding areas that we visited.

While birding in the Pacific Lowlands, we found a huge group of
Fork-tailed Flycatchers! I think we could have spent all day photographing them.

Rufous Motmots are regularly seen around the Canopy
Lodge property. This photo was take from our room's deck.

Rufous-capped Warblers are one of the most common species in this area.

One of the target species when birding in the Pacific Lowlands is the Yellow-crowned
Parrot. Luckily, several of them perched and gave us great scope views!

Another target in the lowlands is Yellow-headed Vulture. Several
of them passed low overhead while we were birding in this area.
If you think that Panama sounds like an awesome birding desination and someplace you'd like to visit, consider joining me on our Sabrewing Nature Tours 2015 Panamanian birding adventure! You can learn all about the trip by following this link. Panama is my favorite birding destination that I have visited so far and I hope to get to show it to many of you in person!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Beginning of Our Panamanian Adventure: Canopy Tower

From the time I started birding, other birders have been telling me about all of the amazing birding locations and lodges all over the world. There are many places that I've dreamt of visiting but none more so than Canopy Tower. The Tower has always fascinated me, not just for birding but from a historical perspective as well. Not only is the Canopy Tower in the former US Canal Zone in Panama, it's also inside an old US Air Force radar tower!

Owner Raul Arias de Para purchased the radar facility in 1996 and set out to turn it into an incredible eco-lodge. You can learn more about Raul here. What he ended up creating is one of the top birding destinations in the entire world. You can read more about the creation of Canopy Tower here.

As we traveled down to Panama a couple of weeks ago, I could hardly contain my excitement of seeing the Tower in person and having time to bird in this wonderful country for the first time. We arrived late in the day and stayed at a hotel near the airport for our first night. I woke up early the next morning and somewhat impatiently waited for the driver from Canopy Tower to pick us up. To get to Canopy Tower from the airport, you must drive straight though Panama City. We were surprised to find that Panama City is huge! We quickly left the city behind and watched as we entered the incredible rain forest within Soberania National Park.

As we twisted our way up the entrance road to the Tower, our excitement built. We finally came around one last corner and there it was! Our friend Jenn, who works for Canopy Tower met us as we got out of the van and welcomed us to our home for the next four nights.

Not only does this road lead to Canopy Tower, it's also great for birding!

The flowers and hummingbird feeders around the entrance to Canopy
Tower attract a number of hummingbird species.
There were hummingbirds zipping around the flowers and feeders in front of the Tower, and Jenn quickly pointed out a Three-toed Sloth looking down at us. We finally made it inside the Tower and once we dropped some of our luggage and gear our room, we headed straight for the observation deck!

The view from the observation deck is pretty spectacular. It provides a panoramic view
from which you can see Panama City, the Centennial Bridge over the canal, and the Panama Canal.
Although there weren't a lot of birds active during the middle of the day, the view from the observation deck was spectacular! Before long, it was time for lunch and then we were off for our first afternoon of birding near the Tower.

Over the next few days, we birded at all of the well-known birding sites that surround the Tower, including the world famous Pipeline Road which is one of the best birding locations in all of North America!

It's easy to find birds when you're birding from Canopy Tower's open air vehicles!
Staying and birding at Canopy Tower was everything that I had hoped it would be and much more. The accommodations are unique, the food is fantastic, and the birding and guides are out of this world! Before long it was time for us to continue on to our next destination, Canopy Lodge, about two hours away in El Valle, although we could have spent several more days at Canopy Tower. Check back on soon to read about our time at Canopy Lodge.

Here's some of Stephanie and I's favorite bird photos from our time at Canopy Tower!

The first lifer for both Stephanie and I was a Blue-chested Hummingbird.

I've never been anywhere that has so many Broad-billed Motmots!

Crimson-crested Woodpecker was a new species for me.

This Gray-headed Tanager was following an ant swarm along the road to Canopy Tower.

One of the specialty species that you can find along Pipeline Road is Great Jacamar.

Mantled Howler Monkeys are often heard and seen around Canopy Tower.

Palm Tanagers are commonly found trying to get a free meal from the buffet line in the dining room!

The Ammo Ponds are a great place to see and photograph Rufescent Tiger-Herons.

One of the many benefits of being at the canopy level is that you can get
eye to eye with sloths such as this Brown-throated Three-toed Sloth.

Another shot of a Brown-throated Three-toed Sloth.

Southern Lapwings are very common in any grassy area in and around Panama City.

The Violet-bellied Hummingbird was my favorite hummingbird species that we saw at Canopy Tower.

I really enjoyed seeing so many White-whiskered Puffbirds during our stay.

It's amazing how iridescent White-necked Jacobins are if the light hits them just right.

This White-vented Plumeleteer ruled over the hummingbird feeders at Canopy Tower.
It spent most of its time chasing other species away from the feeders.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Whitefish Point: Some Recent Highlights

There have been many highlights through the start of October, here at Whitefish Point.  The rest of October should see many more birds and hopefully many new species.  

Lots of Michigan birders came up to the point for the weekend.  We had a relatively slow day on Friday but luckily an adult Long-tailed Jaeger made two passes.  It was a state bird and life bird for many present!  Saturday saw a good flight of 2000+ birds but it came crashing back down today (~300 birds).  We'll see what the weather brings over the next week.

Here are some photos from the last couple weeks.  

A Black-backed Woodpecker that spent a few days
at the point.  Another has also been around the last
couple days.

A medium-sized flock of Canada Geese.  These are actually "Canadian" Canada Geese.

There have been quite a few Northern Goshawks but this was the first adult.

A flock of White-winged Scoters that migrated by the point.

Another flock of White-winged Scoters.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Whitefish Point: 5K+ in a Day

A small mixed-species flock.  2 American Wigeon, 1 Northern Pintail, 1 Mallard
I had my biggest day of the season (so far) at Whitefish Point on the 5th.  A great diversity of ducks moved by in big numbers and Red-necked Grebes had a big day (especially, given the late date).  Scoters had their biggest day of the season; over 500, of all three species, were seen.  Red-necked Grebes had one of their best days of the season with a total of 1885.  This species peaks in late August/early September so having a big day in October was great.

A high-flying flock of White-winged Scoters.

A mixed-species flock of scoters.
Songbird migration has also been impressive over the last couple weeks.  Most warblers are through at this point but sparrows are moving through in big numbers.  In a single sweep of the feeders, I counted over 75 White-crowned Sparrows.  There are also large numbers of juncos, kinglets, and Hermit Thrushes.  Hopefully, it is just a matter of time before something unusual shows up.


Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Book Review: The Passenger Pigeon

With the 100th anniversary of the extinction of the Passenger Pigeon having occurred in September, there have been many works on the subject published recently. Some have been in depth studies of every aspect of the life and extinction of the Passenger Pigeon, but as Fuller says in the introduction, that's not his objective with this book. Instead, he envisions The Passenger Pigeon  as a celebration of the Passenger Pigeon and he does a beautiful job making this book exactly that.

From start to finish, the text is informative and entertaining and the photos and artwork are fascinating. Whether you've studied the Passenger Pigeon for years or haven't even heard of the species, I would highly recommend this book. This is a sad and tragic story of extinction but is one that everyone should be familiar with so that we can avoid the same problems with other species now and in the future.

You can read my review of another book from Errol Fuller, Lost Animals, here.

Title: The Passenger Pigeon
Author: Errol Fuller
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication Date: September 15, 2014

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

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Amazing Photography Opportunites at Nature Pavilion!

The final part of my trip to Costa Rica centered around Selva Verde Lodge and the Sarapiqui area. Of all the birding that we did in the area, my favorite place that we visited was Nature Pavilion. Nature Pavilion is a private property located not too far from Selva Verde and offers great birding as well as some of the best photography opportunities that I've ever experienced.

In spite of some people warning us against spending a whole day at the property, we decided to go for it. We arrived right as they opened and were immediately welcomed to the property by Dave Sr. (he is the founder of Nature Pavilion and owns the property along with his son, Dave Jr.). We felt right at home and really enjoyed learning all about the property from both of the Daves throughout the day.

Here's a little background on the property. Dave Sr purchased the 15 acre property in 1985 after the plantation that owned it went bankrupt. He started restoring the forest and has worked with La Selva OTS, a local biological station, to pick the correct plants and trees that should be planted on the property. The birds have clearly taken advantage of the restoration and over 230 species have now been seen on the property. Nature Pavilion is also right across the river from the much larger Tirimbina Reserve which provides an additional 1000 acres of forest.

After Dave Sr. showed us around, we got our cameras set up on the feeding station and started taking some awesome photos! I'm pretty sure that Brian and George could have stayed at the feeders all day but I finally decided to take a walk around the lawn on the front end of the property. For the first bit of the walk, all I saw were dozens of Clay-colored Thrushes. I finally came around to some standing water and found one Green Ibis and two Gray-necked Wood-Rails, a lifer for me!

I thought I was just going to get a photo of the Blue-gray Tanager but it got photo bombed by a Golden-hooded Tanager!
I enjoyed being able to photograph this Olive-backed Euphonia that was coming to the feeders at Nature Pavilion.
White-necked Jacobins were the most common hummingbird at Nature Pavilion, as they are throughout most of Costa Rica.
We continued to shoot from the deck overlooking the feeders for awhile and then Brian and I decided to take a walk on some of the trails on the property. We carefully crossed the river and explored the trails on a small island. It was a bit slow in the middle of the day but we did find a Laughing Falcon going after some small birds in a tree and my lifer Rufous-tailed Jacamar. When we returned to cross the river and head back to the feeders, we realized that the water level had risen significantly and it was going to make crossing back over quite interesting. Brian had his tripod to stabilize him but I had nothing and paid the price. One slick rock was all it took and I, along with my camera and binoculars, ended up in the water.

Unfortunately, this ended my photography for the trip but at least my binoculars were not completely ruined and I could continue to bird. Since I couldn't take any more photos, I spend a lot more time talking with both of the Daves and learning about their love for their property and what their plans are to make it even better in the future.

None of my pictures of Crimson-collared Tanager turned out very well but I think this photo by Brian is one of my favorite photos of this species I've ever seen! (Photo by Brian Zwiebel)
Towards the end of the day while I was sitting on the back deck overlooking the river and surrounding forest, I noticed a white bird flying in from the right. It never landed but I was able to follow it long enough to see that it was a Snowy Cotinga! Dave Sr. later told me that if you sit on that back deck long enough, you will typically end up seeing one. Another big highlight was a perched Long-tailed Tyrant. This back deck is also where Nature Pavilion has many hummingbird feeders. In addition to the typically Costa Rican hummingbirds, this is a great place to see and photograph Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer.

Since I broke my camera, I wasn't able to get photos of the Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer that was visiting the hummingbird feeders. Brain was able to get some amazing shots including his one though! (Photo by Brian Zwiebel)

They were really distant but I still got decent looks at my lifer Long-tailed Tyrants! (Photo by Brian Zwiebel)
Whether you are able to spend a whole day birding and photographing at Nature Pavilion or if you just have a few hours to spare for a bit of birding, I highly recommend that everyone visit this property when they are in the Sarapique area.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Spotlight on a Hotspot: Pine-Bluestem Buffalo Road

This week, we take a closer look at a lesser known hotspot that offers you the chance to see a few great birds! Pine-Bluestem Buffalo Road is part of Ouachita National Forest in western Arkansas and is a great place to find breeding Red-cockaded Woodpeckers.

It's best to arrive by sunrise if you hope to see the Red-cockaded Woodpeckers leaving their nest holes to forage for the day.
For birding, the first 10 miles of the road tend to be the most productive and the best place to find the woodpeckers is about 4 miles from the start of the road. If you happen to be driving along Buffalo Road during the spring or fall, it's a great place to look for warblers and other migrants as well!

You can see a full list of species reported to eBird by clicking here. To learn more about birding along Pine-Bluestem Buffalo Road, click here to see the Location Guide for the area.