Sunday, March 27, 2016

Easter Sunday birding

But first I started out the morning finding this event on the home page of my ISP.

You Tube video of a bird landing on Bernie Sander's podium in Portland, Oregon on Friday.  I can't quite tell what it is - some kind of finch perhaps?  The rally appears to be indoors.  Often birds are trapped in these cavernous places - think of house sparrows in the airport or in a Home Depot, etc.

We still have some cold and gray weather to look forward to, but not today.  A sunny, warm Easter at the end of March is unusual in Michigan.

By the looks of these photos one would think it was a very sparrowy morning, but it was actually very woodpeckery - just no woodpecker photos to show for it.

I finally did see my first eastern phoebe of the season.  I chose this photo from the several bad photos I took because it is one where the bird's feet can been seen.  I'm always struck by how dainty all phoebe species feet are.  In chasing after this bird I also experienced the perils of birding in the woods this time of year.  Mud.

The best of many bad photos of golden-crowned kinglet.  A hard bird for me to photograph under the best of circumstances, this photo shows how particularly difficult is was this morning.

Always a sign of spring.

Enjoy and happy Easter!   

Sunday, March 20, 2016

First day of spring

This morning I joined the Oakland Audubon outing to Belle Isle led by Mike Mencotti.  Unfortunately, while standing out in the open looking at ducks on the lagoon, I became too cold too quickly and had to leave the group.

Before I did, I took a photo of this little guy behind the nature center.

White-breasted Nuthatches were plentiful and vociferous.

I had three target birds for this morning - yellow-bellied sapsucker, Eastern phoebe and fox sparrow.  I was successful with one.

A few mallards were around.

Taken at the last minute, a terrible photo of our harbinger of spring.

A few wood duck pairs were around, including a pair that flew from tree to tree and away from me.

I thought this pile of sticks and mud was interesting.  I haven't been to Belle Isle since last fall so it's new since then.  It doesn't seem to be functioning like a beaver den and this water is not clean enough for beavers.  Muskrat?  However, when I read the Michigan Nature Guy's blog and saw his photo of a beaver den, I wasn't so sure.  If it is - would be truly incredible!

My favorite bird to photograph in spring.  For robin photos, now's the time.

Working in the backyard this afternoon, I found a couple of sunbathers

A pair of robins seem interested in my yard for nesting.  

My other sunbather.

While it wasn't super active this morning, it was evident that things will pop soon.  It's official, spring is here.

Addendum:  From the 03/26/2016 New York Times:  Recognizing Spring, Scientifically

Tribute to the Mourning Dove from the New York Times

A brief piece is from this morning's on-line edition is a nice tribute to our underrated and modest, little mourning dove.

The Mouning Dove, a Melancholy Chroner

And, another, about birds "vocalizations" coming from their wings.

Wings that Sing

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Panama trip: personal favorites

Doing what I often do on a Sunday morning, especially in winter - and it is still winter despite the fact that we began daylight savings time today - that is, sitting up in bed, coffee on bedside table and computer in lap.  I delete my email, read the NY Times and, for the past several weeks, have entered Panama blog posts or tweaked the narrative. Sounds nice, doesn't it?  It's raining now so this morning I have even more leisure time.

I did write that I had completed my Panama blog entries but find that I can't quite let it go.  I keep going back to look at my favorite photos, videos and stories just to recall the trip.  This blog entry came to me this morning.  So, here goes.

My best photograph of the trip

Band-winged Dragonlet

I've searched Google images looking at photos of this dragonfly, and there are many good photos, but none a whole lot better.  Second place probably goes to my photo of the golden orb silk weaver spider and same for my Google image search of the golden orb.  Many good photos, but none a whole lot better.  Just saying ... from one who does not take many really good photographic images.

My best bird photo

Gartered Trogon

This was a more difficult selection.  As readers well know, none of my bird photos turn out truly well - but in the end I guess the gartered trogon is it.  Second place would go to one of my white-whiskered puffbird photos.

My favorite video

Hands down - my streak-chested antpitta video - so cute and so memorable; finding a sweet spot under the canopy, sitting on the ground (not being stung by a bullet ant), trying not to move or breathe - just a great memory.  Second place would go to my three-toed sloth with baby video except for my unfortunate narration see what gooda mama's they are.  Believe me, as soon as I can learn how to edit this out, the video will be better for it.

My favorite bird photo

Not particularly good although not a bad photo either but, again, like with the streak-chest antpitta, the cuteness of the bird and the memory of the moment bring it right to the top.  I recall my struggle with even finding the bird in the viewfinder.  When I finally found it, my first attempts were blurred images where a bird would not even be recognized.  Then a couple of blurred, but recognizable images and then this, my very last chance, just before the bird flew.  Second place goes to our white-whiskered puffbird experience and the photo opportunity it gave us.

My most unexpected sighting of the trip

Here repeating the narrative from my Spectacled Owl post.  We did not do one second of owling on this trip.  The only suggestion of seeing an owl was Jose (our guide) muttering something about looking for an owl after we saw the Tody Motmot.  That guy knew how to keep a secret. We arrived at this spot five minutes after the Tody Motmot flew.  In fact, we could still hear the Tody Motmot calling while looking at these birds.  When I saw which owl, and that there were a pair, it took my breath away.  Second place tied:  two-toed sloth crawling along the utility wire in the town of El Valle vs. seeing an anteater on our first day.

Will this finally be my final Panama blog entry?  Probably.  No, truly, it will be.  It's mid-March and birding around here will soon pick up. This spring I plan to get out more - that is, if I can avoid working so much. There will be the days when I can't keep this promise to myself, but it is my number one goal.

The End

Sunday, March 6, 2016

The Panama Canal

Addendum on 06/22/16:  From the New York Times - The New Panama Canal:  A Risky Bet

After spending most of our time around the canal zone it seems I would be remiss if I did not share at least a few photos of the Panama Canal.  I had always thought that the Panama Canal was one of the man-made wonders of the world.  But a Google search did not have the Panama Canal on any of the lists.  The link above does sort of reveal how arbitrary this list might be.  When I reviewed the top seven or top ten lists, I did agree with those selections and none included the Panama Canal.  So, I was clearly wrong; nevertheless, the Panama canal seemed pretty spectacular to me.

We learned that only 50 to 60 ships can pass through the canal daily and that it takes eight to ten hours to traverse the 50 mile trip to the other end.  At a bare minimum, the toll for passing through the canal is over $100,000, and most often significantly more than this.  Curiously, cruise ships have paid the highest tolls.  That seemed odd to me.  But, by passing through the canal, a ship saves the 21 travel days that it would otherwise take to sail around the bottom of South America.  Very basic Panama Canal facts can be found on this USA today link.

Finally, I had always thought that the canal ran east to west, or vice versa, but again this is wrong.  The Panama Canal lies on the Isthmus of Panama which generally sits in an east-west direction in Panama. However, the location of the Panama canal is such that ships traveling through the canal from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean travel in a northwest direction while ships traveling from the Atlantic to the Pacific head southeast!  Hard to visualize, I know.

On one of our first days around the canal, we saw this ship highly stacked with containers as it approached the locks at the northwest end of the canal.  The little car in the photo is driving along a bridge that we traversed many times during our trip.

There were three or four waders in the muddy shallows below.

On our final day as we were waiting our turn to cross the bridge over the canal, a tug boat guides the ship into the lock.  Vehicles can only cross the canal when the lock gates are closed, so on either side lights allow the flow of traffic in a coordinated way.

Ship entering the channel locks to travel southeast to the Pacific Ocean.

Ship next in line to enter the locks.

The empty shipping lane for travel in the northwest direction to the Atlantic Ocean

A nearly two minute video of a ship being managed in the locks.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Panama is wild, very wild!

With the exception of our two days in El Valle de Anton, our trip was concentrated around the canal zone.  The forests were large and dense, and even when the birds were quiet, there was always something to look at. And, in my case, the insect bites were fierce.  It was wild!  

A well-chosen spot could yield all kinds of things to see and photograph.  There was never a shortage of wildlife to discover.  

Above:  Howler monkey with baby.  We saw and heard howler monkeys every day, sometimes every hour.  They seemed ubiquitous around Pipeline Road, Plantation Road and Achiote Road, but they were also in the city park and around El Valle de Anton. 

Above:  Helicopter damselfly (Mecistogaster linearis) - a truly spectacular creature, especially in flight - and that I had seen before in Peru.  I was able to photograph this perched helicopter which I believe is a female from the wing tip color.  Later, along a creek that crossed under Achiote Road, a male helicopter was flying that I tried to video, but it was too fast and I was too slow.  I found this one minute, 16 second ARKive video of a male flying that also has some great background birdsong  including the ever vociferous kiskadee.   A 26 second, not quite as complete but funnier, You Tube video also shows a male helicopter damselfly.  Incidentally, is a British wildlife information site that I highly recommend.  Throughout history the Brits have long been great explorers of flora and fauna and going by the on-line information that I find this tradition seems to continue.     

Above:  Using Julie's and Darrin's blog post linked below* and their Panama Flickr site, possibly male Rhodopygia cardinalis or R. hindi.

Above:  Damselfly, using the same sources as above, possibly Agia sp. either adamsi or oculata but favor A. oculata.

Above: Dragonfly - possibly another Erythrodiplax sp.

The view from an overlook we climbed to from one of the trails near El Valle de Anton.

Above:  There's an anteater in this photo.  Can you spot it?  Matt was the first to see the anteater and call it out on our first day of official birding near the Ammo dump pond.  What a surprise!  I never really thought I would see an anteater.  This is probably Northern tamandua (Tamandua mexicana).   

Above:  I can't remember where this trail was, but I think it's a good example of the depth and lushness of the forest.

Above: Leaf-cutter ants on Plantation Road.

Above:  In the center of the photo on the green leaf is a very large ant perhaps comparable in size to our large carpenter ants.  The stone pebbles beneath the leaves may offer another size perspective.  When I got home a friend asked if we had seen any bullet ants (Paraponera clavata).  I responded that I didn't even know what a bullet ant was.  I learned from Darrin O'Brien that they are large ants and their sting feels like being shot with a bullet.  YouTube has some gruesome videos of bullet ant stings.  But a non-dramatic blog narrative by the writer alexwild may describe it better.  I have no way of knowing if the few large ants we saw at Pargue Natural Metropolitano were bullet ants.
Google bullet ant and you'll get education.  Addendum made on 05/15/16:  I heard this Sunday Edition NPR interview with entomologist, Justin O. Schmidt who speaks about getting stung by toxic insects for the science of it.  He described the bullet ant in this segment.  I highly recommend listening.  Schmidt has written, The Sting of the Wild: The Story of the Man Who Got Stung for Science.

A moth resting on our hotel wall in El Valle's cold morning air.

Near the road, as we were exiting the van to begin our last trail walk near El Valle, we saw that these large cattle were not enclosed.  They seemed interested in us, but we continued walking and forgot all about them.  Perhaps one-half to one hour later and much further up the trail we discovered that the cattle were following us.  Apparently we had been blocking their way and they had dilly-dallied along behind without us even being aware of their presence.  We all found a spot to move off the trail and they continued on up and out of sight.

Mountains near El Valle de Anton.

Cookie found this tiny (perhaps 0.5 inch or 13 mm in length) black and green poison dart frog - the first of these colorful little frogs I have ever seen - hopping along the cleared overlook where we went to see Crane Hawk and other things on our Achiote Road morning.  So cute and so fast as it hopped along and, alas, out-of-focus.  Nevertheless, I think this photo still captures its cuteness.

While photographing the frog, we got distracted by this spider scuttling over the leaf litter.  Just as the frog was small, this spider was large (approximately 2 inches or 5 cm).  Our first thought was tarantula, but we quickly canned that ID.  It looks like a wolf spider to me, from the family Lycosidae, which are found worldwide.

I love taking photos of dragonflies and I think this is my best photo from the trip - Band-winged Dragonlet (Erythrodiplax umbrata).*

Above and below:  a female golden orb silk weaver spider (Nephila clavipes).  Truly spectacular!  We saw two.  Both were spinning their golden silk webs - the threads can be seen in both photos - in the weeds of the roadside ditches.  We also saw the much smaller and more reddish male.

Above:  Turkey vulture with roadkill.

Above:  The road kill was a two-striped skunk.  I should admit here that I love skunks and that this was a sad moment for me.

Another dragonfly with beautiful wingtips is Uracis imbuta.

Above, ending with an out-of-focus photo of an unidentified orchid. The flower's beauty is still apparent but honestly how could I not get a stationary flower in focus?  Reader, I am embarrassed but still want to share it here as a representative of the beauty that can be found in Panama. I did an amateur Google search but could not identify this orchid.

When I culled my photos, I accidentally deleted two of a three inch walking stick that Aniban found and scooped up with the tip of his machete near our tody motmot/spectacled owl location.  A great little creature and I sorely regret my carelessness.  The walking stick would have been a great addition to this blog entry.

Thirty-six hours after returning from Panama, my sister died of high-grade, non-resectable glioblastoma.  And then, after my three days of bereavement leave, I returned to working 50-60 hour weeks.  While on the Panama trip it was sometimes difficult for me to experience how good it really was secondary to distractions that should never occur on a group birding trip.  But, when I got home and began working on my blog everything that we saw and did was brought back to life for me, without distraction, and I now think of this as one of the best trips I've ever been on.  Seeing great birds and capturing the occasional good photo that I can share here is truly thrilling.  Just as interesting to me are the non-bird sightings that I share in this entry.    

I structured my Panama blog entries differently than I have for previous trip blogs and I noticed that I enjoyed it more and found the blogging process less onerous.  I think the fourteen entries offer a complete picture of our trip and I hope others will enjoy and be encouraged to visit.

*Finally, many thanks to Darrin O'Brien for taking the time to help me identify the helicopter damselfly to species and for the two dragonfly identifications.  For an excellent introduction to Panama dragonflies around the canal zone, especially Pipeline Road and Plantation Road, go to the Panama dragonfly blog entry that Darrin and Julie Craves have posted from one of their trips on their blog Urban Dragon Hunters.  Darrin also helped with some butterfly and bird identifications.


Tuesday, March 1, 2016

A sloth everyday

I think my double-tooth kite story brings to an end the bird photos that might be even remotely interesting.  I may even be coming to the end of my Panama trip blog entries.  But a couple of loose ends remain.

The first time I went to Costa Rica I remember so clearly wanting to see a sloth - even more than any bird I could think of wanting to see!  The PBS television show Nature has had several shows on sloths and one of the shows focused on miracle orphans that included a sloth rescue location in Costa Rica.  It seemed within reason that if there was a baby sloth rescue location in CR there must be sloths in CR.  Never saw one. Panama was a different story.  We saw at least one sloth every day. 

An old cinder block building in Parque Natural Metropolitano reminded me of the general upkeep of the buildings on Belle Isle.  It was beautiful in an artsy sort of way.

Below:  And just across the trail - kitty corner from the building - a sleeping sloth

Hoffmann's two-toed sloth (Choloepus hoffmanni) - apparently sleeping.  Never saw it move.

Above and two photos below:  Three-toed sloth clasping her baby on the trail near El Valle de Anton.

Three-toed sloths are members of the genus Bradypus and the family Bradypodidae. The four living species of three-toed sloths are the brown-throated sloth, the maned sloth, the pale-throated sloth, and the pygmy three-toed sloth. 

All of our three-toed sloths, except possibly the one too high up in a tree on our first day to really see,  appeared essentially the same but I don't know which species they were.  Wikipedia describes three-toed as being the size of a small dog or a large cat.  The sloth above was certainly larger than than a dog or cat, but then she has her arms wrapped around her baby as the video below will show.  I was reminded of the Nature video, Miracle Orphans, again.  A baby sloth will surely die, and quickly, if something happens to its mother and it is not rescued soon thereafter.

Above and below:  The image of the sloth above has been lightened by in-camera editing software.  It is a male and was seen very near to where we saw the female with her baby just the day before.  Maybe the father of the infant?  Below is the same sloth in an unedited close-up photo.

I think in all we saw three two-toed and three three-toed sloths.  Four three-toed if you include the baby in the photos above.  The most memorable sloth may have been - and I did not get a photo - was the sight of a two-toed sloth slowly crawling upside down along a utility wire in the town of El Valle.  This was at night and we were returning to our hotel after our evening meal in town.  It was dark, but the streetlights made it bright enough and some got photos.

Of the sloth spotters, Lisa won hands down.  I think she was the first to find at least four or five of the six, including the one on the utility wire.

Finally, my video of the mother sloth and her baby on the trails near El Valle.  I should have known better to keep my mouth shut, but I was caught up in the moment of it all.  That's my voice commenting on "see how gooda mama's they are."  Oh my goodness, I am embarrassed, but if I don't own up to it I won't be able to share this video.  I tried to edit this out using iMovie, but iMovie has changed and I can't quickly figure it out. Did I say I really wanted to see a sloth?  Well in Panama I did and I would happily return to see more.