GALAPAGOS AND CLIATE CHANGE

November 24, 2014

The latest Audubon magazine has three pieces on the future of the Galapagos’ unique habitat and birdlife…in the face of climate change.  You can click here to read those articles.

If you want to see the Galapagos as they are now, PIB has a variety of trips to both the islands and to the rich birding locales on the Ecuadoran mainland.  You can click here to read about the Ecuador/Galapagos trips we offer.Galapagos Sunday 001 marine ig pileupSome photos from a recent PIB trip to the islands.LAVA GULL2 LAVA HERON ON CHAIN WILSONS PLOVERThe birds, from top to bottom: Lava Gull, Lava Heron, Wilson’s Plover. Blue-footed Booby, Brown Pelican with his outboard motor, Vermilion Flycatcher. Elliot’s Storm-Petrels.BF BOOBIES TRIO ON LAVA bf booby face brown Pelican outboarding cinn flyc perched ell.STORM-PETRELS FEEDAnd a couple of endemics:GALA DOVE1 Make that three endemics” Dove, Mockingbird and Penguin.  The latter loves to swim around with snorklers, even slow-moving hominids with plastic faces on.GALA MOCKINGBIRD1 GALA PENGUIN CU

RAPTOR RECORD OVER PANAMA

November 21, 2014

This fall’s migration saw a record number of raptors passing over Panama City in one day. Take a guess, then click on this link and read about the number of zeros in the new record.
PIB offers great trips to Panama, including a chance to see Harpy Eagle.
But Panama is much more than just raptors…below some images from my recent trip to Panama: Violaceous Trogon, white-faced monkey and White-necked Puffbird.
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These two guys were just down the street from our arrival hotel in Panama City: Crimson-crested Woodpecker and Common Tody-flycatcher
C-C WOOD GOOD

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PRETTY BIRD

November 15, 2014

ASHLAND, OREGON
I was face to face with beauty this morning. Overnight it had been drizzly, the sky was still mostly overcast so the light was dim and even. This often makes small birds feel less exposed, less skittish. Such was the case with one of the two (I suspect) White-throated Sparrows who’ve chosen to winter around Ashland Pond. The one who chose to pose for photos on the lichen-encrusted limb of a nearby oak is the brightly feathered one. The other sparrow I’ve photographed there may be a youngster and is much less brightly colored right now.WTS FRONT (1280×960)How much of this bird’s beauty is its relative rarity in our area? If he were as common as male Mallards or Robins or Scrub-Jay would we walk right past?WTS FRONT (1280x960)

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WTS-RIGHTY

BTW, a fellow birder has found two White-throats around the feeders at North Mountain Park about a mile upstream from the pond. Ashland, Oregon, is clearly a White-throat hot spot on the Pacific Slope.

Brings to mind my favorite quote from Rich Stallcup, “Yes, but have you ever seen THAT Robin before?” This image below shows how the White-throated Sparrow is usually seen at Ashland Pond.WTS HIDESThis is at least the fourth straight year the species has wintered among the Golden-crowns, Fox and Song Sparrows there. Can we even still consider them vagrant? Aren’t the by now simply uncommon wintering birds like Hutton’s Vireo or Say’s Phoebe?

Last spring the two at Ashland Pond were singing by late April, dualing with their “peabody, peabody” tune. Definitely more dual than duet. One answering the other, or was it challenging?

My favorite White-throat story happened one autumn in New York’s Central Park. I had joined up with a local bird group looking for migrants. They simply walked past every White-throated Sparrow flock like we would Juncos out here. Not even worth a mention. Every brown ground thrush would get thoroughly vetted, one became my lifer Bicknell’s. I lagged at one point and scanned over the nearest sparrows, and in the back of the gang on the ground was a single White-crown. When I casually mentioned it so it would be added to our day list the whole group stampeded back for a long look at the “unusual” White-crowned Sparrow.

“What a beauty!” someone exclaimed. Rare beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

WHAT THE FLOCK IS HAPPENING AS WINTER APPROACHES?

November 14, 2014

ASHLAND, OREGON, US, NORTHERN HEMISPHERE, JUST ABOUT HALF-WAY FROM EQUATOR TO NORTH POLE

For some birds this is the season of togetherness. Parents and juveniles, families and cousins, unrelated birds of same species, even several species ganging together. What the flock?4 abreast
Here is a small group of female Hooded Mergansers near a pair of sleepy female Bufflehead on Ashland Pond. A common winter sight that is not to be found during breeding season.

TUNDRA-RUN2Above, Tundra Swans on Emigrant Lake (they are no longer there) showing three adults and four gray-headed juveniles. Parents and offspring? Here are Snow Geese (still at Emigrant Lake today). Two white adults, two grayish juveniles who may be their off-spring. SNO-GO FLOK Below, small flock of Green-winged Teal; they even fly in tight formation when they take off.GWT IN POOL (1280x960) Covey of California Quail. Historically these coveys included numerous family groups and would grow to the hundreds in food-rich habitats before gunners and feral cats came on the scene. Before Europeans arrived Native Americans could hunt quail with nets because the flocks were so dense. qwale

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This is a Solitaire in Harney County, OR. At the Sage Hen Rest Stop on US20 where I took this shot there were also Starlings, Cedar Waxwings, Robins, Mountain Bluebird and Varied Thrush all sharing the healthy juniper berry crop. Very mixed flock.

ELEGNT CROWD2Above, a group of Elegant Terns loafing in Monterey after breeding season is over.
There are many working theories about why birds of a feather flock together. None are more together than some small shorebirds or Cedar Waxwings. The latter often be identified in flight at great distances simply by the cohesion of the flock. Mutual alert system? More eyes to find the food source? Safety in numbers? We should ask the birds…but maybe they have little self-awareness. Among Corvids there is “deliberate” or at least instinctive food-sharing rather than secretiveness. Again this may insure more survival for more individual birds. Fifty Ravens have a better chance of finding a fresh carcass than any single bird, then the croak goes out and the flock gathers to feed.

Certain families of birds in North America are almost always in flocks when not breeding: Acorn Woodpeckers (even putting all their eggs into one basket), Bushtits, most sparrows (except Song), finch family members from siskin to Evening Grosbeak, swallows, Robins, Icterids (blackbirds and meadowlarks), most Corvids (magpies to Crows), chickadees, Golden-crowned Kinglet, pipits, starlings, swifts, Burrowing Owls, nightjars, waterfowl, shorebirds, cormorants, gulls and terns, pelicans, grebes.

Some other families of birds may join mixed species flocks but aren’t highly tolerant of their fellows from the same species: tyrant flycatchers#, nuthatches, most raptors*, hunting herons and egrets (though many nest in colonies), vireo, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, shrikes, cuckoos, many woodpeckers, most owls.

For some interesting musing on mixed-species flocks, check out this piece by Jack Connor in Cornell’s LIVING BIRD magazine.

* There are colonial members of the falcon family that flock together: caracaras, Little Kestrel in Europe, Eleanora’s Falcon. But DNA tells us falcon have more in common with woodpeckers than with a Red-tailed Hawk or Osprey.

# When was the last time you saw ten Black Phoebe sitting on a telephone wire lined up like Tree Swallows or blackbirds?

LEWIS’S WINTERING IN SOUTHERN OREGON

November 4, 2014

Each winter we get some Lewis’s Woodpeckers here in Jackson County, Oregon. Some years more than others. This has started off as a big year for Lewis’s in our open oak woodlands. They don’t breed in the county apparently, but there is a colony just fifteen miles south along the Klamath River north of Yreka, CA. Nobody here knows where these birds are coming from apparently.
This is a great species to watch on any day. This morning after a rain squall and then some break-up of clouds it was windless and partially sunny along OR Hwy 66, at about 2600′ elevation. In the oaks there was a group of Lewis’s. Like their Acorn cousins, this species is often seen fly-catching. They do the phoebe bit–sit upright, spot prey, fly out and grab, then fly back to the same perch. Today they were in Purple Martin mode. Something I’d never witnessed before. Up to eight were circling in the air at one time, some 200 yards or more above the earth. Circling, swooping, diving in shallow stoops. Not as fast nor elegant as swallows, unable to kite or hover like a Kestrel, the Lewis’s were still airborne for several minutes at a time. Many small insects including pale aphids were in the air and must have been their prey.

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It’s fascinating to see the stiff and pointed plumes at the end of the tail feathers, useful for propping against a tree trunk when hammering
LEWO TAIL (1280x960)
This location is at Milepost 10 on Hwy 66 southeast of Ashland, OR, in the Cascades. Two other good locations hereabouts for wintering Lewis’s are Sam’s Valley north of the Rogue River and Agate Lake northeast of Medford, OR, and south of OR Hwy 140.

CAL-GAL #2

September 26, 2014

More fine work from the lens of Barbara Bens on our PIB trip along the California Coast earlier this month:BP FLIES LOW
Brown Pelicans at ease around the ocean.
BP ON WATR
PELINE
Pair of Condors high over the ridge at the top of Pfeiffer-Burns State Park, Big Sur.
CONDORS OVR COAST
Elephant seals scuffling at Piedras Blancas.
ELESEALS FITE

ELSEALS FITE2
Not all elephant seals are warlike all the time: PECEFUL PILE

Great Horned Owl in flight at Drake’s Beach, Pt. Reyes
GHO FLIZ
Heermann’s Gull thinking deeply. Could be anywhere in coastal California this time of year.
heerm

IMG_3791

PAC SLOPE

California Quail at Pt. Reyes National Seashore visitors center.
QWAL MALE
Rockpipers: Surfbird on left, Black Turnstone on right. Asilomar State Beach.
ROCKPIPERS
Red-shouldered Hawk in fog east of Morro Bay.
rsh  n fog
Western Scrub-Jay:
SCRUB FACE
Warerfall at Pfeiifer-Burns:
WATR FALL
White-crowned Sparrow in flight:
WCS FLITE
Flying Willet
WILLET FLITE

CAL-GAL #1

September 25, 2014

Here is the first gallery of California photos (hence Cal-Gal) from birder Barbara Bens, one of the folks on my recent California Coastal birding trip for Partnership for Interantional Birding.
Female California Gnatcatcher near Pt. Vicente, LA County: CA GNT (1178x904)
Ruyfous-crowned Sparrow, also at Pt. Vincente: RC SPARO-GUD (1280x888)

Hiding Cal Towhee:
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Curlew in the fog, Morro Bay.
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Diving Brown Pelican, Morro Bay State Park.
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Santa Cruz Island:
island (1280x853)is scrub1 (1280x853)Above: the endemic Island Scrub-Jay.

Banded Song Sparrow on Santa Cruz Island off Ventura:
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Willet and friend at Moss Landing:
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OTTR-WILL
Yeloow-billed Magpie up Pine Canyon near King City in southern Monterey County.
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Two of three Great Horned Owls in Monterey cypress trees, Pt. Reyes. GHO IN TREE (1280x569)
On this trip we got both North American endemics: Island Scrub-Jay and Yellow-billed Magpie, the latter requiring us to drive far from the coast in search of dog in an outdoor location. When we inquired about the species locally one woman told us she can only feed her dog at night because the magpies onto the food instantly in the daytime. These are farm dogs not fed in the house. Neither, presumably are the magpies fed indoors, though if you left the door open…

GONE, NOT FORGETTABLE

September 24, 2014

The destructive history of humanity’s war against nature stretches from the woolly mammoth to the tar sands of contemporary Canada and the increasing use of neo-nicotinoid poisons. The battle that led to the extermination of the Passenger Pigeon in North America lasted a few decades. No single battle in the war against nature was more ignominious. None was more fulsome with heedless human greed.
In his fine book on the Passenger Pigeon, Errol Fuller (no relation) describes the skirmish near Petoskey, Michigan, in 1878. A local musician, H. B. Roney, was concerned that the bird was disappearing and he tried to expose the market hunting slaughter of the birds that had come to the area to nest. This pigeon nesting colony was estimated at 100,000 acres in extent. It would be one of the final large nesting colonies seen by man. Despite a state law supposed to protect the birds the slaughter by gun and net went on for days. Nest trees were chopped down to get at the chicks. Roney estimated a billion birds died.
The hunting and gun interests of the day immediately published a rejoinder to Roney’s outrage and exposes. Propaganda wars of the type we all know all too well in this age.
The startling parallel between those who warn and those who refuse to see has continued since the market hunting of the Passenger Pigeon through to today’s continued worship of petroleum and fracking and profits they bring. As the gunners who slaughtered the Passenger Pigeon by the millions, so do today’s energy corporations see profits…and little else matters.
This annihilated nesting attempt by the pigeons in Michigan is just one of the episodes gathered together in Fuller’s newly published book, a centennial remembrance in print. The book also reproduces fine drawings and paintings of the Passenger Pigeon from the 1700s on to today.
It was exactly one hundred years ago this month that the final, captive, Passenger Pigeon died in the Cincinnati Zoo. Today she and her kind are immortalized by a gigantic downtown mural there. But wouldn’t we prefer to see, instead, a couple hundred million of these birds fly across the sky, once again blot out the sun and leave behind pigeon poop a foot deep? I would.

passpig-wilsonWhen Alexander Wilson drew this image of the Passenger Pigeon it was the first decades of the 19th Century and the birds were still legion in the forests of North America. He once estimated seeing a flock overhead of more than a billion birds. Just over a hundred years later they were all dead.

The Passenger Pigeon By Errol Fuller (no relation).
Princeton University Press. Hardcover | 2015 | $29.95 / £19.95 | ISBN: 9780691162959. 184 pp. | 7 x 9 1/2 | |eBook | ISBN: 9781400852208 |
PP BOOK

CALIFORNIA COASTING

September 24, 2014

Can birding the California Coast be called “coasting?” That’s what I was doing last week with a group of clients from Partnership for International Birding.CATO GLANCCalifornia Towhee…in California.

CATO PREEN

curl in fog (2)Curlew in the fog, Morro Bay.

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Diving Elegant Tern, Morro Bay.
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Pelicans on rock northof Gorda, where we also saw a passing California Condor pursued by Peregrine.
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sleeping sausagesThus is what a sleeping sausage would look like…these happen to be only young elephant seals on the beach near Piedras Blancas.

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Pfeiffer-Burns waterfall into the sea.
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White-crowned Sparrow adult.
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whale spoutThe spouting whale off Pfeiffer-Burns State Park in Big Sur. It was a humpback whale surrounded by attending Heermann’s Gulls and Sooty Shearwaters.
Above the park we saw a pair of soaring condors, giving us three on the day.
California zebra, a rare breed…actually exotic livestock on the Hearst Corporation property at San Simeon.
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TRULY ELEGANT

September 22, 2014

Our recently-completed PIB birding trip along the California Coast had many highlights…here are about five hundred in one single frame. Elegant Terns loafing on a sandbar at Moss Landing in Monterey County.
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No far from the madding crowd with its squawks and boistrous shoving, there was this contemplative soul having a snooze on the incoming tide:
OTTEREST2


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