GET YOURSELF TO ECUADOR

July 21, 2017

PIB has great trips to various habitat zones in Ecuador. And there’s a book you want to take with you. It’s the first-ever, one volume nature guide for anyone headed to Ecuador’s wondrous mountains and rain forest and arid western slopes:
Wildlife of Ecuador:
A Photographic Field Guide to Birds, Mammals, Reptiles, and Amphibians

Andrés Vásquez Noboa. Photography by Pablo Cervantes Daza. Princeton Press. 2017. $29.95.
I wish I’d had a book like this when I was in Ecuador…or even Panama where I got far too close to a pit viper without recognizing it. The bird section is fine but the real value is in all those other critters: face-to-face shots with snakes. It’s the head that matters…look for the heat-sensing pits. You may want to keep your birding guide nearby or back at the ecolodge because only breeding plumage shots are given for most avian species.
Now I know there are two species of agouti in Ecuador and I saw the black in Coca. Not sure even my bird guide knew there were two, certainly didn’t tell us.
Superbly clear range maps. Both English and Latin indices.
My favorite Ecuadoran bird is at the top of page 140…the Collared Inca.
ECUADOR GALLERY FROM MY VISITS:
Yellow-tufted Woodpecker:
Yellow-tufted Woodp.Great Ani:Great Ani2Hoatzin at Sani Lodge:Hoatzin pairSquirrel monkey:squirrel monk on limb
Swallow-tailed Kite over Napo River in Amazon Basin:ST Kite over Napo River

OF EAGLES AND SUCH

July 18, 2017

Harry Fuller writes: Recently a long-time friend, Dr. David Sachs of Palo Alto, sent me a great photo of a fish eagle taking a fish from a lake in Zimbabwe. He asked a little about the eagle and I inadvertently buried him in data.
David, I got your recent note with the action shot of the African Fish Eagle. Kate and I saw this bird several times around the lakes in Uganda. Handsome bird. Yes, the fish eagle would carry food back to brooding mate and then to young after they hatch. The nest would never be left unguarded once the first egg is laid. And the nest has to be protected from such possible nest thieves as Red-tailed Hawks and Canada Geese. Even winter nesting Great Horned Owls are known to steal an Osprey’s nest that has been years in the building. The owls nest even before many Osprey have returned to their nesting territories. Many large birds (storks, eagles and osprey) will usually return to previous year’s nest if they can, and simply repair and remodel. Then young eagles will spend over a month in the nest before they can even begin to try short flights and then they are fed wherever they perch after leaving the nest. To become an adept predator a young bird needs lots of practice and parental support. At least their “college” is free.
The African Fish Eagle is in the same genus as our own Bald Eagle and the White-tailed Eagle of Northern Europe. They are all in Haliaeetus genus. Haliaeetus is a compound of two Greek words, translated literally as “sea eagle.” Our Bald Eagle is not really a “sea eagle,” more strictly a bird of marsh, lake and river though it will fish in quiet salt-water lagoons and estuaries. The fish eagle is smaller than our Haliaeetus eagle and the European one. It is less than thirty inches tall. An adult Bald Eagle will be at least 31 inches tall and the female (which is always the larger of the pair) can be over three feet tall with a wingspan up to 7 feet or more. Our Bald Eagle does fish but in winter often lives on carrion from dead waterfowl as large as swans. This eagle has evolved an immunity to avian cholera and botulism which is handy in winter when large number of migrants waterfowl sicken and die on any over-crowded wintering range.
I have always though the Bald Eagle—contra Benj. Franklin who favored the Wild Turkey—was a perfect symbol for our money-mad country. This eagle will catch its own fish but often uses theft, bullying or simply good luck to find food. Other birds’ diseases leave carrion for eagles, ditto road kills. An eagle pair is great at ganging up on a hard-working Osprey (almost a pure piscine feeder) and stealing its fish. I have also seen eagles take ground squirrel away from Red-tailed Hawks. The Bald Eagle is sort of a hedge fund manager looking to make off with anybody’s else’s hard work or profit for its own selfish good. They are pretty good parents, of course. But among adults there is only begrudged sharing of a carcass. Often one eagle will have found carrion and a coterie of ravens will land just out of reach, waiting for the scraps. The Bald Eagle has one other great strength which is its great strength. It can easily remove bits of frozen deer or goose flesh from a hard-frozen corpse. Some scavengers like ravens and Turkey Vultures lack that strength. Eagles can winter anywhere there is food, fresh or frozen. However, the Turkey Vulture must migrate south to where the nights are warm enough to not freeze a carcass solid. On the Pacific Slope that is generally south of Redding or along the coast. Now, with global warming, a few vultures are wintering in Willamette Valley.
Our other native American eagle is the Golden. It’s a member of the large tribe in the Aquila genus. Aquila is Latin for “eagle” and especially refers to a sharply hooked beak. It is believed that “eagle” derived from old French word “agile” which in turn derived from the original Latin.
Our Golden Eagle has cousins all over the world, most smaller in size. The American Golden females can be up to 40 inches tall. Most of the Old World eagles in this genus are less than three feet and most are some shade of brown with little bold patterning (except the bright white on the Wahlberg’s Eagle). These are birds of mostly open terrain. Our Golden is a specialist in catching jack rabbits and other denizens of our grasslands and prairie. This bird takes talon strength to the max. It can muster several hundred pounds per square inch pressure when it grabs prey. It generally hits prey from behind and kills quickly by crushing the victim. They often nest high in tall trees or on cliff faces in dry areas where there are no trees. Nobody bothers a Golden Eagle in any serious way in daylight.
Two quick stories: I once saw a territorial male Osprey go about trying to drive off a Golden Eagle soaring over a hillside near the Ospreys’ nest. Twice the Osprey screamed and then dove down toward the eagle’s back…each time the eagle flipped over onto its back at the last instant and invited the Osprey to come on down. The eagle’s talons were open and waiting. Each time the Osprey swerved off at the last minute. Those talons would have meant a crushing defeat and death, literally.
A friend in Ashland lives out in the parched, grassy hillsides of the lower Cascades. The Golden Eagle and the Red-tailed both hunt there regularly. A pair of Golden Eagles were nesting on a rocky point uphill from my friend’s house. He often saw the smaller and more agile Red-tails harass the eagles as they hunted, hauled food to the young, built their nest. This is common in avian world—smaller, quicker birds pester bigger, slower predators. I’ve even seen blackbirds go after a vulture which eats only carrion. An angry hummingbird can drive off a huge raven. My friend was out on his hillside planting oak saplings to restore the chaparral that was once there. He saw a Red-tail swoop down the slope and nail a California ground squirrel. Then the hawk tried to get a good grip to haul away its fairly weighty prey. Shortly my friend sensed a big shadow speed by and looked up to see a Golden Eagle hit that Red-tail from behind. Astounded, he watched the eagle tear apart the hawk and the squirrel, fairly efficiently, then fly off. Nothing was left on the ground but shredded bits of both creatures. Apparently the Golden Eagle was settling an old and bitter score.
“Eagle” is an old English word thrown around in naming many unrelated species in the Old World. Some eagles there would be simply big “hawks” here. We would not consider a bird less than two feet tall worthy of that grand a moniker. There are even now birds commonly named “hawk-eagle,” go figure. Perhaps the most striking of the African eagles is the Bateleur, 28 inches tall. In the Old World “buzzard” is synonymous with “buteo,” the genus of our Red-tails. “Vulture” in old world is a group of large predatory birds, not strictly scavengers like our vultures and condors who are actually well-adapted members of the stork family, unrelated to Old World vultures. So it goes in the world of taxonomy vs. common lingo.

Here’s my own shot of a pair of fish eagles perched in a forest in Uganda, taken on an PIB-sponsored trip:FISH EAGLES

FIELD GUIDE FOR EUROPE AND BEYOND

July 17, 2017

Birds of Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East. Frederic Jiguet and Aurelien Audevard. Princeton Press. 2017. paperback. 5 X 7.5 inches. $29.95.

This is a more thorough guide than the traditional birds of Europe because it moves further south and east than many other guides and thus is great if you are traveling beyond just western Europe. The text is precise and the range maps fine. However, this book depends on photos for bird illustrations and any photographer must admit that has its limits. No single photo or even two, can show everything you might want in a field guide. Illustrations are thus more…well…illustrative. Here are exact quibbles. The text on Coal Tit says “long white nape patch” yet the photo shows a totally black nape. Text on Azure Tit describes a sky-blue mantle while the photo shows a pale gray one. This may be a printing problem similar to what happened with Sibley’s American guide when it went into second edition and the first runs came out with muddy looking birds that were supposed to be bright, like a drab Scarlet Tanager male. Ooops. That print run was withdrawn and the edition re-printed.

It is instructive to see that the newest range map for Collared-Dove shows it has conquered all of Europe except northeastern Scandenavia. The book is polite about the invasive Ruddy Duck, saying only that it is being culled in Britain and France. There the Ruddy is an existential threat to its cousin, the endangered White-faced Duck. Americans need to broaden thei nomenclature as the lingo here in British. Loons are “divers.” Horned and Eared Grebes are “Slavonian” and “Black-necked.” The Common and Velvet Scoters have finally been taxonomically split from our White-winged and Black Scoters…whew. The Eurasian Teal is now split from our Green-winged. The book does not disclose that the Mandarin Duck has dense populations now in some London parks. It simply tells you there are breeding populations spread around western Europe for this Asian species.

If I’d been editor of this book I would have added a single line at the top of the page with the pratincole photos: “These are some of the coolest birds you’ll ever see, anywhere!”

The book covers 860 species and the index has both Latin and English names for each species. Each entry includes a description of the bird’s vocalizations.eurobirds-1eurobirds2eurobirds3

BIRDING AUSTRALIA?

June 30, 2017

Review of  “The Australian Bird Guide” by Peter Menkhorst, et al. 560 pages. Over 240 color plates. Princeton University Press.  paperback. 2017.  $39.95.

Harry Fuller writes: Long separated from the nearest major continent, Australia has many endemic species and is a birder’s wonderland for all the lifers awaiting you there.  I have never been but my good friend and fellow bird-nut, John Bullock and his wife Stephanie visit there often.  Their son lives there with his family.   So here is a review of Princeton latest guide to Aussie birds, by guest reviewer, John Bullock:

Australia Bird Guide Review
If you’re an Australian birder, with the challenge of over 900 species to
identify, your choice of guidebooks has recently been expanded by the
production of The Australian Bird Guide, a stunning and very complete work of
art and science, the making of which has consumed over ten years, involving
over 200 citizen contributors (think eBird on a small scale).
The impetus for a fresh guide to Australian avifauna was initiated by the
head of the Australian Scientific Research Organization, who secured the services
of Jeff Davies, one of the country’s pre-eminent bird illustrators. Jeff was joined
by five additional authors and illustrators.
Historically, avian artists have depended on museum skins for their
guidebook renderings. Enter digital photography, and a large number of birders
eager to capture pixels of every species in every imaginable pose, in all of their
plumages. For Davies and his partners, this turned out to be a bonanza of over
half a million images.
There are 56 species of Honey Eaters in Australia, many of them very
similar. The digital images have resulted in more accurate illustrations: an
improvement much appreciated by the more determined birder faced with a
Honey Eater, that at first sighting, could be one of ten or twelve similar species.
The guide, in addition to being an amazingly brilliant and vibrantly
detailed collection of illustrations, retains the essential elements of proper
ornithological and taxonomic protocol, as well as the valuable information on
where and when to find Australian birds.
Australia is a unique continent, noted not only for its flora and fauna, but
also for its people. Visitors are always impressed by the friendly open-ness of
Aussies. Having had the fortune to spend part of the past five years there, I can
vouch for this impression, and enlarge it by noting that Australians are very
proud of their relatively young culture and eager to learn about and protect their
environmental heritage. The Australian Bird Guide fits this picture perfectly. Its
a fresh and compelling addition to Australian birding literature, and I look
forward to using it during my upcoming annual sojourn.
–John Bullock

CRANES ON SAUVIE ISLAND

March 17, 2017

Yesterday brought a rare dry day to Sauvie Island.  That’s just a dozen miles of central Portland, Oregon.  Occasionally a leak in clouds let sunlight spill across the land.  Geese were cackling and honking, a pair of Osprey were whistling from their nest. Wigeon and mallards contributed squeak and quack to the cacophony.  Yet over it all spread the bugling of Sandhill Cranes.  Their calls made the air vibrate, hinting of primitive compulsions carried across time from ages when long-gone species ran and swam in seas and prairies that are gone as well.  The sound of the crane reverberates through an elongated and convoluted trachea that can only have evolved to produce such music.  We humans can only listen and marvel that such a sound pre-dates cave art, villages, stone tools and even digital recordings.  The crane sound is both ancient and inimitable.  I much  hope their kind can out-live the damage humans are determined to commit upon this earth.  Whatever sentient creatures are about in some future millennia will be sure to halt and listen when those yet-to-be cranes bugle.

CRANBEFLY4

“When we hear his call we hear no mere bird. We hear the trumpet in the orchestra of evolution. He is the symbol of our untamable past, of that incredible sweep of millennia which underlies and conditions the daily affairs of birds and men…The sadness discernible in some marshes arises, perhaps, from their once having harbored cranes. Now they stand humbled, adrift in history.”  –Aldo Leopoldc and sIn several marshes the Trumpeter Swans and cranes were feeding side by side.crane feedcrane feed2Sauvie Island usually has the northernmost wintering populations of cranes in North America.  In Europe the Common Crane may winter even further north, not far from Troyes, France.

In late winter the crane population is augmented by the arrival of cranes heading north from California. The cranes using Sauvie as a stopover are traveling the Pacific Coast Flyway.  That population is less than 5% of the total Sandhill population.  Cranes we saw yesterday included both the lesser and greater sized cranes.CRANE-F1CRANE-F2CRAnE-F3

ABOVE US ALL

Compelled by nature’s uncaring demand for survival and adaptation the cranes now have a flight that is elegant, graceful and strong.  With wings moving in fluid flaps, the long. thin legs trailing like a streamer, the sharp spade of a beak thrust toward the future, a flying crane is kinetic art of the finest.CRANEFLY1

“Our ability to perceive quality in nature begins as in art with the pretty. It expands through successive stages of the beautiful to values as yet uncaptured by language. The quality of cranes lies, I think, in this higher gamut, as yet beyond the reach of words.”    –Aldo Leopold

CRANEFLY2CRANEFLY3CRANEFLY5CRANEFLY6

Cranes often gather together in big flocks for migration or simply to find better forage.CRAN-LIN2CRAN-LIN1Riding tail winds or seeking thermals cranes may migrate at elevations up to 15,000 feet.  Some cranes in Asia fly over the Himalayas thus topping 20,000 feet elevation.CRAn-LIN4

For sixty million years, the call of the sandhill crane has echoed across the world’s wetlands and waterways, and it’s been heard in North America for at least 9 million years.  Sandhill cranes, the oldest living bird species, have seen the violent birthing of entire mountain ranges, and then watched these same experience slow death at the hands of wind and rain… Long before man first took feeble steps on two legs, or raised a rock in anger, sandhills were already ancient.”  Jim Miller in Valley of the CranesCRANE-TWOCRASNE-TWO1If you would like to see these cranes, Trumpeter Swans, Wrentit, Black Oystercatcher, Rhino Auklets, Marbled Murrelets, all three scoters and other Pacific Northwest specialties, contact us about a winter visit to the Pacific Northwest.

BEWICK WAS A FINE BRITISH ARTIST AND HE MAKES A PRETTY NICE WREN AS WELL

November 8, 2016

Want to see a busy Bewick’s Wren?  PIB has numerous trips into territory where these busy birds feed year round.bw1bw2bw3bw4bw5bw6bw7bw8bw9bw10bw11bw12Our guide, Harry Fuller, got these images while birding in Oregon’s Willamette Valley where he lives.

THE ENDANGERED GREAT GRAY OWL OF CALIFORNIA

November 4, 2016

The Great Gray Owl has been on the California Endangered Species List for some time.  Current estimates say there may be fewer than 300 of these  marvelous birds in the entire state.  Their modern range is limited. They may once have lived in the Sacramento River Valley but they are now limited to relict populations in scattered bits of suitable habitat in the central Sierra from 1800 to 7000 feet elevation. One recent study of Yosemite, where the birds were first confirmed nesting in 1914, found less than 10 percent of that giant park is suitable GGO habitat. There is also a tiny sliver of the Oregon population that dips across the border into Modoc County north of Alturas. Human alteration of the habitat has not been positive for the Great Gray Owl.  Now climate change just adds stress and more uncertainty about their ability to survive.  Vehicles and Great Horned Owls are lead natural enemies.  Introduced West Nile Virus is a potential game-ender…though so far there is no evidence it has struck California’s population. An Oregon owl in the northeastern part of that state died of West Nile last year.  The GGO is highly susceptible to the disease.bdger2

The most crucial and thorough study of Great Gray Owls ever done anywhere in North America is now completed and has been presented to the California government and the public.  It calls for serious action to help this species survive.  You can click here to read the report and its conclusions.

The research also shows that the central California population has been genetically cut off from more northerly populations for over 25,000 years and should be given sub-species status which in turn could allow federal designation as a national endangered species.  None of the breeding birds along the Pacific Slope south of Canada are migratory.  The Yosemite owls will never meet an Oregon cousin.

OREGON AND WASHINGTON GGOs

Union County and Jackson County in Oregon may each have as many GGOs as the entire state of California.  Yet it is unlikely there are as many of the birds in Oregon as there are people in McMinnville, Oregon (33,000).  We should be aware of what is recommended in California and what gets done and what effects that may have.

Washington State has few Great Gray Owls apparently and only a handful of nesting records have ever been confirmed.  The first one in the state did not come until 1991.

If you are interested in Harry Fuller’s book on this species, click here for the link.

If you really want to see one of these owls, in broad daylight, and not in mid-winter  Minnesota, contact PIB about the birding trip to Oregon.

ASK US ABOUT CUSTOM GREAT GRAY OWL TOURS

October 9, 2016

Our guide, Harry Fuller, is co-founder of the Mountain Bird Festival in Ashland, Oregon.  He is author of a book on Great Gray Owls in Oregon and neighboring states and began leading regional trips into the owls’ breeding and wintering grounds in the southern Cascades.  Here’s a description of an field trip on October 8, 2016…

This morning Klamatth Bird Observatory’s “Talk and Walk” program took a group of birders up inot the Cascades east of Ashland, the topic: Great Gray Owls.  And they saw two of the birds.  Here’s KBO board president, Shannon Rio’s brief summary of the day: “it was beautiful this morning up on the mountain.  bird time was as usual timeless.  we enjoyed two views of a ggo, one at the beginning of the day and one at the end of the journey and in between:  pelicans, widgeons, bald eagle, bluebirds, vesper sparrows, coots,american goldfinches and pine siskens, red tailed hawks, a bobcat sighting, an osprey sighting.  and lots of nature.  thank you all for another journey with the birds and nature and each other100816-005_edited-1-1280x853 Both pictures by Mel Clements, top bird at Two Pine Meadow, the lower bird west of Howard Prairie Lake on private land. Both locations can be checked from public roads without disturbing the owls’ hunting territory.100816-010_edited-1-1280x853Jackson County, Oregon, may have as many or more GGOs than any other county south of Canada.  Evidence you do not need to spend big bucks and suffer a Minnesota winter to see Great Gray Owls in the U.S.

CHAMPION FLIERS?

July 4, 2016

Research shows that Magnificent Frigatebirds are not only magnificent, they fly…endlessly.  Over 250 miles per day, non-stop, no resting on the water. They may fly that for days, weeks…they do land to lay eggs and incubate them.

Here are some pictures I took of frigatebirds around the Galapagos a few years back.  It was a trip organized by Partnership for International Birding.  Haven’t been there?  GO!  Enjoy these champion flyers:FRIGATE ALOFT Frigatebird Dive frigatebird flying by frigatebird on mast Frigatebird Profile FRIG-BIRD EYELEVEL frig-pbird provile

BIRDING WESTERN ECUADOR?

July 4, 2016

Here is a great reason to go birding in western Ecuador.  This is the endemic White-tailed Jay:White-tailed_JayAnd now the Princeton University Press has issued a photographic guide to the birds of Western Ecuador.  Living here in the Pacific Northwest I first notice the birds that aren’t found in this part of the Neotropics.  No scoters, no alcids. But then you settle in to thumb through the book and you notice 8 raptors named “kite,”  over 20 members of the dove/pigeon family, three pages of tinamous and guans (think big pheasants in the forest).  Toucans, barbets (my favorite gang of tropical thugs), hummingbirds for page after page, Tanagers, endless tyrant flycatchers, antwrens and antvireos and antbirds,  Finally near the back of the book you get to the euphonias, dressed like a junior high marching band.euphoniaThis is a Thick-billed Euphonia.

The book includes range maps for each species showing its range across Ecuador.  The book does NOT include the Galapagos.   If you go after that White-tailed Jay, take this book along. Partnership for International Birding offers a panoply of birding trips to Ecuador.  Check ’em out.

ecuador cover

Birds of Western Ecuador:
A Photographic Guide
Nick Athanas & Paul J. Greenfield
With special contributions from Iain Campbell, Pablo Cervantes Daza, Andrew Spencer & Sam Woods

Paperback | 2016 | $45.00 |  ISBN: 9780691157801
448 pp. | 6 1/2 x 10 | 1,500 color photos. 946 maps.  It is also available as an ebook.