Friday, April 30, 2010

Woodpeckers on the Web

This is a post that I have been meaning to do for a little while.  As much fun as I think it would be to develop a repository for all kinds of woodpecker information on the web, I simply do not have the time to do so, BUT there are a few places on the web that I do visit pretty regularly that I wanted to share with you in the event that you haven't discovered them on your own yet.  Some are relatively new, and some have been around for a while. Obviously, this is not an exhaustive list of woodpecker info on the net, just a peek into some of the things I check out when on-line.

Let me start with a few sites that have recently hit the web.  First off, I want to point out Bill Benish's new blog devoted entirely to the family of 11-12 Campephilus Woodpeckers.  (You know, that family that includes the Ivory-billed Woodpecker that everyone heard so much about!) Not only is the photography fantastic, but it's pretty informative, and he provides all kinds of great links to other info on the net.  Excellent job, Bill - truly a great site that I look forward to pointing my browser to!

Another relatively new site that I've really enjoyed visiting is PicidPics.  This is a pBase gallery filled with amazing  photos taken by Martjan Lammertink and Julio Pérez Cañestro of woodpeckers from all over the world.  These guys are amazing and really worthy of a few minutes of your time to take a look at their work.  (Trust me, you'll probably spend more than a few minutes, and you'll keep going back.)

Speaking of keep going back - another site that I love to check on a regular basis is Gerard Gorman's Woodpeckers of Europe blog.  Gerard has literally written the book on the 10 species of woodpecker that can be found in Europe, (and is about to publish his monograph of the Black Woodpecker) and the blog is updated regularly with photos and information about these species.

I really have no desire to get into the Extant/Extinct debate that surrounds the Ivory-billed Woodpecker - like religion, I find that everyone has their own take on the situation, and I don't feel like I have the eloquence to firmly express my opinions on the subject.  There is somebody on-line though who I feel has done an excellent job of keeping up with IBWO news, and writing well about both his opinions as well as those that go against his own.  Cyberthrush's IVORY-BILLS LiVE ???! blog is a great resource to find out the latest happening with the search, and I think he does an excellent job of walking the line of debate while remaining informative and avoiding the inflammatory attitude that is often expressed on both sides of the debate.

There are a ton of websites out there devoted to the Ivory-billed Woodpecker - some are based in large and well funded places like the Cornell Lab of Ornithology or the Nature Conservancy, some are from those who either join a search team or go independently searching for evidence and proof, and I'm not going to try to list them all here (a quick google search on "Ivory-billed woodpecker search" will give you all the reading you can handle) but frankly there is one that I've found intriguing lately called Project Coyote.  I especially enjoy the Updates page.  IMHO, it's definitely worth a look!

Last but not least, I wanted to make mention of an independently made documentary called Ghost Bird about the search for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker and the effect it had on a nearby small town in Arkansas.  I have to admit that I have not been able to catch a screening of this at a film festival anywhere yet (Both times that it played within a few hundred miles of me, I was out of town!) but I've been following the the tweets and facebook page devoted to the movie and the reviews have been outstanding.  Check out their page and catch the film if you can!

Have you found some interesting woodpecker information anywhere online (or maybe even a good book)?  Please leave a comment and let me know - I'd love to hear about it!

Pileated Woodpecker

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Costa Rica, Day 13 - Punta Leona to Hotel Bougainvilla

Our last morning at Punta Leona was a relatively uneventful one - we had made no special plans for any trips, and needed to have our things back at the reception area by noon to meet the driver who would bring us back to the beautiful Hotel Bougainvilla near the airport for our last night before heading home.  After breakfast we did wander a little bit up the main road, in hopes of maybe seeing or hearing Three-wattled Bellbirds which we had not even heard yet (although supposedly this is a good place for them), but by the end of breakfast, it was already oppressively hot, and we were not feeling up to an intensive trek.  We did encounter our one and only ant swarm of the trip, which was amazing to see (although a little disconcerting to be so close to with Pam in flip-flips and me in my Keens) but it was unattended by any birds while we watched.  We did encounter a few birds on our short walk, including both Masked and Black-crowned Tityras, as well as a having a small noisy flock of Orange-chinned Parakeets land close enough to see and photograph.

We also spent a bit more time watching the Scarlet Macaws (after all, seeing a magnificent bird like this in the wild really is something)

We also gave a little attention to the Groove-billed Anis that are regular on the resort.

Our driver arrived promptly and we headed out.  On the way, he happily obliged our request to stop at the bridge that goes over the Tarcoles River - I had been told that it could be a good place to stop for birds, and  that there are a number of American Crocodiles that hang out there.  (Not to mention that there was a good souvenir shop right there.)  I didn't pick up much in the way of birds from the bridge, but that might have had something to do with the fact that I was focused on the crocodiles - there were dozens of them and they were HUGE!!!  I've never seen crocodiles so big.  The photos have nothing to show a sense of scale, but I would venture to say that most of them were well over 15-16ft!

The rest of the ride back to Hotel Bougainvilla was uneventful - which was a little disappointing as we were supposed to stop in Orotina for the Black-and-white Owls there (which we didn't see well on our way down.) Apparently our driver didn't know anything about the stop, and we didn't ask him about it until we were about 45 minutes past where we would have needed to exit. We arrived and checked in again at the comfortable Hotel Bougainvilla at just about 3pm, which gave us a little more time to explore their beautiful gardens before we wrapped up the trip.  In these last few hours I actually had a few targets - White-eared and Prevost's Ground Sparrows had eluded me on our first day here (and would again this day), as well as two birds which we had seen well, but that I  had really wanted to photograph.  The first one might surprise some people that have been to Central America - Squirrel Cuckoo.  Not a particularly uncommon bird, and one that we had seen throughout the trip, but try as I might, I was never able to get a good photo.  I love the colors of this bird - rufous on the head and back, becoming paler on the throat, with the chest fading to grey, then to black on the belly, with a yellow bill, bright red iris with pale green around the eye, an that long long patterned tail. Always the bird was either directly above us, or in bad light, or partially obscured by foliage, or something.  Knowing that they were here in the gardens, I had hoped against hope that I would have one good opportunity at a photo.  Thankfully, there was a pair that was working their way through the trees in the afternoon light, and I finally managed to get some photos I was pretty happy with.
The other bird I had hoped to photograph was the Greyish Saltator, a bird that we had seen here on our first day pretty well but had managed to escape my lens over and over again.  I'd managed to get a few shots off this day, and although this might not be my best photo - I think it is my favorite, if for no other reason than serendipity.  I got these photos as the last few rays of direct sunlight were hitting the gardens on our last evening in Costa Rica.

I then spent the last half hour of twilight using the flash on the camera and trying to photograph the amazing variety of flowers in the garden (which will come in a different post), and then had a seat in the dining room for another wonderful meal and a few drinks to celebrate an amazing vacation.

We enjoyed a luxurious night's sleep and in the morning, headed to the airport for the long lines to pay our fees to get out of the country, to check in, and to go through security (yes, that's three long lines - that's what happens when you travel internationally on a Saturday) before the long trip home.

I think this pretty much concludes the "trip report" posts.  I do plan to write a wrap-up post, providing links to locations, contact information, etc, as well as probably another "Bird Photography Weekly" or "Wordless Wednesday" post or two.  Thanks to all who have stopped by to read about this trip, and especially to all who have provided such great feedback!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Wordless Wednesday 4/28/10

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White-throated Mountain Gem

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Sunday, April 25, 2010

Bird Photography Weekly #87

Piping Plover, Charadrius melodus

PS - as always click on the photos to see larger versions!

To see some great bird photos from around the world, check out:

Friday, April 23, 2010

Costa Rica, Day 12 - Carrera NP & Tarcoles River

Our second morning at Punta Leona, we had arranged for a cab to pick us up at the reception desk at 6:30am to take us to Carrera National Park.  I had done a little research on the area, and knew that this was someplace I wanted to bird, but never was able to find a guide that could take us there and show us around, which I will admit now, worried me a bit. You see, there is a main entrance to the park with some trails (where you need to check in first), but from what I was able to gather, the best birding was from a trail a few kilometers down the road, and I wasn't looking forward to the prospect of having to walk along the highway to get there (and then back again in the hottest part of the day.)  We arrived at the park HQ at a few minutes past 7, but it didn't open until 7:30 so we just birded around the entrance for a little while, listening to a Ferruginous Pygmy Owl tooting across the street, and seeing birds like Masked Tityra working the treetops.

Soon enough a few others started to show up, including one guy in an older Land Rover (my dream car).  He approached us and asked if we needed a guide.  I quickly noted that he had custom printed shirt with the park name, as well as his name on it - so I was a little more comfortable that this wasn't somebody that was trying to rip-off a few know-nothing tourists.  His name was Freddy Villareal, and he'd been birding and guiding in the area for well over 20 years, and it was quite obvious that this guy knew his stuff.  We talked about rates, which seemed very reasonable and hired him to guide us until our cab came to pick us up around noon.  We then checked in and paid our entrance fee to the park, and headed to the other entrance.  I mentioned that one of the birds I was really hoping to see was Royal Flycatcher, as this was supposed to be one of the easier places to see them.  Freddy knew of several nest and assured me that we'd see the bird - and almost by the end of the sentence on flew over the path we were on.  I don't know what you think of when you hear the word "flycatcher" - but for some reason, my brain immediately goes to the small bland Empidonax flycatchers that I just can't get that excited about, as opposed to the Myiarchus (like Great-crested) or even the cool Tyrannus (like the Kingbirds) flycatchers.  I tend to not think of the cooler flycatchers like Scissor-tailed or Fork-tailed Flycatchers. Why?  Honestly, I don't know.  But the Royal Flycatcher is a bird that I've seen some really cool photos of over the years, and I was hoping that with some luck, I'd get to see one with its crazy crest raised - though I didn't keep high expectations.  You see, it raises it's crest very rarely, and I had no intention of disturbing the bird just to get it to do so.  But if you want to see what I mean, this is what it looks like with its crest raised. (Many photos of the bird with its crest raised are pics of birds "in the hand") We did manage to get great looks at the bird - even as it was nest-building, but we never did see it raise its crest.
Over the next few hours, Freddy enthusiastically showed us why this park was so special - from nesting Common Tody-Flycatchers:
to an Orange-collared Manakin lek, where the males were flitting and "clicking" around:
to this cute little white Tent Bat:
We looked for and found Motmots:
This Turquoise-browed Motmot was only visible though this little "keyhole" through a number of trees - don't know how he managed to spot this one!
We also spent a bit of time on finding trogons:
Slaty-tailed Trogon (male)
Slaty-tailed Trogon  (female)
We stopped along a stream bed area, where there were a few night herons as well as a few Boat-billed Herons. We also had an Amazon Kingfisher fly past us and land in nearby tree.  But a this spot, I have to give some credit to Pamela who not only spotted a tiny American Pygmy Kingfisher in a distant tree:
but then also spotted one of the few snakes we saw on the trip.  I probably spent 20 minutes entranced by the smooth cool Green Vine Snake and it worked its way up. down, and around the nearby foliage:
This park really is a wonderful place, and I am 100% convinced that Freddy is the man to go with.  He is there regularly even when he's not guiding - looking and learning, making sure that he knows what is where so that when he is guiding birders, he does not disappoint.  His enthusiasm, knowledge, and experience undoubtedly made it one of the favorite spots for me on this trip, and my only regret of these entire two weeks is that we didn't have more time at the park.  Next time (and there's always a "next time" isn't there?) I will definitely plan for more time there,and will be calling Freddy in advance to make sure that he is available.  (If you are planning a trip to Costa Rica and want his information, drop me a line!)

One of the reasons that we only had a few hours at the park is that we had been scheduled for a Mangrove Birding Tour on the nearby Tarcoles

Along the trip, we saw a few waders that we are accustomed to see in North America, including Great Blue Heron, Little Blue Heron Tri-colored Heron, both Night Herons, Great, Snowy, & Cattle Egrets, White Ibis, a few Roseate Spoonbills and a Wood Stork or two, and some shorebirds as well like Spotted Sandpipers and Whimbrel, not to mention Black-necked Stilts, and a number of Jacanas.

But the highlights on a trip like this for me are the birds that rarely make into the ABA area, like Collared Plover, Double-striped Think-Knee, and Southern Lapwing:

Also exciting was how close we managed to drift up to an Amazon Kingfisher:

Another bird we saw that I enjoyed was the Common Black Hawk, which up until a few years ago, had been a separate species known as Mangrove Black Hawk, but it had been 'lumped' back in, so a few people I know "lost" a bird on their list because of this decision. 
Other raptors seen on the trip included several Yellow-headed Caracaras, that try as I might, I could not get  a clear photo of (again difficult to get flight shots with the point-and-shoot), and many Osprey.
It was a very pleasant, relaxed way to spend a hot afternoon and still get some good birding in.  On the drive back to the resort, our driver pointed out the beautiful sunset (I said it before and I'll say it again - everybody is an ambassador for this county and they love to point out it's beauty) and asked if we wanted to get a photo, as he knew a nice overlook along the way.  With a pacific sunset like this, how could we say no?

Up next, our last day in Costa Rica...

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Wordless Wednesday 4/21/10

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A hummingbird nest on the underside of a leaf in the Costa Rican rainforest. For a sense of scale, the opening at the top is about the side of a quarter.

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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Costa Rica, Days 10 & 11 - Savegre Mountain Hotel to Punta Leona

I've received some really wonderful feedback on these posts from Costa Rica (thank you!), and even though I still have a few more days to go, I think I am going to try and pare things down a bit and try to finish this up in a just a few more posts, so I apologize if it seems like I might me gleaning over or rushing through parts.

On this, our last morning at Savegre, we had arranged to hire a guide again to bring us to some higher elevation areas - especially as there were known nesting sites for Costa Rican Pygmy Owl and Emerald Toucanette.  After a quick breakfast, we wandered outside to wait for the guide - and I spent some time watching the Long-tailed Silky Flycatcher nest.  A bit of patience was rewarded first with a bird coming to the nest - and feeding chicks!

Then it perched at the top of the tree in perfect morning light:
Even if we didn't see another bird that day, I would've been happy after this. Of course, this is Costa Rica, and there were plenty more birds to see.  We soon met our guide, Raoul, who happens to be Melvin's son, (I love that birding and guiding is a family business) and with the others joining the trip discussed what our targets would be.  While Raoul stepped away to get a vehicle ready for us, we learned that Melvin and the couple he was guiding would be joining us too - what a bargain - twice the talent for the same price.  (5 guests and 2 guides - can't ask for better than that!) We headed up the mountain in search of the owls and the toucanettes.  The owls were a no-show, but we got some good looks at the Emerald Toucanettes as the entered and left a nest cavity.
We had good looks... I never said anything about good pics though!  While searching for Silvery-throated Jays (heard but never seen) we were treated to several large flights of migrating raptors overhead, as well as some soaring local raptors - including brief but satisfying looks at an Ornate Hawk-eagle.  All too soon, it was time to head back, as we needed to gather our stuff and head to the next lodge.  On the way back down, we enjoyed additional great looks at species like Mountain Thrush, Ruddy Tree Runner, Golden-bellied Flycatcher, Large-footed Finch, Black-cheeked Warbler, and Flame-throated Warbler.
While waiting for our driver to take us to the next lodging, I passed the time at the hummingbird feeder...
Our next destination was Punta Leona Resort on the Pacific Coast, but the travel time was a few hours.  Thankfully we had the good luck to have another great driver - Juan Carlos was friendly, knowledgeable, and considerate (he checked a few times to see if we needed to stop, stretch our legs, etc), and we chatted easily the whole ride, talking about out individual cultures and helping each other out with language and translations.  He also offered to stop at in Orotina for the only owl we would actually see on the trip - a Black-and-white Owl that is a regular in a park there.   Late in the afternoon we arrived at Punta Leona, checked in and settled into our room as we checked off one more "life bird" - Scarlet Macaws.  Large and noisy, it was hard to miss these birds as they were finding an evening roost.
Another fine example of my lack of "in-flight photography" talent.
Surprisingly, it was HOT at this area of the Pacific Coast. For some reason I had expected warm Pacific breezes to keep us comfortable, but this was easily the hottest part of our trip, and that certainly slowed us down a bit to a more leisurely pace.  As the sun set, we wandered the resort grounds a bit, checked out the beach, and had a drink at the outdoor bar, before heading to the open-air dining room for a nice meal and then retiring for the evening.

The next morning, we headed out soon after dawn to join the daily morning bird walk at the resort.  Stepping out of our room, I immediately heard the distinct "double-knock" of a campephilus woodpecker, and with just a little bit of looking found a nice Pale-billed Woodpecker before it flew deeper into the forest.  There were also quite a few Rufous-naped Wrens in the area, and we would be hard-pressed to miss them at any time when we were there.
The morning walk seemed to be aimed more at the more "typical" resort guests.   The people that are there to vacation on the coast, that might take a few hours one morning to learn about the common birds that are around the area, as opposed to birders like ourselves that were hoping to maybe find some of the less common birds.  All (except one) of the other guests that showed up all shared a pair of pocket bins, and we had a nice easy walk, spotting some nice birds, like Brown Pelicans flying in formation, Magnificent Frigatebirds hanging in the sky, Rose-throated Becards (a nemesis bird for me in the ABA area) and Streaked Flycatchers:
We asked the guide about the best place to see the Scarlet Macaws, (as I definitely wanted to try for better pics that the previous evenings) and we wandered over to a tree where a pair were feeding...
As we were winding up the morning walk near the reception area, the guide caught the notes of two birds - Masked Tityra, which I always enjoy seeing, and a rather quiet Turquoise-crowned Motmot.  It remained high in a tree (a perfect digiscoping bird -if I had a digiscoping set-up any more) but was cooperative enough that everyone was able to get pretty good looks at it. (photos were of such poor quality though that I am embarrassed to even post them here.)

As we headed back to our room to cool off before breakfast, we learned quickly that there was no need to worry about getting good looks at Scarlet Macaw - a pair of them seemed to set-up shop in a large tree next to a path that we walked several times a day:

After spending quite a bit of time watching these beautiful birds preening, calling, and just generally showing off, we continued on our way to breakfast. The open-air dining room provided a very comfortable environment, where I think they met their goal of having you feel like you were part of the environment. This was helped by the troop of White-headed Capuchins (aka White-faced or White-throated Capuchin) that were playing and eating nearby.
After breakfast we headed back to the room to change and head to the beach.  Yep - not really birding, just going to swim in the Pacific.  (In fact, I couldn't see any birds even if I wanted to as I took out my contacts and left my glasses behind.)  Given the heat, this was the best possible move we could have made that day.
Our view as we approached the beach:
The rest of the day was spent in the ocean, near the pool, or at one of the outdoor bars or restaurants.  Not a bad way to relax and beat the tropical heat.  Oh, and we saw these cool, beautiful big iguanas all over the place...

That evening I spent a little more time photographing the Macaws - I mean, come on - how can you not?

WARNING! I may get excessively dramatic here...
That evening before dinner, I had one of the most amazing moments in my birding experience (yes, even more than the Quetzals). Outside of our room, I again heard the distinct "double-knock" and decided that I wanted to try to get better looks and maybe photos of the Pale-billed Woodpecker that made it.  Remembering one of my favorite moments from David Attenborough's Life of Birds series (where David called in a pair of Magellenic Woodpeckers by using two rocks on a tree to imitate the double-rapping) I found two rocks, and a good solid hollow tree, and did my best at reproducing the sound and speed of the noise I had heard.  And guess what - it worked, it WORKED! Holy $#!% - it really WORKED!!!  The Pale-billed Woodpecker flew right to the top of the next tree over and did its double-knock.  So I did it again, while watching him - and he did it again.  After my third attempt, he was confident that it was only me and I was not threatening his territory and continued on his way.  Following him in flight, I spotted another one - this being the female of the pair - quietly foraging on another tree, so I just stood there and snapped photo after photo...
Tearing myself away from these birds was difficult, but I did manage to do so to get back to the room and grab the spotting scope and get Pamela (who had been enjoying an afternoon nap) to join me.  With the scope we managed to get wonderful intimate looks of the bird from a distance as it worked it way along the branches, and COOL - it just extracted and ate a huge grub!  I simply could not have asked for a better moment with this majestic bird!

I think that this is more than enough for this post.  Next up Carera National Park and a boat ride on the Tarcoles River, then we wrap things up and head on home...