Archive for Guatemala
Say hello to the Scolopaceous Courlan!
Photographed in Guatemala in March 2008, when I called it a Limpkin.
High on everyone’s list of the next ABA-area vagrant, a Bare-throated Tiger-Heron landed in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas today. The bird was photographed near Bentsen – Rio Grande State Park, and is guaranteed to set off a rush to see this glorious ardeid.
I’d really hoped that Arizona might get the ABA Area’s first, but who could begrudge Texas this bird?
It was hard to know where to look in the yard at Los Andes. Red-billed Pigeons competed for our attention with Social Flycatchers, Yellow-winged Tanagers with Red-legged Honeycreepers. And then there were the boreal migrants: Baltimore Orioles, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Indigo Buntings–birds I don’t see often in the winter.
This Orchard Oriole perched up for a good long time, probably drying off after a bath, and I took the opportunity to hone my digiscoping skills. (Love my camera, love my scope, but the twain don’t meet all that well in my hands.) Lousy as the photos are, they’re great material for a quiz.
This is an easy bird to sex: by late February, all males of whatever age should be showing black on the throat. This uniformly yellow-headed bird is a female.
The shape and state of the tail feathers allow us to age her. Orchard Orioles retain their juvenile tail through the first year of life; those juvenile rectrices are slender, pointed, and of poor quality, all features readily visible in this spread-tail shot. Some of the apparent feather shape may be due to dampness (she’d been bathing), but especially if we look at the outer pair of rectrices, we can see plenty of missing barbs; an adult’s tail feathers should be stronger and fresher, blunter-tipped and perhaps darker (though the backlighting here is severe).
So this is a female Orchard Oriole of the class of ’08, a bird in her first plumage cycle, an “SY-F” in calendar-year terminology. I wonder where she was hatched and when she will get back to the breeding grounds from Guatemala.
One of the great pleasures of birding Central America is the chance to see “our” birds at a different time of their lives. Orchard Orioles, for example, are considerably less humdrum when you’re watching them on a Guatemalan shade coffee plantation!
Can you age and sex this one? The photo was taken at Los Andes in late February.
Three generations have lived on and protected that portion of the Atitlan volcano that is now the Los Tarrales Reserve. I’d wanted to visit ever since I first met Andy three years ago; his commitment to this land and its preservation was impressive even in conversation, but just how deep it runs is immediately apparent when you see him in situ.
And what a situs!
And, of course, what birds. Eager as I’d been to get to Tarrales, I was glad, too, that we’d saved this magical place for last. Apart from a day along the coast at Monterrico, we’d spent our entire time at high, cool elevations. Tarrales, which reaches down to 2,300 feet (a bit lower than Tucson), is, at least at its lower elevations, decidedly more tropical than any place else we’d visited, and as a result, our last full day in Guatemala turned up a number of birds we hadn’t encountered elsewhere.
The birding started even before we hopped off the bus, with Cinnamon Hummingbirds and Common Tody-Flycatchers right along the driveway. The feeders just outside the cool, charming dining room hosted everything from Spot-breasted Oriole to Yellow-throated Euphonia; the snazzy adult male in the photo above was joined by a nice selection of immature males and females. Rufous-naped Wrens also enjoyed the fruit and the insects attracted to it.
But we couldn’t tarry all day–there were birds to be seen on the trails, too! After our days in the cooler highlands, it felt warm, and this desert boy noticed the humidity, but there was a light breeze that literally invigorated every time it reached us. I’d made the mistake of wearing shorts and tevas–I never do that in the tropics!–and the biting gnats that were a mild annoyance for the sensibly clad were fair reward for my foolishness.
But who cares? Orange-fronted Parakeets perched, uncharacteristically, in easy view along the trail.
Orange-chinned Parakeets flashed overhead in noisy flocks. A Violaceous Trogon and a couple of Blue-crowned Motmots gave us better views than we’d had all week, and by trailing behind the group, I had the best study ever of Yellow-olive Flycatcher, a bird I’d seen a number of times before and never really had a chance to get to know. And the same with Tropical Pewee: this time I resisted distraction and took the time to really watch one hunting from a low perch nearby.
Distraction was a real temptation, though. While the pewee flycaught in front of us, a cluster of fruit above our heads was drawing White-winged Tanagers and the day’s target bird, Long-tailed Manakins. We started hearing manakins not long after entering the forest, and had our first looks in a huge fruiting fig about twenty minutes in (apparently the place to be at Tarrales, hosting everything from White-throated Thrush to Slate-colored Redstart). Even seen just in bits and snatches, the manakin is a startlingly pretty little bird, but when a male perches out in the open to show off his powder-blue back, red crown, and wiry tail feathers, it’s almost enough to make you look away from a pewee.
Lingering over the manakins, I missed the group’s departure (and thus a bird I’d really wanted to see)–my own fault. We reassembled for lunch at the house, pausing for only a moment inside before carrying our laden plates into the yard.
Tarrales has large, comfortable rooms with private bathrooms, and the food more than held its own against anything else all week. There are Horned Guans on the higher slopes of the volcano–one of these days, I think I’ll spend a week!