Surama Birding

A day at Surama, a small village just up the road from Rock View Lodge. The road there, which is also the highway from Georgetown to Brazil, produced the usual savannah species: Burrowing Owl, Cocoi Heron, Vermilion Flycatcher….

We enjoyed  wonderful meal at the village’s fine little eco-lodge, then set out to look for birds. Savannah Hawk was a revelation,  even larger and more beautiful than the books make it seem. A Great Potoo was a welcome stake-out in a damp bit of woods, and there was also a pair of Black-crested Antshrikes there–does anyone know why that bird is called canadensis?

But the bird of the day, head and shoulders above even that stiff competition, was a Spotted Puffbird perched low above our heads, flashing out every few minutes to grab a bug, then returning to its customary stolidity. There’s something about a puffbird that screams ‘tropics’, and this bird, along with the day’s Black Nunbirds and Swallow-wings (a funny name for a funnier bird), left no doubt about where we are!


AOU Check-list: 48th Supplement

It’s here, it’s here, the newest Supplement to the AOU Check-list. No great earth-shattering surprises this time, but a few changes of note to us amateurs.

BJ Rose, Bean Goose, Nebraska

First, the Bean Geese have been split; the species that has occurred in the 48 contiguous US states is Anser fabalis, the Taiga Bean-Goose (hyphen copyright 2007, AOU Committee on Classification and Nomenclature). I was fortunate enough to be half of the CBC team that discovered Nebraska’s first occurrence of this species in 1984, and was proud (I hope not prideful) to see that exciting record cited in the Supplement.

Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis has been split from Larus cachinnans, Caspian Gull; the only records for Yellow-legged Gull sensu novo accepted in the Supplement are from Quebec, Newfoundland, Maryland, and DC.

I was startled to read that Sacred Ibis “seems to be on the way to establishment” in Florida after individuals escaped from zoos after Hurricane Andrew. If poor Florida continues on this path, it will be more like escaping into a zoo.

The really big news, though, for those of us who like to collect odd facts for those cocktail parties I seem never to get invited to (wonder why) is the repositioning of the New World vultures. Remember how much fun it was to point out to new birders that “vultures are really storks”? Well, it turns out that vultures are really vultures, and the family Cathartidae has been returned to the order Falconiformes, though with one of those ominous asterisks indicating “uncertainty as to exact placement.”

My sentiments exactly.


Bulgaria 2007: A Black Sea Clifftop

The little seaside village of Sinemorets was a relaxing base for a couple of mid-trip days. Red-backed Shrikes and Hawfinches were easily watched in the gardens, and a Little Owl frequented the balconies of one of the newer hotels. But the real attraction was a brushy pasture atop a steep cliff, five minutes’ walk from town.

As everywhere in the Bulgarian countryside, Eurasian Skylarks sang with blithe spirits in the tall grass.

Less common were Tawny Pipits, which Frank and I had a great time watching early one morning before breakfast. This was a species I’d seen only once before, in southern France, and it was great to have leisurely looks at this handsome bird.

They have a beautiful flight song of ascending “zing” notes, and this species would become a characteristic sight and sound as we moved north along the Black Sea.

The biggest prize, though, was a gang of four Rosy Starlings, which I stumbled across on a pre-supper walk. These turned out to be the only birds of that species for the entire trip, as wonderfully improbable in their pinkness as I had always expected them to be.


New Mexico Shorebirds, and Birds of the Shore

It’s a long drive from Roswell to Tucson, but the excitement of having watched the chickens dance got us through. Besides that, there was much to see along the way, and we would probably still be in New Mexico had we taken every promising road and looked for every species that occurred to us as we drove along (“Hm, wonder if there are Boreal Owls in there….”).

My favorite of the brief stops we made on the drive west was the alkali flat at Holloman refuge, just east of Alamogordo. I’ll have to check my notes, but it seems to me that that was the very spot where Ted showed me my first Snowy Plovers years and years ago; and they were there yesterday, too, or at least their descendants, five pairs or more out on the shimmering expanse.

A dozen Western Sandpipers were out in the middle, looking hot and bothered, and a surprise Baird’s Sandpiper was a good find, too; this far west, Baird’s are much commoner in the fall (which, for Arctic-nesting shorebirds, starts in about 3 months).

Technically not a shorebird, this little guy was on the shore of a wetland near Roswell; Burrowing Owls don’t need the water, but the disturbance associated with steep banks is of obvious advantage to them.