Laughing Falcon

One of the many impressive things about my visit to Guyana was the raptor show. On my earlier trips to the tropics, I’d been disappointed to find all the warnings come true: raptors are much harder to see in the south than in North America and Europe. We lucked out this time, though, and Laughing Falcon was one of the birds of prey we saw, and heard, most frequently.

This is a lousy photo of a bird that flew in and perched for several minutes at the Shanklands Resort, a lovely little place above the Essequibo River. Such wonders as Green Ibis, Greater Yellow-headed Vulture, and Barn Swallow distracted me from my intention to sneak up on this watchful beast for a better image, but even this blurry, distant shot shows the odd head shape of this beautiful raptor, with great puffy cheeks forming a sort of mane, particularly when the bird looks at you head on.


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!


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.


The Raptor Route

A truly outstanding morning on the Santa Cruz Flats with the participants in the Aimophila Adventures Raptor Clinic gave us great looks in life at most of the species we had examined yesterday in skin. We knew it would be a good morning when the first bird in the parking lot where we met was a tailless Cooper’s Hawk, and just the 5 miles of Ina Road on the way to the interstate produced American Kestrel, Peregrine Falcon, Red-tailed Hawk, and two Harris’s Hawks.

We continued, though, to Marana (Mountain Bluebirds and Burrowing Owls on the roadside) and up past Red Rock to the flats proper. Red-tailed Hawks were rarely out of sight, and among the 39 birds we saw were several bright reddish “intermediate” morphs and a couple of glistening white fuertesi locals. One bird, starkly black and white below with relatively strong supercilia, was occasion for a disquisition on Harlan’s Hawk: until, that is, it flew and revealed a solidly red tail.

Other species observed were Ferruginous Hawk, Northern Harrier, Prairie Falcon, and Merlin. But the Crested Caracara show beat them all. We had a total of nine birds, at least eight of them juveniles, just west of the Pinal Gypsum Tank. This species has been present in unprecedented numbers this fall on the lower Santa Cruz, and the great predominance of young birds among the birds being seen makes me think that this is in fact an ‘invasion’ by caracaras produced south of the border.

Thanks to everyone in the workshop for making it such a great one this time around!