View from the Top: The Metal Towers

Many-Banded Aracari 07-07-2016-5613

Many-Banded Aracari

On the morning of July 7 at Sacha Lodge in the Ecuadoran Amazon, we went up to the “metal towers” which are three towers strung together with canopy walkways in between. I don’t seem to have a picture of the first tower from the ground before we climbed up, but the view at the top was astounding.

Above, there are two Pied Puffbirds on one of the walkways between the towers, what the walkways look like and the platform on top of one of the towers. Below, I got a closer view of one of the Pied Puffbirds.

Pied Puffbird 07-07-2016-5508

Pied Puffbird

The Toucan below wasn’t as close as the Puffbird but large enough to capture, even if he thought he was hiding behind the limb that obstructs his bill.

White-Throated Toucan 07-07-2016-5310

White-Throated Toucan

The Ringed Woodpecker below was one of the first birds I tried to photograph, and although it was quite far away it stayed on that snag, working on a hole in it, for more pictures than I needed. I’m very bad at editing though, especially weeks later…

Below, a Palm Tanager and a Wing-Barred Piprites.

The Lanceolated Monklet was far away too, but too cute to pass up.

Lanceolated Monklet 07-07-2016-5622

Lanceolated Monklet

The Spangled Cotinga is definitely a canopy bird, always perched up high.

In the afternoon we were back in the canoe. There’s a little video from the canoe below to give you the feeling of it. At some point we saw the Gilded Barbet below but I think it might have been up at the tower. I may have to start taking notes while I’m taking pictures.

Gilded Barbet 07-07-2016-5554

Gilded Barbet

Two more classy woodpeckers to add to my list, the Chestnut and Cream-Colored.

Chestnut Woodpecker 07-07-2016-5720

Chestnut Woodpecker

I do remember the Cream-Colored Woodpeckers below were seen from the canoe.

Cream-Colored Woodpeckers 07-07-2016-5733

Cream-Colored Woodpeckers

Below, a short trip in the canoe. Don’t ask me what’s flying around, whether it’s a bird or a butterfly, before we stopped to see what Oscar, our guide at the front of the canoe, was pointing out.

The Duida Woodcreeper has been split from the Lineated Woodcreeper and I think this is it in the picture below.

Possible Duida Woodcreeper 07-07-2016-5585

I think this is a Duida Woodcreeper

From the ground, not the canoe, we saw these adorable Spix’s Night Monkeys peering out from their daytime hole.

Spix's Night Monkeys 07-07-2016-5704

Spix’s Night Monkeys

It was a great day for Aracaris and Toucans. The Ivory-Billed Aracari was up at the tower.

Ivory-Billed Aracari 07-07-2016-5564

Ivory-Billed Aracari

Likely I’ll be back with one more post from the last day and a half in the Amazon and then it’s on to the Galapagos.

 

Back to the Amazon

Gilded Barbet 7-5-2016-4578

Gilded Barbet

These pictures are from two days at Sacha Lodge in the Ecuadoran Amazon. The first day we spent time at the wooden tower. There were two towers available to us, the wooden and the metal. The wooden tower was the oldest and construction had already begun to replace it while we were there. The climb up the narrow steps all the way to the top was excellent physical therapy. This tower was built around a huge tree, part of which you can see in the pictures below. A canopy view is a mixed blessing sometimes. While you can see birds on the very tippy-tops of trees, they are often too far away to photograph well. So generally the more detailed photographs were taken on the ground either on the way to the tower or on the boardwalks. Below pictures are one of the entire tower from the bottom, and what it was like to be on the top.

I added two new parrot species to my life list that first day we spent at the wooden tower. Below, on the left is a Black-Headed Parrot, Scarlet-Shouldered Parrotlets on the right.

Here’s the only Attila of the trip.

Cinnamon Attila 7-5-2016-4493

Cinnamon Atrila

You never know who’s perched on a branch but in this case it was a lot easier to see the birds below: a Straight-Billed Hermit and a Russet-Backed Oropendola.

Trogons are so amazing. We saw both of these on the same day. I think a Two Trogon Day is exceptional.

Green-Backed Trogon 7-06-2016-5113

Green-Backed Trogon

Black-Throated Trogon 7-06-2016-5231

Black-Throated Trogon

We saw some other creatures too, of course, but the Squirrel Monkey was much more difficult to capture than the snake. Squirrel Monkey and Anaconda. Click on the picture to see the monkey a little better. I think our guide told us the Anaconda was a youngster…

The little bird below is a Slender-Footed Tyrannulet. Whatever possessed them to give it this name is beyond me. Slender-footed as compared to what? But it’s a lovely little bird. And you can see his feet.

I had an opportunity to try to capture the Black-Bellied Cuckoo below both days, first from the tower on the left, and the photo on the right was taken from a closer vantage point.

Below on the left is a Yellow-Tufted Woodpecker, and on the right, a Spot-Winged Antshrike.

It was very exciting to get a good look at a King Vulture, below. Although I think I have seen this bird before, I have never seen it so well.

King Vulture 7-5-2016-4871Tanagers were tough to get photos of on this trip. On the left, Silver-Beaked Tanagers which we saw almost daily, and on the right, a glimpse of a Paradise Tanager from the canopy tower.

You have to work a little bit at finding the bird below.

Speckled Chachalaca 7-5-2016-4961

Speckled Chachalaca

The bird below was not shy, and I am just now noticing how lovely his throat complements the fruit on his chosen plant perch.

Pink-Throated Becard 7-5-2016-4778

Pink-Throated Becard

Blue-Gray Tanagers look different in this part of the world, but they haven’t been split from the other I have been so used to seeing.

Blue-Gray Tanager 7-5-2016-4820

Blue-Gray Tanager

Birds by the water…the Blue-and-White Swallows that hung out around the restaurant by the Napo River and a Striated Heron.

Below is the female counterpart to the bird at the top of my post. She’s lovely too.

Gilded Barbet Female 7-5-2016-4770

Gilded Barbet (female)

I will be back soon with more from this trip! I still have some unidentified captures but none of them were great photos, so I can spare you the agony.🙂

Meanwhile Back at the Portage

SCTA 08-07-16-9432

Scarlet Tanager (female)

I decided to take a walk around the Portage last Sunday. It was my first birding outing since my return from Ecuador. I was almost more interested to see if there were any butterflies since I have noticed a distinct lack of them this year and I am not happy about that.

I got out a bit later than I should have, and I forgot the insect repellent which might have afforded me a few more butterflies, but I came away determined to go back this coming Sunday, get up earlier, and maybe visit McGinnis Slough too. We shall see how far I get with that thought.

There were some butterflies so I have to go through my once-a-year trying-to-identify routine. I figured out the two above, a Silver-Spotted Skipper and an Eastern Comma, but I am stumped by the one below. It appears to be in the Brush-Footed family but I haven’t managed to match it up exactly with anything yet. Identification is most welcome.

There were not a lot of birds, but I found more of them in my pictures later than I could see with my binoculars at the time. A recent visit to the eye doctor has helped me figure out why this is and I am scheduled for the first of two cataract surgeries next month. Maybe I can forego buying new binoculars.

Song Sparrows above, Indigo Buntings (male and female) below…

It’s always encouraging to see a Green Heron, although I haven’t seen two in at least a couple years, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t another one around.

GRHE 08-07-16-9522

Green Heron

Below on the left, two Cedar Waxwings my camera discovered, and a juvenile American Robin.

The water level is very low and what water there is, is covered with duckweed. I guess this is good for the American Goldfinches below.

AMGO 08-07-16-9417

INBU 08-07-16-9496

Indigo Bunting Female

I will be back very soon with more from Ecuador.

A Riot of Color

Long-Billed Woodcreeper 7-4-2016-4464

Long-Billed Woodcreeper

I have finally managed to get through all the Sacha Lodge/Amazon photographs, with only a few stragglers left, so as I comb back through them day by day I will try to share the best with you.

Finally settling down into these pictures has buoyed my spirit too, which was broken somewhat by a combination of events. I got sick the last two days of my second trip, which were travel days, basically, off the boat and back to the mainland (I wonder if it was reverse seasickness?), and it took me a week or so after I returned home before I felt like I could eat again. Zapped, everything became more of a chore than usual. And diving back into a cartoonish political sphere didn’t help my mood either. But I think I’m beginning to find some sort of balance again, at least for a while.

Maybe the best medicine was planning to take two short trips next year..something to look forward to.

We visited two clay/salt licks on July 4, where we saw lots of Dusky-Headed Parakeets (above, top) and Cobalt-Winged Parakeets (above, bottom). The Cobalt-Wingeds come to a lick in Yasuni National Park where there is a blind so you can wait for them to gather and witness the pandemonium. Click on the pictures for a better view.

Below, some parrots, which are notoriously difficult to see when in the trees.The Blue-Headed Parrots are in the top of the first picture, but I was lucky enough to get a better shot of two of them below. The Orange-Winged are the two in the lower right and the Mealy has its back to us. I am surprised I managed to get some color off the Chestnut-Fronted Macaws.

Blue-Headed, Orange-Winged and Mealy Parrots 7-4-2016-4160

Blue-Headed, Orange-Winged and Mealy Parrots

Blue-Headed Parrots 7-4-2016-4175

Blue-Headed Parrots

Chestnut-Fronted Macaws 07-04-2016-4457

Chestnut-Fronted Macaws

By the second day I was using the flash attachment… And it wasn’t all psittacines.

Scarlet-Crowned Barbet 7-4-2016-4238

Scarlet-Crowned Barbet

I don’t know if I ever saw the part of the bird below for which it was named, but Woodpeckers have a way of being named for miscellaneous field marks. There’s enough to identify the Spot-Breasted without seeing the spots on its breast.

Spot-Breasted Woodpecker 7-4-2016-3976

Spot-Breasted Woodpecker

A female Hook-Billed Kite on the left and a Gray-Headed Kite on the right, below.

A tarantula on someone’s door back at the lodge later…and a glimpse of an Oriole Blackbird, below.

Let us not forget the black birds. Yellow-Rumped Cacique and Black-Fronted Nunbird…

The picture below was shot from the boat, which is always a challenge for clarity. I begin to wonder how much of the image-stabilization really takes over for me.

Black Caracara 7-4-2016-4036

Black Caracara

Short-Crested Flycatcher and Gray-Breasted Sabrewing…

I think we had eight species of Woodcreeper on this trip and I added three to my life list. but I haven’t begun to figure out that yet.

Black-Banded Woodcreeper 07-04-2016-4197

Black-Banded Woodcreeper

What a wonderful owl, to be awake and visible during the day…There were actually two of them, but the other one was obscured by vegetation.

Crested Owl 7-4-2016-4277

Crested Owl

I’ll be back very soon with more from the tropics and beyond.

A Rainy Introduction

Rain at Sacha 7-3-2016-3902

Gray-Capped Flycatcher

What better way to experience the rainforest than to have a downpour? As I sit here in Chicago cooling off from the outside heat and we have no rain in our immediate forecast, maybe I can channel enough rain thoughts from the Amazon to send the clouds our way.

I am still trying to get caught up with a reality that seems to shape-shift daily, making the photo processing project one of fits and starts at best. But one must find a way to cope.

The first day we stragglers joined the rest of our group was for the latter part of the day, and it must have been rainy for the most part because that is all my pictures seem to reflect. There was a short hike and a boat ride. The only form of transportation to and from the lodge is by canoe.

You can see the clouds building in the photo above. At some point we passed a Cayman in the water.

Cayman 7-3-2016-3781

Coming or going, I’m not sure. But the little video below these pictures is of one of my favorite tropics occurrences – that of a procession of leaf-cutter ants busy at work through a gap in the boardwalk.

Not many bird pictures taken that day, but there were a few, like the very wet Hoatzin below.

Wet Hoatzin 7-3-2016-3879

And a Striated Heron.

Yellow-Crowned Night Heron 7-3-2016-3937

Wet flycatchers, like the Boat-Billed Flycatcher on the left and the Gray-Capped Flycatcher on the right.

The late afternoon produced the downpour which is documented in one of several videos below.

There was always a Blue-and-White Swallow or two perched on the railing around the fenced-off “swimming pool” in the Napo River, accessible from the daytime dining area.

Blue-and-White Swallow 7-3-2016-3847

Blue-and-White Swallow

It’s hard to leave even a rainy day in the Amazon but I will have to continue this later.

Yellow-Crowned Night Heron 7-3-2016-3940

Side Trip on the Way to the Amazon

Collared Inca 7-2-2016-3622

Collared Inca

I got back from my trip later than planned Tuesday night and went back to work Wednesday, so I find myself catching up with my home birds, having to postpone cleaning up the predictable big mess until yesterday and today. But in between I managed to clear off my hard drive and upload all the pictures from 17 days of picture-taking in Ecuador.

Guango Lodge's Hummers and Flowerpiercers 7-2-2016-3750

These images are a few taken at the feeders at Guango Lodge in San Isidro, Ecuador. The stop at San Isidro was not a planned part of the trip, but after my flight to Miami was canceled and I spent the night in the O’Hare Airport, by the time I managed to get a flight to Quito I met with two other participants for the Amazon trip whose flights had also been delayed. We were given the option of either staying in a hotel and then taking the internal flights and boats that would get us to the rest of our group, or we could drive to Coca, staying in San Isidro one night, birding along the way so to speak, and take the boat to Sacha Lodge. We opted for the car trip and the night in San Isidro as the better option, and so we got to see some birds along the way. The lodge at San Isidro was beautiful and I hope to return someday.

White-Bellied Woodstar 7-2-2016-3675

White-Bellied Woodstar (female)

I have not managed to begin going through the rest of the photos yet. I apologize if this is in any way confusing. Basically I had combined two trips, the first to Sacha Lodge in the Amazon, and the second to the Galapagos Islands. If I had to miss a flight it’s just as well it was for the first part of the trip because it would have been impossible to catch up with the Galapagos tour. In addition, to streamline packing for two trips, the second with a lot of connections, I decided not to take my laptop with me, so I have a lot of work to do after the futility of editing through photos on the camera!

Above, Tourmaline Sunangel. Light and focus are so important when trying to capture hummingbirds in particular as their gorgets change rapidly. I wish I could have gotten better shots of this bird.

Below, a Chestnut-Breasted Coronet.

I hope to be back soon with many more photos and even a couple videos. Although I plan to do the posts chronologically I may get distracted and go back and forth between the two trips. Please bear with me.

Below, a female Glowing Puffleg and a Sword-Billed Hummingbird. I had much better pictures of the Sword-Billed last year in Colombia but it’s always worth mentioning this incredible species.

There were a couple Flowerpiercers at the Guango Lodge feeders but I only managed to capture the Masked Flowerpiercer halfway decently.

Below, Buff-Winged Starfrontlet.

Buff-Winged Starfrontlet (female) 7-2-2016-3685

Buff-Winged Starfrontlet (female)

It was wonderful to go away. I hope I can go back to Ecuador, there is so much more to see. It was also blissful to be away from the entire political mania and I find myself reluctant to dip back into that fray. I may have to access the desert island in my head for a while yet.

Collared Inca (female) 7-2-2016-3621

Tourmaline Sunangel (Female)

I hope you are staying cool somewhere this summer!

 

 

Goose Lake Natural Area and the Hebron Trail

YHBL 6-26-2016-3468

Yellow-Headed Blackbird

I saw a couple birds at the Portage a few weeks ago that reminded me of Yellow-Headed Blackbirds although they were most likely not, but the light was so bad I couldn’t determine what they were, even after enhancing bad pictures. They were definitely large blackbirds but not Grackles.

(For clarification – the pictures above are all Yellow-Headed Blackbirds and were taken at Goose Lake Natural Area in McHenry County.)

I then thought that by the time I get back from Ecuador next month, it could be too late to see the Yellow-Headed Blackbirds that nest in McHenry County close to the Wisconsin border. I went to this area last year for the first time and vowed to go back. So Sunday morning I picked up my friend Lesa and we headed up north into ensuing thunderstorms. By the time we got all the way up there about an hour and a half later, the rain was nearly over, so it was perfectly timed.

On our way out to the marsh through the wooded trail, we saw a distant Ring-Necked Pheasant and light at the end of the tunnel.

Ring-Necked Pheasant on Hebron Trail 6-26-2016-3207

There were other things happening on the gravel trail. Like feeding time for a fledgling Common Grackle.

And birds drying off after the rain.

Grackle and Brown Thrasher 6-26-2016-3225

Common Grackle on the left, Brown Thrasher on the right.

And Empidonax flycatchers, likely Alder or Willow, but unless they say something we can never be really sure.

Willow-Alder Flycatcher 6-26-2016-3214

The other rarity I lured Lesa with was Black Tern, and we definitely saw them.

Red-Winged Blackbirds were predictably everywhere.

The marsh had Pied-Billed Grebes (below, top), and some downy Hooded Mergansers (three pictures below) which I needed help to identify, not seeing any parents and forgetting that ducks other than Mallard are a possibility. I should have recognized the behavior of the Mergansers which was what drew our attention to them anyway. One had caught a fish and the others were chasing him or her.

Perhaps the nicest surprise were two Sandhill Cranes. We heard them for the longest time but could not see them until they decided to fly over us.

Predictably we saw American Goldfinch and Eastern Kingbird.

AMGO 6-26-2016-3273

American Goldfinch

EAKI 6-26-2016-3321

Eastern Kingbird

After wishing we’d brought our scopes and maybe even lawn chairs, we finally came to a little deck-like overlook with a bench, near the Song Sparrow pictured below who was sitting with a dragonfly waiting for us to quit paying attention so he could go feed someone at an undisclosed location.

SOSP 6-26-2016-3483

Song Sparrow

We were enjoying the cool cloudiness after the rain but the sun started to break through the clouds and the heat started to build, so it was time to retreat. Next time I think we have to find a way to carry a scope with us as it’s likely we missed a few birds. All in all we had about 33 species on our list.

I wish I’d thought to bring my recorder because the male Yellow-Headed Blackbird below gave us a few brief but beautiful spurts of song. Well, maybe beauty is in the ear of the listener. He sounded perhaps like a rusty crank turning. But it’s complex and probably musical to females. Here’s a link to the Cornell website if you want to hear what one sounds like. I’m entranced by the orange-colored crown on this bird.

YHBL 6-26-2016-3507

The last bird we counted was a Red-Tailed Hawk. We saw another accipiter fly over the trail on the way back but could not identify it quickly enough.

I had intended to do much more posting before my trip, but found I was still going through photos I took weeks ago! Time has flown and soon I must fly to my vacation destination.

I leave Friday for Quito, going to the Amazon and then the Galapagos. This is likely my last big trip. Although I may have said that before. So unless I manage the unthinkable and post once more before I leave, I’ll be back next month to share photos from my trip.

Sandhill Crane 6-26-2016-3242