Back to Virtual Travel

I didn’t go to The Gull Frolic this year. I decided not to when the invitations went out to Illinois Ornithological Society members last November. I was then looking forward to my trip to San Blas and the thought of coming back to stand on the lakefront in freezing temperatures after spending the early part of January in warm and sunny Mexico did not appeal to me. And anyway, my head was still full of images of Great Black-backed Gulls I had seen in New Brunswick and Grand Manan.

So this post features some of the Great Black-backeds and other species seen as we made our way from St. John to Grand Manan by ferry.

The photo below is actually a small section of a larger image. I was trying to focus on the White-Winged Scoters we were seeing from quite a distance. Or as Ann has now corrected me, they were Black Guillemots! We had some Scoters too. But this is sometimes the problem with processing photos half a year or more later.

Black Guillemots

More of the White-Winged Scoters. Oh they’re not, let’s fix this right now. They are Black Guillemots. I don’t know what happened to the Scoter. Maybe it’s in the third photograph on top — how far away we were at one point…

White-Winged Scoters

More Great Black-backed Gulls – and there’s likely a few Herring Gulls in the group shot, but it’s more like a warmer version of a Gull Frolic.

These Red-Necked Grebes were distant but delightful nonetheless.

Sooty Shearwaters don’t photograph particularly well at a distance.

A glimpse of a rugged landscape.

Great Shearwaters were abundant and easier to photograph than the Harbor Seals in the first two photographs below.

I thought this post needed a little color.

A few more Great Black-Backed Gulls.

Some of that lovely rugged stuff that grows on rock.

And an adult Herring Gull.

I will be back with the other half of this day’s photos. The focus will be on land birds. It took me a week to process the 740-or-so images on my recalcitrant pokey travel laptop. But I guess these days I can’t complain about how long it takes me to do anything.

Taking Stock

I started writing this post on Friday, after I took a break from the work email and made a trip to The Feed Store to stock up on birdseed, peanuts and spray millet for those inside and out. Working from home is so strange. In my head I am still working, but home has all its necessary distractions. I keep thinking I will have gotten used to it only when I have to go back to the office. It was still good to get out, and even better to get exercise moving everything into the house and the back porch. It was a chilly, gray day, but it is March, which my mother always used to refer to as the “adolescent” month, so I endure its changeability with her blessing.

Speaking of adolescents, I suppose the bird below could be called an adolescent Purple Finch. I am at a loss as to why I took so many photographs of it, but when in this plumage maybe the last thing I’m thinking is “Purple Finch” so it’s a reminder.

As I may have mentioned previously, I moved a lot of photographs off the laptop recently. Many were of winter scenes never shared, but I was tired of winter and it’s more than enough enduring this winter of the soul, so I have gone back to the remaining pictures from my trip to New Brunswick last August. And in that location at that time of year, there were a lot of in-between looking birds getting ready to make their first trips south for the winter.

I particularly got a kick out of this Yellow-Rumped Warbler. My friend Lesa tells me she has already seen some of these guys locally as they start to go back north. I could fantasize this was one of them.

Yellow-Rumped Warbler

I’m too lazy to go back and try to reconstruct exactly when we were wherever on August 20 but my notes say we were on the Salt Marsh Trail and Callendar’s Trail with a beach picnic area in Kouchibouguac National Park, which likely accounts for the shorebird images and others with wide open spaces for a background. We also visited the C. Irving Arboretum.

Red-Breasted Nuthatch
Short-billed Dowitchers
Common Tern
White-faced Meadowhawk (male)
Belted Kingfisher
Common Raven

Thanks for stopping by and joining this visual journey. I will be back soon with more images from last summer. Spring is coming, and with it, hope for renewal.

Cerro de San Juan / Pine-Oak Forest Birds

Bumblebee Hummingbird (female)

After my one-day bout with whatever it was, I rejoined the group for a side-trip to higher elevations to see a variety of small birds. The few that weren’t small wound up that way in my pictures for the most part, being very far away.

I was delighted to manage a few shots of the Bumblebee Hummingbirds which were very tiny.

Most accommodating were one or two White-eared Hummingbirds.

I couldn’t find Red-headed Tanager on our triplist, but that’s definitely what this is. It’s likely it was on the list and I just wasn’t back up to speed enough to stay on top of Steve’s rapid-fire recitation of what we saw at the end of the day. As far as I can tell this is still a tanager and hasn’t been reclassified, which seems to be happening constantly.

Warblers were present. It was difficult to get a clear shot of the Rufous-Capped but these are good enough for identification anyway. Notice the similarities between the Townsend’s and the Black-Throated Green below it…

Black-throated Green Warbler

I was very happy to get such good looks at a Grace’s Warbler. This is another first-timer for me.

Grace’s Warbler

Our daily Western Flycatcher…

And another new wren!

We get Hepatic Tanagers sometimes in migration. This one seemed to be attracted to a gate resembling its own color.

A coy Black-throated Magpie Jay…

Another bird we see in the spring and fall…Ruby-Crowned Kinglet.

Ruby-Crowned Kinglet

I nearly didn’t find this next bird in my photographs but when I did, even though it’s not fully visible, the beautiful contrast between the blue on its back and the yellow on the throat made me glad I managed to capture it at all.

Crescent-chested Warbler

I vaguely remember seeing a Cordilleran Flycatcher in Texas… And nice to see again a little bit better perhaps this time.

It’s always a bit of a surprise to see a bird that’s relatively common at home in the summer or during migration, like this Eastern Bluebird, and the Chipping Sparrow below it…

Chipping Sparrow

Bullock’s Oriole was another species I saw first in Texas.

Sudden escape of a Broad-winged Hawk…

I wish I lived closer to Acorn Woodpeckers.

There’s a distant Bat Falcon perched on the tree. I included this photograph more for the habitat.

Grosbeaks are so…distinctive!

Black-headed Grosbeak
American White Pelicans flying overhead

I like Pewees…

Well I think I have two more days of photographs to sift through from this trip. Meanwhile, the real-time days keep getting longer here farther north. And the birds have taken notice. I have been hearing cardinals singing on sunny mornings at least for the past two weeks, but I have never heard what I heard this morning. My Northern Cardinal was practicing his entire repertoire. He sang four different songs, one right after the other, as if he was making sure they were all still there. Wish I could have recorded it but probably no one would have believed I didn’t edit it anyway. 🙂

Afternoon on the Rio San Cristobal

Here’s the rest of the pictures from the day in my previous post. This was our first of two trips in a panga boat down the Rio San Cristobal near San Blas, Mexico. I was more often than not on the wrong side of the boat this time, but as we were slowly and quietly passed through the water, I managed to get some photos.

Though we saw mostly herons of one sort or another, the likely river raptor is the Snail Kite. This one I caught in flight. Yes, they eat snails.

We saw lots of White Ibis nearly every day, but for the most part they weren’t very easy to capture. This one stood out against the dark background from a distance.

White Ibis

It was still possible to see some of the usual passerines. Not so usual were the Red-Billed Pigeons. I wish I’d gotten a closer look at them.

Western Flycatcher
Red-Billed Pigeons

Green Herons are some of the most cooperative subjects. I suspect they are really focused on their quest for food, to not mind me clicking away.

For good measure, more birds I will likely see this spring and summer: Great Egret, Black-Crowned Night-Heron and Great Blue Heron.

Great Blue Heron

It was a real treat to see this Bare-Throated Tiger Heron out in the open.

Little Blue Herons aren’t so blue until they are adults, like the one below.

Little Blue Heron

As dusk curtailed our excursion, we managed to capture good looks at a nocturnal species, the Northern Potoo.

Northern Potoo

A couple more of two foraging herons…

It’s especially nice to look at these photographs today, as a distraction from the accumulating snow that continues into the afternoon, to be followed by drastically dropping temperatures on my way home from work. It’s supposed to be somewhere between 1-2 degrees Fahrenheit tomorrow morning, not counting the windchill, when I walk to the train. But all is not lost. We warm up on Saturday so it can start snowing again. Maybe I can catch a few photographs of the hearty goldfinches at my feeders. The snow was beautiful this morning but it was too early for decent light.

I wish you safety and warmth wherever you are.

Ah, the Sewage Ponds

It may sound awful, but sewage ponds are a good place to look for birds. And that is exactly where we went on our first morning outing in San Blas.

If I can trust my camera roll, the first birds we saw were an assortment of seedeaters and kingbirds, but I have given first position to this very attractive Groove-Billed Ani, because I never noticed the unique woven-looking pattern of the nape feathers before.

And now, the Seedeaters…

Tropical Kingbirds can be good subjects. Below this one is a Thick-billed Kingbird for comparison, but the name doesn’t seem all that descriptive to me.

Tropical Kingbird
Thick-billed Kingbird

Those of you who know me know I adore Crows, so I was thrilled to observe a new species doing Crow Stuff.

I don’t think a day went by without a Zone-tailed Hawk, either…

I was impressed with the graceful flight of a Wood Stork.

This falcon could have been laughing at me for as long as I waited for him to turn his head for a profile shot.

Laughing Falcon

Unlike my last Texas trip, I don’t recall hearing the incessant chatter of a Bell’s Vireo, but at least we saw this one.

Bell’s Vireo

Great Kiskadees were ever-present but nearly impossible to photograph. I wonder why I bothered with this one.

Great Kiskadee
Inca Doves
Great-tailed Grackle

Not sure I have any better images coming of Roseate Spoonbills, but here’s one flying.

All these species would have been way too many for me to get my head around without taking pictures. A new woodpecker!

Below, what an endearing little flycatcher for such a long name. I confess I don’t know what makes it “beardless.”

Not a day went by without a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher distraction. Some days were Blue-grey though.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

I think we had a record number of pygmy owls on this trip.

Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl

The remaining images are…more birds seen.

Black-chinned Hummingbird (female)
White-faced Ibis (immature)
Willet

This Yellow-Winged Cacique was having a bad hair day. Lovely flower though.

I didn’t manage to photograph many butterflies with a 100-400mm lens, but these are a few that we saw. I’ve put the Vermilion Flycatcher with them because unlike previous trips, I never got close enough to one to do it justice. I will try to identify the rest of the butterflies when my new butterfly book arrives…

Raptors aplenty – Short-Tailed Hawk is new for me.

Crested Caracara

I was going to include the afternoon river excursion photos, but I think they deserve their own space. So my chronicle of this day in San Blas will continue soon.

The Road to San Blas

Streak-backed Oriole

We had beautiful weather for the entire trip, which made the drive from Puerto Vallarta to San Blas, Mexico, along the Pacific coast in the state of Nayarit, that much better. It’s a long drive, and we made several stops along the way to look for birds. Some were familiar, like Yellow Warbler, Nashville Warbler, and Summer Tanager which visit my habitat during spring and summer.

Nashville Warbler
Summer Tanager (in a too-shady spot!)

We had San Blas Jays and Golden-Fronted Woodpeckers in abundance. The Golden-Fronted are common in Texas, but the San Blas Jays are endemic to Mexico.

We encountered some doves and Painted Buntings foraging along a dirt road…

Inca Doves, Ruddy Ground-Dove, Common Ground-Doves
White-Winged Dove – in a non-characteristic view

I don’t know where I saw this heron, but the camera doesn’t lie, so we must have encountered it on that day. I don’t see Yellow-Crowned Night-Herons very often, especially juveniles.

Juvenile Yellow-Crowned Night-Heron

At some point it was temporarily cloudy along the way. So you may wonder why I am including these very dark pictures. The Cinnamon-Rumped Seedeater is of some significance in that it has been split from the White-Collared Seedeater, which makes it an endemic species. And such a close encounter with some Black Vultures seemed friendly enough.

One of many Grayish Saltators on the trip.

Grayish Saltator

We would see Sinaloa Wrens again. Which didn’t stop us from searching for a species called “Happy Wren” which we heard quite often, but hardly saw it once.

This could have been our only Gila Woodpecker. I had thought it was already on my life list but it turns out I haven’t seen it before, except in a field guide, so I am glad I have proof.

Gila Woodpecker

We would see Rufous-bellied Chachalacas again, but for a large bird they are amazing difficult to capture.

Our first Citreoline Trogon. I was surprised to find I actually got a fairly decent picture.

Citreoline Trogon

Later in the day, we were on the beach, and this lone Willet gave us good, if distant, views as it expertly navigated the shore.

Great-tailed Grackle Tree
a perched Magnificent Frigatebird

An assortment of beach bums were gathered – Brown Pelicans, Black Vultures, Magnificent Frigatebirds, various Herons – I think a man had left them some food.

Not to be forgotten, a proud Turkey Vulture

We were assured all cormorants would be Neo-tropical…and most of the terns were Royal.

Before we checked into our hotel, we stopped at a historical site, El fuerte de la Contaduria, when we arrived in San Blas. It’s situated on a cliff overlooking the ocean. I wish I had paid more attention to the historic significance which our guide, Steve, was trying to impart to us, but I was pretty tired from traveling by then. I believe the statue is of Don Jose Maria Mercado.

One thing I do remember is Steve reading the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem, The Bells of San Blas.

A version of what happened at the fort is nicely summarized here.

I hope to make some progress over the weekend. I am fading into the sunset to process more pictures.

San Blas Bookends

It’s been a longer haul than usual, and I apologize, but I find myself finally ready to start writing some posts from my trip to San Blas, Mexico, which occurred officially between January 6 and 14, 2020. I arrived a day early to take advantage of the weekend, since the tour didn’t begin until Monday. The myriad images in this first post are actually from the very first and last days of the tour. That leaves several days in between with more photographs to sort through.

The trip started in Puerto Vallarta. I went for a walk the morning of the 6th and came back for lunch to sit around the pool area which had its own visiting Green Iguana. Click on the images if you want to see any of them more clearly.

The birds in the immediate hotel vicinity were… a Eurasian Collared Dove, later in the afternoon, an Inca Dove, Great-Tailed Grackles. Then there was a nice Black-Chinned Hummingbird feeding on the red flowers.

Eurasian Collared Dove
Inca Dove

On my way to the beach in the morning, I encountered a tree full of Orchard Orioles, Streak-Backed Orioles and Yellow-Winged Caciques, the latter two species, for all practical purposes, endemic to the region. There were also Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers everywhere. And of course, Yellow Warblers. Now you know where they go for the winter. In any event it was a good start for birds seen practically every day.

At the beach, there were some people things going on…

And the reminder of countless daily Magnificent Frigatebirds…

In the afternoon of Monday the 6th, the group met up to go on a short walk with our guide, none other than the incomparable Steve Howell, who is also the author of the impressive field guide, A Guide to the Birds of Mexico and Northern Central America. We were fortunate to see our first Ferruginous Pygmy Owl, below. The Western Flycatcher, Grayish Saltator and Rufous-Backed Thrush were introductory birds we would see often throughout the tour.

Ferruginous Pygmy Owl
Western Flycatcher (a/k/a Pacific Slope Flycatcher)
Grayish Saltator
Rufous-backed Thrush (an endemic)

Now to the images from our last morning of birding. I am starting off with sketchy-but-the-best-I-could-do-at-quite-a-distance images of the bird that inspired my decision to go on this trip altogether. The Black-Capped Vireo, below, is a beautiful little vireo I missed on the trip to Southwest Texas last spring. I decided to see if I might be able to meet it on its wintering grounds, and this trip to San Blas seemed to be the best opportunity.

I did get a much better first look at the vireo on the Friday of our trip, thanks to Steve who knew I really wanted to see it. I was sick after breakfast the day before so I missed an entire day of the trip, but this made up for it. In any event, I decided not to try taking a picture of it the first time in case I might send it flying a lot sooner than the wonderful view I had.

Other vireos from that last morning I will likely never see again are below, the Plumbeous Vireo, and the Golden Vireo, which is an endemic to Mexico.

Steve found us another pygmy owl, this one, the Colima, also an endemic species.

Colima Pygmy Owl

These are not in any kind of order… we spent some time at the beach that last day.

Royal Tern and (mostly) Heermann’s Gulls

We had seen Magpie Jays off and on flying about but on the last day, this was a rare treat to be able to actually capture one doing its thing. The last Magpie Jays I saw were much closer, hanging out at the breakfast table at the hotel in Nicaragua, which is also very much what jays do, I suppose, depending on their habitat.

We had several Grey Hawks on the trip, but this might have been the only juvenile.

Juvenile Grey Hawk

I still have to tally up all the new species I added to my “life list” but I’m pretty sure this was the first time I have seen a Western Tanager. This one appears to be a young male bird.

One more endemic – the Rusty-Crowned Ground Sparrow. Such a long name! It’s quite flashy-looking for a sparrow, though.

We were taunted by Orange-Fronted Parakeets and other psittacidae throughout the trip, but it was extra special to see these two perched and looking at us.

Orange-fronted Parakeets

I haven’t seen a Masked Tityra in a while. Nice to get a good look at this one.

Masked Tityra
Social Flycatcher
We saw plenty of its cousins, the Great Kiskadees, but Socials are special to me, in particular because now I will always remember their song as “tortilla, tortilla, tortilla” – thanks to Steve.
One more from the Orange-Fronted Parakeets

So I hope to be back with more to report a little sooner. My travel laptop seems to be cooperating, and it probably likes the attention it doesn’t get the rest of the year. I’ve gotten over whatever it was that attacked me, although I think it took maybe a full two weeks to feel totally sound. Work, choir, the birds at home, everything is back in full swing. Thanks for stopping by!