While I Was Looking For Last Year’s Tax Return…

Iguana 2-14-09


It used to be I’d run into a box of old photographs and be whisked away to the memories contained therein. Now, over the weekend while I was looking for whatever media device on which I managed to save last year’s tax return, after exhausting every flash drive I’ve been able to find to no avail, I found an unlabeled CD with…pictures from February of 2009, a trip to Belize and more specifically, a visit to found Tikal in Guatemala!  In particular, Tikal was a magical place. So here’s what I found on the CD.

Collared Aracaris w Grapes Tikal 2-20-09

Collared Aracaris (Tikal)

Green Kingfisher 2-15-09

Green Kingfisher

Turtle 2-15-09

I am having a hard time identifying this turtle but it’s lovely.

Black-collared Hawk (Lamanai)

Snail Kite (I just lightened this up a bit from the original)

Spider Monkey

Boat-billed Heron

Keel-billed Toucan (Tikal)

Black-headed Trogon (Tikal)


Hepatic Tanager

Bare-throated Tiger Heron

Great Kiskadee

Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher

Red-Lored Parrot (Tikal)

Oscellated Turkey (Tikal) – my favorite

Aztec Parakeet-Tikal-2-21-09

Aztec Parakeet (Tikal)

I’ll be back as soon as life slows down a bit. More to come. In the meantime, I hope you find as peaceful, brief, and colorful a diversion in these pictures as I did.

Green Heron

Recycling the Unattached

Some of my original Zebra Finches from years past (the cleaner pot rack alone dates the photo)

I’m almost totally over the rhino-plus virus, well enough to get through what seemed like endless commitments. Now as my mind clears along with my sinuses, I am feeling remiss in keeping up with this commitment, so when I remembered this morning there is always an opportunity to fall back on those “Unattached” photographs that clog up my media library, I decided to select a few at random just for fun. A couple from the Galapagos, not so long ago, which reminds me I still have a couple days left from my trip I never covered…


Yellow Warbler – Galapagos – July 2016



Magnificent Frigatebird, Galapagos, July 2016

The three below are from a trip to East Africa in 2013.

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Gray-Crowned Cranes, November, 2013, Tanzaniya


Burchell’s Zebra, November 2013

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Pearl-Spotted Owlet, November 2013

The sunset below probably happened in Belize at Crooked Tree in March of 2014…I’ll be back with more recent endeavors soon.. Thanks for following my meanderings. I hope you enjoyed this little blast from the past.

Coming Soon to a Hummingbird Feeder Near You

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Male Ruby-Throated Hummingbird

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are the most numerous of the neotropical migrant hummingbirds. If there is anything you ever wanted to know about Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds, all you need do is visit Dr. Bill Hilton Jr.’s Operation Rubythroat pages on the Web.

Having said that, after following Bill’s posts from time to time on another of his main pages, This Week At Hilton Pond, for years through the Birdchat Listserv and then directly to my email, I became intrigued when I realized that he was leading trips to Costa Rica for volunteers to help with his bird banding project which specifically targets Ruby-Throats (“RTHU”).

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Female RTHU

Bill’s last Costa Rica trip coincided with my safari last November, so I explored his other options, and was intrigued by the idea of going to Nicaragua this spring. I signed up, paid for the trip, and then unbeknownst to me, the moment I landed in Nairobi I got a call from Holbrook Travel in Florida. My brain was not ready to process who I knew in Florida when I was trying to figure out Nairobi, so I didn’t return the call until I got back to the States. As it turned out, I had a delightful conversation with Debbie Sturdivant Jordan who inevitably told me that the Nicaragua trip was being canceled due to lack of participants, and would I be interested in Belize?

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Bill Hilton teaching visiting students

I had been in Belize before, but I said yes, because by this time I was simply intrigued by the whole idea of what it would like to assist a bird-banding operation and get to stay in one place, soak up the birds around the lodge and learn a few things. And the thought of seeing some birds again is very attractive to me: I am not obsessed with building my list. Maybe I’m becoming even more philosophical about this direction… (“How many birds have you seen?” “I don’t know, how many books do you own?”)

It’s a short trip by comparison to a birding tour, and just as you’re beginning to get the hang of it and start feeling like you could do it every day for the rest of your life, it’s over. I am not trying to sugarcoat it: it’s work getting down to breakfast every morning at 5:30 and onto the vehicle by 6:00 to drive to the banding location and start setting up nets. You’re out all morning monitoring or helping at the banding table. But you’re back for lunch and after that there are planned activities or you can relax.

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At the banding table

I have never been much of a spectator. I like to be doing things. So maybe from that standpoint this is a natural thing for me to be doing. But the other thing that really intrigued me was feeling like I was getting to know some birds really well, better than I ever could by simply going out and looking at them. It’s more like hanging out with birds to me, which is what I’m used to anyway at home, where they are my companions. Multiply this feeling a million times and you might know what Bill Hilton must feel like by now with all the intimate experience he’s had with birds literally in his hands.

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After-Hatch-Year RTHU

Suffice it to say that I learned more than I ever expected, and that left me only wanting to know more, and to be a better participant next time. I still have to get the hang of taking down the nets…

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Attaching the band…the feet are so small, and the bands so tiny, the only way to handle these birds is to stuff them in a little cardboard tube!

I could go on, and from time to time I will try to write more about other facets of the trip, but I do want to leave the presentation to William Hilton Jr. who has just published a wonderful and detailed recap of the entire trip to Belize, as only he can, at this link. And while I’m a bit embarrassed seeing all the pictures that have me in them, it’s not deterring me from going on Operation Rubythroat’s trip to Costa Rica this November.

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Bill is a born educator. He is a former high school biology teacher, and he has never stopped teaching, going on to win awards and an honorary doctorate. I learned so much in one week I am compelled to go back to learn more. Perhaps the biggest impression I got from the entire experience was the importance of the data that he collects from banding the birds. You might think he’s keeping track of individuals for purposes of counting or aging re-caught birds, but it goes far beyond that.

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Bill with the local school kids, at a net

Bill is on a mission to get local students interested enough in birds to become guides, so that they will have employment and in turn, habitat will be preserved for the birds. His data prove that birds have site fidelity and return to the same place year after year after year. If you have sometimes wondered whether certain individual birds that visit your yard every spring or fall are the same ones, your hunch is probably correct.

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A sheet of bands for RTHUs – each band has a different number, and the bands have to be cut separately, filed down, and bent into shape to fit onto the birds foot.

Bill told a story about going back to Belize one year and all the trees had been cleared from a particular location where he had banded the previous year, near the hurricane shelter. Loss of habitat is devastating to birds. Whoever cleared the lot probably thought they had a good reason for doing so, but loss of habitat due to human activity probably has the most negative impact on birds, particularly during migration when they need to fuel up for long flights. Bill has found another location (“Hurricane 2”) and he hopes to instill the importance of preserving it in the hearts and minds of the local students.

After the rigors of banding, which include weighing, sexing, assessing feather molt, measuring wing length, judging for fat deposits…

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Bill offers sugar-water to the Ruby Throated Hummingbirds before he releases them.

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I leave you with this thought: two male Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds weigh about as much as a nickel. And yet they migrate hundreds of miles every spring and fall. It boggles the mind. This is what keeps Bill going. And will keep me going back.



Crooked Tree Lagoon: Black-Crowned Night Heron

Black-Crowned Night Heron

Black-Crowned Night Heron

This week, going through the Belize photographs (almost done!), I found this series of Black-Crowned Night Heron pictures, and decided the bird deserves its own post, which almost reminds me of a fashion layout. I set the first photo as my desktop background at work so I can be greeted by a little cheer as I sign in every morning (work and the weather being what they are lately).

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I have seen Black-Crowned Night Herons before but never like this one. If there was a momentary realization that the heron was hanging out in some astounding scenery, I think my autopilot kicked in and just kept shooting as many pictures as I could. These pictures were taken the day we went on a boat ride around the lagoon that surrounds Crooked Tree and its environs.

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Above was the first sighting of the heron. Although the photographs were in sequence I cannot remember now, three weeks later, if this was the exact same individual. Although I think it’s likely that as the boat moved, it flushed the heron and the bird flew ahead of us to land eventually in the flowering shrubs.

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So at a greater distance the heron was in a less colorful habitat which made for less attractive pictures.

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There were pictures of other birds between these two settings, but I don’t think the boat had moved all that far. I’d like to think after the heron saw us with cameras it decided to go for the best background for its photo shoot.

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If anyone knows this shrub, please tell me what it is. I bought a beautiful little book on the Trees of Belize by Kate Harris at the Audubon Society in Crooked Tree, but so far have not been able to locate this plant by pictures of its flowers and leaves. (Birds this life; in my next life, plants.)

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I won’t tell you how many pictures I took of the heron at this particular spot but I think the bird almost looks quite pleased with itself. Close scrutiny being what it is, though, eventually it was time to move on. The heron took the first cue.

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It’s going to be a busy weekend, but I will try to accomplish my post about the focus of the trip, which hopefully will coincide with our fearless leader’s report as well.

Is It Spring Yet?

McGinnis Slough

McGinnis Slough

Any prediction of warmer temperatures and sunshine, however brief, is all it takes to make me a little nuts these days, especially if it falls on a weekend. So Sunday I tested the forecast for the last days of March and headed toward the Palos Forest Preserves of Cook County, starting with my favorite, McGinnis Slough.

Red-Winged Blackbird

Red-Winged Blackbird

Red-Winged Blackbirds were singing on territory, but much of the water was still frozen. I managed to see ten species of ducks, including Ring-Necked, Lesser Scaup, Gadwall, American Black Duck, Mallard, Bufflehead, Common Merganser, Northern Shoveler, Blue-Winged Teal and Green-Winged Teal, plus American Coots and there was one Trumpeter Swan at the far side of the larger expanse of water.

Canada Geese at McGinnis

Canada Geese at McGinnis

Not much in the way of land birds, save a few skittish Song Sparrows

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

and a Red-Bellied Woodpecker

Red-Bellied Woodpecker

Red-Bellied Woodpecker

Even the closer ducks at McGinnis’s south end were still too far away to photograph, but that never stops me.

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From McGinnis, I went next to Saganashkee Slough, where American White Pelicans and Common Loon had been reported. I saw neither, but added Red-Breasted Merganser, Hooded Merganser, White-Winged Scoter, Pin-Tailed Duck and Common Goldeneye to my duck list. There was also a distant Horned Grebe and an immature Bald Eagle soaring over the water. It was even more useless to photograph anything here but I’m still including a picture of a lot of white blobs that were Herring and Ring-Billed Gulls.

Saganashkee Slough

Saganashkee Slough

On the way home, I stopped at The Chicago Portage to see if anything new was going on since last week. It was midday so I didn’t expect to see many birds. But there was a lot of melt and mud.

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And a White-Breasted Nuthatch, heard first and seen at a distance later.

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Also heard before seen, a male Belted Kingfisher. This guy was really far away but the camera saw him. I think this might be the first one I have actually seen at the Portage.

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I decided to capture a close-up of some lichens growing on a dead stump, the only green going on.

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So much for the early spring report, it’s back to finishing going through my Belize pictures. It won’t be long before McGinnis is full of Great Blue Herons like this one. Only the vegetation will look a bit different… 🙂

Great Blue Heron, Belize 3-12-14

Great Blue Heron, Belize 3-12-14


A Little Gray-Necked Wood Rail, Please

Gray-Necked Wood-Rail, Belize, March 9, 2014

Gray-Necked Wood Rail, Belize, March 9, 2014

I don’t know, would the first thing you noticed about this bird be its Gray Neck? This most spectacular-looking creature made itself available nearly every day we walked by a partially flooded section near the road not far from the lodge where we were staying. I think it would take me several pages to accurately describe what this bird looks like and I still could not convey it. But I don’t know if I would start with the gray neck as being the most striking feature…

Check out the black that runs under his belly and up his tail. I mean, is this bird fancy or what?

As I recall there were several comments among participants about desiring these colors for interior decorating schemes.

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If it weren’t for the pink legs, maybe this bird would be well-camouflaged against this chaotic background.

A Bird in the Hand…

White-Eyed Vireo

White-Eyed Vireo

If anyone knows how much birds hate to be handled, it’s me. My indoor birds remind me of this constantly, and I don’t pick them up unless I absolutely have to. I’m not trying to offend anyone by posting these pictures.



But before I get on to writing in a future post about the primary reason for why I was in Belize–which was to be part of a group of 7 volunteers that helped Operation Rubythroat set up mist nets to catch and band Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds and transcribe banding data…and all the reasons why they are doing this…

Black-and-White Warbler

Black-and-White Warbler

I wanted to share some pictures of other birds banded that I never could have seen so closely.

Hooded Warbler

Hooded Warbler

Suffice it to say I learned a lot in 8 days.

Northern Parula

Northern Parula

For those of you still uncomfortable with the handling of the birds, we checked the nets constantly, moving birds still captive and waiting to be banded or shown out of the sunlight, and they survived well. I believe there was one casualty in a net on our last day, which was cut short due to inclement weather. I suppose the biggest testimonial to survival was the birds, already banded, recaptured from previous years.

Northern Waterthrush

Northern Waterthrush

Louisiana Waterthrush

Louisiana Waterthrush

The Northern Waterthrush was one of perhaps three or more we banded, but the Louisiana Waterthrush was the first one ever seen at Crooked Tree in Belize. See if you can tell the difference this close up. The distinguishing features are still subtle, but the Northern looks more “yellow” than the Louisiana and has denser streaking.

Tennessee Warbler banded 3-9-14

Tennessee Warbler banded 3-9-14

Tennessee Warbler banded 3-10-14

Tennessee Warbler banded 3-10-14

Compare the difference between these two Tennessee Warbler individuals. The one above is a male not finished with his molt and the one below is most likely a female. Banders can consult The Identification Guide to North American Birds: Part 1 and Part 2 by Peter Pyle to help distinguish between the sexes by length of the wing and tail feathers.

Male Yellow Warbler

Male Yellow Warbler

You may have noticed that all the migrant warblers are not quite as decked out as they will be by the time they reach us. This Yellow Warbler was just developing his rufous streaks.

Clay-Colored Thrush, National Bird of Costa Rica

Clay-Colored Thrush, National Bird of Costa Rica

The last bird on this post is not a neotropical migrant and therefore was not banded. But I thought it best expressed any indignation at being handled, for all the other birds banded on this page. And I probably never would have seen the beautiful streaking on its throat, in the field.

One in a Vermilion

Vermilion Flycatcher

Vermilion Flycatcher

Up until last week, every Vermilion Flycatcher I ever ran into in my travels was at least a good 200 yards away.

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Now I have been to one of the best places in the world, maybe, to hang out with Vermilion Flycatchers: Crooked Tree in Belize, and more specifically, Bird’s Eye View Lodge, where at least two pairs of these gorgeous birds were in the vicinity.

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I would walk downstairs from the rooms and around the back and there he would be, greeting me cheerily to his territory.

Female Vermilion Flycatcher

Female Vermilion Flycatcher

She was a bit more shy, as girl birds tend to be, but even she was closer than 200 yards away. (Click on the picture for a closer view.)

Female Vermilion Flycatcher

Female Vermilion Flycatcher

And the day I caught her doing her toilette after a bath, she was downright close.

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Our last day it rained steadily, sometimes offering downpours. He took advantage of the free shower.

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I hope to be back soon with many more birds from Belize and a recap of my brief but engrossing experience. I have succumbed to a rhinovirus after coming home late Saturday and cleaning all day Sunday. I went back to work today… And I have to get up early to vote before I go back to work tomorrow. So I’m not feeling too chipper but am glad I went to Belize, where it was 80+ degrees!

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Belize – Past and Future


Ocellated Turkey

I have to get up in a couple hours to leave in the middle of the night for the airport. I wasn’t planning on getting this down-to-the-wire but as the saying goes, stuff happens. Anyway I hope I am basically ready enough and have not forgotten anything important. Hope to be back very soon with updates to some of the photos reproduced here that I found from my first trip to Belize in 2009. At the time I was using an EOS 40D and a Tamron 70-300mm lens, I think.


Hepatic Tanager

As far as I can tell the forecast is for mid-80 degree weather with a 20% or so chance of rain. Quite a difference from what I’ve been getting at home the last couple months.

Boat-Billed Heron

Boat-Billed Heron

I hope to be back to the blog in a week and a half with a full report.