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!

Back to Panama (in Pictures)

Gray-Cowled Wood Rail

The last two days or so of my trip to Panama in March of 2017 have been sitting on my laptop languishing, never processed… perhaps just waiting for the depths of a testy winter to remind me of warmer climes. I can’t think of a better time to revisit the tropics, at least vicariously. And I am looking forward to visiting western Panama next February.

So here are some pictures from the last day at the Canopy Lodge and then from the hotel grounds in Panama City where I had several hours before my flight home. For the most part the tanagers and the Wood Rail above were at the lodge and all the rest of the pictures were my last day in Panama City.

Golden Hooded Tanager – this was the best image I could get, he kept eluding me.

Palm Tanager
Crimson Fronted Parakeets
White-Tipped Dove
Black Vultures
Pale-Vented Pigeon
Yellow-Bellied Elaenia
Variable Seedeater
Tropical Kingbird
Common Tody Flycatcher
Lesser Kiskadee
Franklin’s Gulls
Yellow-Headed Caracara

It’s been an exhausting two weeks, but things are getting back to normal, except perhaps for the weather. Getting used to the new car, busy with work and choir rehearsals… thinking a lot about my book but not getting much writing done. Watching the days getting ever-so-slightly longer!

Return to Galapagos – Day 3

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Galapagos Green Turtle

Getting through these pictures is almost more exhausting than…being there? Than…getting to work Friday morning through the Cubs Victory Parade Crowd?

Or picking up my annual birdseed order from Chicago Audubon yesterday?

Back to the Galapagos.

Below you are looking at potentially the most exciting bird we saw on the entire trip. Why? It wasn’t on our list because it’s endangered, so we were lucky enough to be allowed to look for it. Somehow our group got permission to visit the normally off-limits part of Southern Isabela Island, known as Playa Tortuga Negra, where the Mangrove Finch still exists in declining numbers.

Also on this side of the island, a lovely Galapagos Flycatcher, interesting plants, and the ubiquitous Galapagos Mockingbird.

galapagos-mockingbird-7-12-16-7905We went back to the catamaran for an early lunch, then went snorkeling before exploring the lava rocks on the other side of the island. I tried out my underwater camera gear for the first time. I was not able to capture anything very well, but the dive was great fun. We never stayed in for very long, but I always felt like I could stay down forever.

The lava rock on the other side of Isabela, from the landing known as Punta Moreno, was a challenge to negotiate.

I’m likely not keeping all the photographs in order, but the presence of rock has a way of keeping things together. Below, Brown Pelicans on the left and a Blue-Footed Booby on the right.

We had our Galapagos Yellow Warbler for the day (below left) and a Small Ground Finch.

Below, a Striated Heron with a Sally Lightfoot Crab.

There were nesting Brown Pelicans (below), on the Playa Tortuga Negra side.

nesting-pelicans-7-12-16-8372A closer look at the Sally Lightfoot Crab and a Lava Lizard on the right. You’ll have to click on the pictures to see them better.

Two types of cactus grow in the lava rock, Lava Cactus and Candelabra Cactus. Whichever one is getting started on the left seems to prove the point.

Below, some more species endemic to the islands: the Lava Heron and Galapagos Shearwater.

The Brown Noddy on the left is not an endemic species, but the Flightless Cormorant is. Check out its very blue eye.

Where we saw the Flightless Cormorants nesting it was hard to get detail because of the intense light. So I’m glad I got to see the blue eye on the one above.

Below, the Galapagos Penguin. This was our best chance to see this delightful bird.

Marine Iguanas piled up on top of each other…

Another Galapagos species…the White-Cheeked Pintail. We saw them wherever there was fresh water. This is the only duck species on the islands.

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Galapagos Sea Lion

Again, we were pampered daily by the crew…the dinner sculpture on the left, and a sculpture of fresh towels in our cabin on the right.

Here, back home in Chicago, it is November and we are having warm, sunny weather in the 70’s. The irony leading up to the worst presidential election of my lifetime is not lost. I’m borrowing that sentiment from a sermon heard while singing in the choir this morning. Not the irony part, but life seems overloaded with irony lately.

I find I’m reminding myself to appreciate the moment as if there’s a more acute sense that I should not be taking anything for granted.

I’ll be back as soon as I can manage it. I promise. 🙂

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Something About Gulls

Heermann's, Western and Herring Gulls 9-17-15 -2367

I’ve been gone from this page far too long. Life has gotten in the way. It’s also been a time of reflection whenever I’ve had a chance to reflect without falling asleep.

Over a week ago when I went back to the pictures from the ABA Olympic Peninsula trip, I was determined to make sense out of the gull pictures, at least, even if I still didn’t have the official lists of what we saw.

A couple days ago copious emails hit my inbox with invitations to accept ebird lists from the ABA, and I haven’t had time to review them after accepting them all.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

While I was away, my Zebra Finches managed to reproduce and I have two more. The juveniles were finally weaned last week and they are just starting to show color in their beaks.

A week ago Tuesday night I had a hunch, called up PetSmart and went out to find Dudlee Ann a male Diamond Dove, whose name is Drew. I also picked up a budgie that appears to be a female, for Jeremy Casanova Green, to distract him from chasing the Zebra Finches. The experiment seems to be working out. I hope to have an update on the indoor crowd in the coming weeks.

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Possible Western Gull 9-17-15

California Gull

California Gull 9-19-15

Perhaps my favorite gull pictures were those taken from the boat when we came upon large mixed flocks of them feeding in the water. If you click on the picture to enlarge it, you will get the feeling that you are right in the middle of this gull gregariousness.

Gulls2 9-17-15-1590Barely two days before I left for the Pacific coast, I was watching this Ring-Billed Gull fly over the Chicago River on my way to work.

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Ring-Billed Gull over the Chicago River

Ring-Billed Gull 9-14-15 -1686Ring-Billed Gull 9-14-15 -1673The gulls of the Olympic Peninsula were generally much larger than Ring-Billed.

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Western Gull 9-17-15

We saw large groups of Caspian Terns as well. In general it was gratifying to see large numbers of any species.

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Caspian Terns 9-17-15

Gulls 9-17-15-1590I am proud of myself, I managed to figure out the hybrid gull below before the official list confirmed my ID.

Hybrid Glaucous Wing-Western Gull 9-17-15 -2255

Hybrid Western-Glaucous Winged Gull 9-17-15

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First-Cycle California Gull 9-17-15 -2188

First-Cycle California Gull 9-17-15

Maybe I have been overreacting to the shorter days, the cooler weather, or the quadruple dose flu shot…or maybe I’m just trying to fit in more than I have energy for. I keep waffling about the choir commitment even though I have missed only one rehearsal when I was away, and have sung in three choir Sundays. I keep waffling about whether I want to continue. It’s been a challenge to find time for the blog and playing my renewed guitars.

Back to the Pacific coast pictures…

Adult Non-Breeding Glaucous-Winged Gull

Adult Non-Breeding Glaucous-Winged Gull

Of course there were other birds and I have thrown in a few pictures…

Common Raven

Common Raven

Brown Pelican

Brown Pelican

Brown Pelican 9-19-15-2664Brown Pelican 9-19-15-2663Marbled Murrelet is a new bird for me.

Marbled Murrelet

Marbled Murrelet

This Red-Throated Loon was distant but if you click on the picture maybe you can see just a little red on its throat.

Red-Throated Loon

Red-Throated Loon

Our last day we saw many shorebirds but they were generally quite far away. I was glad to be able to get on this flock of Western Sandpipers.

Western Sandpipers

Western Sandpipers

I have not been birding a lot but I have been lucky the last two weeks taking pictures here and there of more migrants. Migration is not over yet! I will try to be back much sooner with birds I’ve seen locally.