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!

Double Vision…Deal With It!

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Wire-Tailed Manakin

I got so excited thinking about how much better I was going to see after cataract surgery, I completely forgot to ask about the length of time and inconveniences of recovery. My timing could have been better, perhaps, like after fall migration, not during. As it stands right now, my current prescription does not work with my right eye, so in between trying to figure out which eye to read with, I have been working on eye-hand coordination with my left eye behind the camera lens and my right index finger on the shutter button. I keep imagining headaches but I’m too lazy to indulge.

Beyond inconveniences like staring too long at name-tags trying to read them and place them with faces on Saturday night at my 50th high school reunion (well, if I had cataract surgery, you probably already deduced I’m not a spring chicken), I’m finding at least my distance vision is improved and I think I can still see with binoculars. After a visit to the eye doctor this morning, I go back for another checkup in two weeks and then I think I can get another right lens for my glasses which will fit with my new vision and then I will quit complaining about all this. “All the better to see you with, my dear.”

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Donacobius – If you saw my post from the Colombian Andes last year this bird might look familiar.

Luckily these pictures were all taken the last day and a half in the Ecuadoran Amazon when both eyes were working about the same. This completes my recap of the Amazon trip.

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The Boardwalk

On the way to the Wire-Tailed Manakin, accessed by walking a boardwalk trail directly adjacent to our rooms at Sacha Lodge, we stopped by Mariposa Lodge, a butterfly house where butterflies are actually raised and shipped to butterfly enclosures all over the world. Below are a few I was able to photograph.

From the canoe, an Osprey and some Large-Billed Terns.

Also from the canoe, this Hoatzin, looking simply fabulous.

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Hoatzin

Here are a few pictures from the boat down the Napo River as we were leaving the lodge. I was saddened by the fact that this once pristine wilderness is now, of course, exploited for oil. There aren’t too many places left on earth that have not been touched by drilling or fracking, I’m afraid. I was encouraged to hear the Amazonian Ecuadorans protesting further drilling at Yasuni National Park and I hope they succeed in stopping it. Ecuadorans have also joined the Standing Rock Sioux in North Dakota to protest the Dakota Access Pipeline and protect the Missouri River. The world is shrinking rapidly and we are all in this mess together.

On our last morning, we saw our last Trogon, the Collared Trogon below on the left, and after trying to find a White-Chinned Jacamar all week we finally did see one, on the right.

Below, an Oriole Blackbird and a Grayish Saltator. And two Blue-Grey Tanagers.

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Blue-Grey Tanagers

There were two of the Wire-Tailed Manakins, this is likely just another picture of the same one. They weren’t displaying or dancing but they’re still awfully cute.

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I think I just found a new profile picture for Facebook.

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I’ll be back as soon as I can, in between eye drops.

Saved by the Birds – Again

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Costa Rica, much warmer than Chicago

The pain of losing my housemates upon returning from Costa Rica hits like a heavy weight as I prepare the birds’ breakfast every morning. I am still plenty angry too, but there is no gain in holding that inside of me. I had hoped to manage some photographs more related to this post before publishing but it didn’t happen, so I’ve mixed in a few photos prescient of the Costa Rica posts to come.

Blue and Dudley, with my cell phone last night

Blue and Dudley, with my cell phone last night

Not having much time yet to observe the new charges but very interested in their individual abilities to adapt to the new environment, the survivors and each other, I am pleased to report that so far, so good. I was most worried about the Diamond Dove making an adjustment – to be sure I have never had one of these birds before and am not exactly sure why I brought him home, except that I have a soft spot for doves, it’s a beautiful bird, and, well, maybe I even wondered if my last remaining budgie wouldn’t feel so put out if he was not the only single. The dove is more settled in every day, and even might have said something as early as Tuesday morning while I was putting food in the second large cage.  It was such a strange, loud sound and I wasn’t sure where it came from, but I could not connect it to anything going on outside.By Tuesday night he was cooing along with the music on the radio. I named him Dudley last night after Dudley Do-Right, one of my favorite cartoon characters. He follows Blue, the budgie, around, and may even have a crush on him (her? – too old to tell anymore). I can hardly wait to play music this weekend and see what transpires. And I hope Dudley gets more used to my real camera so I can take better pictures of him because he’s quite lovely.

Stuck in the office all day Tuesday while the reports of Sandhill Cranes flying over by the hundreds and thousands crammed the email–and I don’t even have a window to look out of–I was dispatched to Walgreen’s to buy some air freshener, so I chose the store that was on the corner of Randolph and State. Waiting at the light to cross State Street, almost before the light changed, I looked up and saw perhaps 250 Sandhill Cranes flying overhead – very high, and in a beautiful extended V formation, floating on the air currents, and felt redeemed.

Gray Catbird, Thompson Center

Gray Catbird, Thompson Center

Wednesday morning I packed my camera and lens in the camera backpack, because my regular backpack has ceased to fasten around my waist after the trip to Costa Rica. Even though I was absolutely sure I would have no opportunity to use the camera, it seemed silly to be using a camera backpack without a camera in it. I got off the train and walked 6 blocks before a woman stopped me to tell me the back of my pack was open! Not thinking (again), I slung the pack off my shoulder to check on it (I should have asked her to zip it up, I suppose) and the camera fell out onto the sidewalk. What More Could Go Wrong? was my sentiment at the time. But I thanked her, put the camera back in the pack, started going through the mental exercise of replacement/repair…and then, as I approached the Thompson Center, I decided to do the sensible thing and take the camera out, attach the lens, and see if it was still working. After readjusting the function wheel, it seemed to be fine (maybe that’s why those Canons are so heavy, they are encased in armor). I shot a couple sidewalk scenes, and then started walking along the planted berm which is full of scrubby little yews, cigarette butts, garbage, and birds – invariably a Rock Pigeon and House Sparrow hangout. Except a Gray Catbird jumped out in front of me and let me take its picture before darting back into the yews. I found my cell phone and reported it to ebird. I am glad I got a picture because the sighting is unusual for this time of year, as I suspected. I have checked every morning since and cannot find the bird, so this was its farewell photo.

A little more poking around produced one or two White-Throated Sparrows–a bit less unusual–and plenty of the predictable pigeons and House Sparrows. But then it occurred to me that if my pack had not been open, and I had not dropped the camera, I would most likely have walked right by the berm without noticing the Catbird. So the birds have triumphed again in making sense under even the most ridiculous circumstances.

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All of this chaos has caused me to sit back and take stock of where I am and where I really want to be. Instead of plunging ahead into the day-to-day-never-ending-existence that I inhabit. I am reminded of the more important work that I really want to get done–my work–and I am trying to find new resolve to make the time off from trips and some inclement weather birding count for something, for a while, and see if I can at least write the book that has been on my mind the past few years – if not the opera. It’s the least I can do in memory of all my dearly departed bird friends. I tried to take pictures of the temperature this morning with the cell phone so I could include them in this post, but it was apparently too cold for the phone to take the picture. As of 8:00 AM it was 22 degrees Fahrenheit or -6 Centigrade.

Two New Zebra Finch Guys

Two New Zebra Finch Guys (again with the cell last night) – awaiting Zebra Finch Girls

I will be back soon with pictures from Costa Rica, progress reports on the evolving indoor crowd, and eventually some winter birding in Chicago area too.

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Here’s looking at you, from a Grayish Saltator

Thanks to all my followers and commenters and dear friends who are a great comfort and also more inspiration to carry on. 🙂