Wednesday, July 29, 2015
El Sumidero was so special and with better weather, we had many more birds and better photo opportunities. Probably my most favorite bird of the day was the Barred Antshrike. It was a bird that I had seen on the color plates of my Mexico bird guide and was fascinated by its erected crest. It belongs to a large family of birds called Antbirds. This bird is definitely not the most colorful, but the male's overall black and white barring is still quite spectacular in my opinion.
Even though the Barred Antshrike was my personal favorite bird of the day, probably the more special bird for everyone in the group including the guide, was a Blue Seedeater. A fairly uncommon bird who's abundance and distribution is closely tied to seeding bamboo. The guides had scouted many of these places in advance and knew that one was in the vicinity of one of the trails we explored. Sure enough, we were able to get it to make an appearance. Another bird that was definitely not the most colorful, but a great bird to add to my list.
We were fortunate to find a couple of species of trogons in this area as well. This a really cool family of birds and the Elegant Trogon that is found in Arizona is probably one of, if not the most, sought after bird in AZ as no other trogons can be found in the United States and the Elegant Trogon is a breeder in southeast AZ. But on this trip, we had a couple of other species to add to our lists; the Collared Trogon and the Gartered Trogon.
One of the new hummingbirds that I was able to add to my list was Canivet's Emerald. Emeralds are small hummingbirds that are mostly a bright emerald green with straight bills that are red, tipped with black, and tails are forked. Canivet's Emerald male has a deeper forked tail than the female.
Orioles are sometimes a confusing group of birds and some can be hard to identify. The Bar-winged Oriole is one such bird. It reminds me of the Scott's Oriole that we have in Arizona, but there are subtle differences. The Bar-winged Oriole has only 1 white wing bar and 1 yellow wing bar whereas the Scott's Oriole has 2 white wing bars. The Bar-winged Oriole also has a shorter and slightly decurved bill compared to a long straight bill on Scott's Oriole. Ranges are also quite different so it helps to know what to expect in your location. We were lucky to add this bird to our list as well.
And just like my first post on El Sumidero, we have more butterflies to add to this post. Once again, I identified them to the best of my ability, but could use help if anyone is reading this and cares to comment on them.
One of the Swallowtail species
Mexican Silver Spot
A species of skipper
Tropical Checkered Skipper
It is really hard to ignore butterflies when they come in all shapes, colors, and sizes. And some of them can prove to be a bit tricky to photograph, especially since I only have a fixed 300 mm zoom lens. Both Chris and I liked El Sumidero so much that once all the planned trips were complete and most had departed for the states, we returned to this spot on our own. That will be covered in a future blog post.
Tuesday, July 28, 2015
A new field trip and a new location after 2 days of birding in high mountainous rain/cloud forests; El Sumidero National Park just north of Tuxtla Gutiérrez. It was the first full day with no rain and much better lighting and viewing. This turned out to be an awesome place as I added 30 new species to my life list in just one day. Besides the birds that we found here, it also brought home the awesomeness of Mexico's butterflies. With so many birds from this location, I have decided to split this up into 2 different posts.
We arrived early and it was not long before we found one of my target birds for this trip, the White-throated Magpie-Jay. This is a gorgeous bird and I would see more of them at other locations, but it is one that does not always pose for photos. With a length of 19½", this is a fairly large bird, however the tail makes up about half of its length.
It is here that we also got our first Yellow-throated Euphonia. Related to the tanagers this is a small bird at about only 4.3 inches usually seen in pairs or small groups. Males are bright yellow and black and the females are a bit more subdued. My photo is one of the female only.
Olive Sparrows were abundant in the under story of the trees and shrubs and were more often heard instead of being seen. This is a bird who's range extends into southern Texas and I hope to see this bird some day in the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas.
One of the unusual birds we had was the Rufous-browed Peppershrike. It has a very heavy large bill and is closely related to the vireos.
Of course we had flycatchers at this location as well. Thankfully we had well qualified guides to assist us with identifying many of these birds. One of the coolest flycatchers that is considered a skulker, is the Belted Flycatcher. In many respects it resembles the Tufted Flycatcher which has shown up in Arizona this year and was much more cooperative for viewing. The Belted Flycatcher is not quite as cooperative, but it finally allowed us some nice looks at it, even if the photos left a lot to be desired.
This bird was not so hard to ID compared to the following Flammulated Flycatcher; another bird that would have been a difficult one to ID if it were not for our guide and knowing the calls. The forests down here resonated with so many different calls, that it was hard to know what was singing; definitely not the calls I am used to in Arizona.
A Northern Bentbill, a very small flycatcher, also made an appearance. This one appeared to be missing its tail feathers, possibly due to an on-going molt.
Now lets move on to some of the stunning butterflies that we found. At one spot in the road, we came upon a small area that was swarming with butterflies of many different species. We estimated about 300 butterflies or more at this spot. I will try to identify some of the butterflies in these photos, but some of my IDs might be incorrect, so I welcome anyone that has more butterfly knowledge, to let me know so I can give them their proper names.
Blue-eyed Sailor (Female - I believe)
Blue-eyed Sailor - Male, I loved the green/gold sheen of this species.
I believe the orange one in-flight is a Tailed Orange
So far, a great first part with more birds and a few more butterflies to come in Part 2 from El Sumidero.
Saturday, July 25, 2015
On our second field trip, we were scheduled to visit the Tapalapa area. This is a small town situated high in cloud forest mountains north of Tuxtla. It was a 3 hour ride just to get there and was the trip that had the earliest departure. Elevation is over 7000 feet and the altitude harbors a different host of birds and plants than the visit to San Cristóbal from the day before.
What I was quickly learning is the fact that photographing birds in the tropics is tricky. First one has to deal with intermittent rain and in this location, being in the clouds (or fog, if you prefer), dense vegetation for the most part, and in our case a group of about 10 plus the guide, adds a lot of other dimensions to the photography action. In my case, since most of these birds were new birds to me, I wanted to see and observe the bird first through my binoculars so I could at least pick out some of the key field marks so I would feel like I at least learned something about that species. Many times, by the time I got my camera up and focused, the bird might be gone. So once again, I did not come away with many photos of birds on this day.
The Brown-backed Solitaire was easy to view and is related to the Townsend's Solitaire that we have in Arizona. The family of solitaires are closely related to the bluebirds of North America.
A bird that was not even on our radar for this area was the Mountain Elaenia.The northern most range for this species has always been Guatemala, until the day before when our guide, Rich Hoyer, led another group to this location and was shocked to find one here. It had never been documented in Mexico before. Today was no exception and he was able to detect at least 4 of these birds. This was an added bonus lifebird for me as well as several others.
Nightingale-thrushes are a rather secretive group of birds. They are easily heard and have beautiful songs; however, they most certainly do not like to be seen. We heard 3 different species and I got a view of the Black-headed Nightingale-Thrush but no photos. The Ruddy-capped Nightingale-Thrush was a bit more cooperative; it at least appeared on a small branch in the shade for a brief time and I was at least able to capture a photo of this wonderful songster.
While eating lunch a small group of Black-throated Jays visited us, but they must have learned stealth from the thrushes as they did not come out of the trees. They remained about 2 to 3 feet deep into the branches. We got good looks, but photos left a lot to be desired. Guess this is typical behavior for them.
The Eye-ringed Flatbill is a flycatcher that belongs to the tyrant flycatcher family. Many flycatchers can be difficult to ID by site alone. Vocalizations are very instrumental in identifying many of these species. This bird is unique enough to identify with a visual sighting. Even my slightly blurred photo shows off the very distinct eye-ring, the large eye and the impression of a large head.
We had one more surprise just before we packed up to depart back to Tuxtla, a calling Mountain Trogon. The male was calling, but he was not going to allow any of us a look at him, so we had to settle on a female high up in the tree. Some of the trogons in the tropics have to be identified by calls, but a view of the underside of the tail is really the key as they all have different patterns. Even though this female was high in the tree, the underside of the tail was very distinctive.
We had been advised that there were a plethora of butterflies in Chiapas and on this day reality set in as I started detecting many different butterflies. I am far from being a butterfly expert, but have learned a few species in Arizona. This was totally new and I did start taking photos of butterflies even if I did not know their names. I did get the name of this first one; Anna's Eighty Eight. A rather odd name for a butterfly, but once you see the underside of it's wings and see the 88 on it, then it makes perfect sense. And it was a stunner.
Anna's Eighty Eight
Cloud Forest Monarch Butterfly
Unknown Moth species
Tops of mountains in the distance showing we are above the clouds.
Gunnera species - Note how large this plant is - I am 6' 5"
Gunnera flower spike
Slate-throated Redstart nest
Our first two days were the higher elevation locations. This day resulted in 18 new life birds which was 3 more than the first day at San Cristóbal. The next trip was going to be El Sumiderdo National Park which is located just outside of Tuxtla and was going to result in a different set of birds.