Archive for the ‘Spotted Sandpiper’ Tag

Guyana part three: the northern rainforest and the coastal region. 1st – 7th March 2020   Leave a comment

In this post I cover the final part of our visit to Guyana where we stopped at three lodges in the northern rainforest zone and then in the capital Georgetown.

 

This had been a great tour for raptors and as we left the savannah behind of course we encountered a new set of species. The familiar Black and Turkey Vultures were replaced with the much rarer and seldom seen Greater Yellow-headed Vulture …

 

… and the impressive King Vulture, both rainforest species.

 

We stayed overnight at Sumara lodge which was undergoing some reconstruction.

 

There was a Yellow-rumped Cacique colony in the clearing …

 

… and Ruddy Pigeons on the forest floor but the Harpy Eagles weren’t breeding this year so no amount of hiking in the forest could turn up one of the most sought after raptors in the world. We did however see a good range of cotingas, tyrannulets, tanagers and other forest species.

 

Then it was on to Atta Lodge, one of the best locations on the trip and definitely the best rainforest location of the trip. In the clearing around the lodge there were a group of Black Currasows wandering about like domestic turkeys and when I got to my chalet I found the shutters on both sides open and hummingbirds zipping through the room and over my bed to reach a hummingbird feeders just outside the window.

 

This Red-fan Parrot was extraordinarily tame and was presumably a rehabilitated bird.

 

… but there was no doubting the credentials of this Red-and-green Macaw.

 

Admittedly not the best of photos, but it was pleasing to see this pair of Paradise Jacamas …

 

… and the extraordinary antics of Spider Monkeys.

 

In a river bed we came across a pair of Sunbitterns …

 

… but the best sightings was this rare Black-faced hawk, a life bird for me …

 

… and the extraordinary Rufous Potoo, seen at a day time roost. There are seven species of Potoos, a nightbird related to the nightjars, all in the Neotropics. I have now seen six of the seven; the seventh Andean Potoo was a heard only in Ecuador. Rufous Potoo is probably the hardest of all to find. Common and White-winged Potoo were also seen on the trip, three species in one trip is almost an overdose of luck.

 

We also visited the canopy walkway …

 

… it was a a bit of squeeze getting everybody onto the platform.

 

Eustace wrote in his trip report: We then made a quick late afternoon visit to the afternoon visit to the canopy walkway where we worked through Todd’s and Spot-tailed Antwrens, Buff-cheeked and Lemon-chested Greenlets, Red-legged, Purple and Green Honeycreepers and a number of Flame-crested, Paradise, Bay-headed and Spotted Tanagers etc etc. We also found Green Aracari, our first Waved Woodpeckers and a pair of Golden-sided Euphonias. I should also report that we encountered no sweat bees. (The latter being an unwelcome visitor at many such canopy platforms).

 

But a lot of our time was spent in the clearing by the chalets. Here Denzel, Mike Karin and Eustace scan the treetops for cotingas. Purple-breasted Cotinga, Purple-throated Fruitcrow were regular, but the main targets, Dusky Purpletuft and Crimson Fruitcrow proved elusive. Some got a glimpse of the latter but it always disappeared before I could get anyone on to it.

 

Finally on the last morning the Crimson Fruitcrow stayed long enough for everyone to get views. I didn’t get a photo so I have used one by © Alan Lewis (no relation!) taken from the Surfbirds website.

 

For most of our time in the clearing we were accompanied by Black Curassows …

 

… certainly a lot tamer than their ‘crestless cousins’ that we saw earlier in the tour.

 

We travelled on to our next lodge at Iwokrama and stopped on route to admire some Blue-and-yellow Macaws.

 

These are some of the most beautiful of all macaws, indeed of all parrots …

 

… perhaps our familiarity of them at home from bird parks and zoos means they don’t get quite the recognition they deserve.

 

Iwokrama River Lodge is located by the Essequibo River. Our time here was divided between birding on the tracks and taking boat trips on the river.

 

One such boat trip took us to trail that led to Turtle Mountain (named after it’s resemblance to an upside down turtle shell, not because it had a surfeit of turtles on the summit).

 

On route we saw a flock of seven Capped Herons (together with a Cocoi Heron on the left), four on the bank …

 

… and three in the trees.

 

I’ve posted a number of photos of Great Black Hawk, which seemed unusually abundant on this tour, but this is the first photo I’ve posted of one in juvenile plumage.

 

The hike up to Turtle Mountain was a little arduous, but we saw some great birds like Spotted Antpitta, but the much sought after Rufous-winged Ground Cuckoo was a heard only.

 

Eustace at the lookout at Turtle Mountain. The main target was the rare Orange-breasted Falcon which we failed to see (but I have seen in in Peru with Eustace on a previous trip), we did see a White Hawk which was some compensation.

 

We also took a late afternoon boat trip in the opposite direction …

 

… arriving at some rapids where we found a feeding Large-billed Tern …

 

… a species with a wing pattern like a Sabine’s Gull.

 

A few minutes at the rapids …

 

… gave us views of common species like Great Egret …

 

… as well as the range restricted Black-collared Swallow. These two seem to be ignoring each other …

 

… but that was soon to change. Guess it was a case of making hay whilst the sun shines …

 

… which wasn’t going to be for long as there was a big storm approaching from down stream.

 

Fortunately the storm largely missed us and it was dry by the time we got back to the dock- where the biggest Black Caiman I’ve ever seen was hanging around in the hope of scraps.

 

The next day we crossed the Iwokrama River on a very dodgy ferry and started the long drive north to Georgetown.

 

Just over the other side we stopped at a site where we found some Grey-winged Trumpeters. There are three species of Trumpeter in the world, but this is the only one I’ve seen (although I did hear Dark-winged Trumpeter in Brazil).

 

The road north was unpaved and potholed and progress was slow. There have been plans to create a modern highway, which sounds great, but would open up the interior of Guyana to mining, logging and habitat destruction. I was worried that this guy had been in an accident until I saw his bike was parked on its stand. He was just having a kip on the roadside. Earlier in the trip there was a major dip on this same road when Eustace and one of the clients saw a large Jaguar on the side of the road. It might have stayed until the other two vehicles arrived but for the arrival of a motorbike coming in the opposite direction. So near yet so far. I’ve been to the best site in the world for Jaguars, the Pantanal in Brazil, but before Jaguar tourism was really sorted out and hence we dipped. I’ve always hoped since then that I would just chance on one – well maybe one day.

 

Eventually we entered the industrial heart of Guyana just to the south of Georgetown and returned to the hotel we stopped at for the first night.

 

Our time in Georgetown was divided between areas along the coast and Georgetown Botanical gardens (above). I like that the car on the right is parked on the lawn right under the ‘do not park on the lawn’ sign.

 

Our main target was the range-restricted Festive Amazon …

 

… and wild Red-fan Parrots (unlike the tame one at Atta) …

 

… and the little Blood-coloured Woodpecker, confined to coastal regions of Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana.

 

Open areas held Tropical Mockingbirds …

 

… and the widespread Great Kiskadee.

 

Whilst an overgrown ditch gave good views of juvenile Wattled Jacanas …

 

… and adults too …

 

… some showing off their vivid yellow underwings.

 

Other species included the strange Greater Ani …

 

… and the pretty Bat Flacon.

 

Along the coast we passed the small settlement of Glazier’s Lust, surprisingly the next settlement was called Rebecca’s Lust. I guess there is some sort of romantic story involved there!

 

Recent storms had piled the debris up along the shoreline …

 

… but in the few remaining coastal forest patches we found Common Tody-flycatcher …

 

… Black-crested Antshrike …

 

… and Pied Water Tyrant …

 

… and just like I did in Florida, Yellow-crowned Night Heron …

 

… and Limpkin.

 

Two New World waders that occasionally occur in the UK were seen side by side Solitary Sandpiper …

 

… and a summer plumaged Spotted Sandpiper (these are the ecological replacements of Green and Common Sandpiper respectively).

 

There were a few raptors as well, Grey-lined Hawk (a split from Grey Hawk of the southern USA and Mexico) …

 

… Black-collared Hawk …

 

… and most notably the rare, declining Rufous Crab Hawk which is only found along the coast from eastern Venezuela to northern Brazil.

 

 

Our final stop was a creek where Scarlet Ibis come into roost but we had to leave before dusk when the majority would arrive because we had to head to the airport and our flight to Suriname.

 

 

So then it was the hour-long journey back to the international airport and our short flight to Suriname, but this was not without it’s problems. I have carried a Yellow Fever vaccination certificate with me on trips for years but have never been asked to show it. Yellow Fever isn’t the problem it once was, indeed the closely related Dengue Fever is far more widespread worldwide. We were warned to bring Yellow Fever vaccination certificates with us but Eustace’s was out of date and they wouldn’t let him board the plane.

To try and convince them that his old certificate was OK (after three injections ten years apart, you are considered immune for life) he borrowed mine. I was caught between one official saying ‘get on the plane now its about to depart’ and another stopping me getting to the room ‘out back’ where they were quizzing Eustace. Eventually I got my certificate back, ran for the plane which took off the moment I was seated.

So we were heading to Suriname without our designated leader – what happened will be the subject of the next post.

Eustace did get a repeat vaccination and certificate in Georgetown and over the next few days made his way overland to Paramaribo, the capital of Suriname. He wrote the following in the trip report about his overland journey.

The entire trip, but perhaps especially the journey from the border to Paramaribo, could have been the subject of a Tarantino movie. It involved a minibus packed with fifteen or so Haitians, Venezuelans, an assortment of illegal Guyanans and me. Off we set, crammed in to a tiny van together with a Chestnut-bellied Seedeater in a cage lodged on the console between myself and the driver. Along the narrow uneven surface called Highway 1, the speed crept up to about 140km per hour, while the driver, using a couple of mobiles was arranging the next run. I got the impression business was good with Venezuelans and Haitians fleeing to Brazil. The Guyanans started kicking off, smoking joints and drinking a few beers adding to my discomfort. On arrival at the city limits, the various passengers were dropped off at their pre-arranged safe houses on the outskirts of the city. The stuff of novels!

This was one journey I was glad I didn’t have to make.

Costa Rica part 5: waders/shorebirds at Punta Morales Saltpans; 10/04/2017   Leave a comment

This post covers a couple of hours visit to a single site, the commercial salt pans at Punta Morales in north-western Costa Rica. As waders (or shorebirds as they are known in the Americas) have a universal appeal to birders I have dedicated an entire post to this short visit and have attempted to illustrate every wader seen plus a few of the terns. We visited some salt pans in this area in 1981, possibly the same place. Nearly all the species would have been lifers then, now none of them were, but I enjoyed seeing them just as much as I did the first time.

 

An early afternoon visit to the salt pans was most successful. Unfortunately we only had two scopes between us so initially it was a slow process getting onto all the waders. However as we walked around the pans we found we could get close enough to most birds for decent photos and indeed I think I managed to photograph every wader present.

 

Many birds were on the bunds between the pans, others were wading in the brine. This mediocre photo has been included as its the only photo I took of Grey (or Black-bellied) Plover, seen in the top right.

 

There were large numbers of Black Skimmers present. A not particularly appropriate name as all three species of skimmer show a similar black and white plumage and this is no more black than the other two. These aberrant terns feed by flying low over water with their long lower mandible just below the water’s surface (the so-called ‘unzipping the pond’), if the lower mandible encounters a prey item the upper mandible snaps shut to secure it.

 

With the skimmers was a small number of Royal Terns. Recent genetic work was shown that the African and American forms of Royal Tern have diverged sufficiently to be considered separate species,  but as yet I haven’t heard of any reliable ways of separating them in the field, not has this discovery been taken up by mainstream world checklists.

 

At the back are three black-billed Cabot’s Tern’s named after  American physician and ornithologist Samuel Cabot III. This is a recent split from the Old World Sandwich Tern, although the American checklist committees SACC and NACC have yet to ratify this (but the IOC and BOU has). In the foreground is a ‘Hudsonian’ Whimbrel. This larger, more strongly patterned, dark-rumped version of our Eurasian Whimbrel has been treated as a separate species by the BOU, but not by the IOC or other world checklists. As the BOU will adopt the IOC checklist as the basis of the British List as of 01/01/18 then we will lose this one from the British List (there have been a few records of this American form in the UK including along-stayer in Cornwall).

 

Most of the species of wader present have occurred as vagrants in the UK at some time or other (hence British birders interest in American waders) but one that hasn’t is Wilson’s Plover which has a more southerly distribution than most.

 

Also known as Thick-billed Plover this species breed from SE USA to Belize and the West Indies and winters as far south as Brazil.

 

Another species that has not made it to the UK is Marbled Godwit which has an interior distribution in North America and doesn’t make any of the major ocean crossings that seems a prerequisite for regular trans-Atlantic vagrancy. A single Whimbrel is the middle of the flock facing left.

 

Here Marbled Godwits can be seen with Black-necked Stilts, Stilt Sandpipers and a single Willet.

 

Marbled Godwits in flight, unlike the other three species of godwit they don’t show either white wing-bars or white rumps..

 

Yellowleg species were surprisingly scarce on this trip. perhaps they had already departed for their breeding grounds in North America. This is the Greenshank-sized Greater Yellowlegs. I saw my second UK Greater Yellowlegs in Hampshire in 2015 but Lesser Yellowlegs is much commoner, one stayed at our local patch for seven months from September 16 and eventually departed after I had left for Costa Rica in late March.

 

Closely related to the Old World Black-winged Stilt, the Black-necked Stilt of the Americas was common on the saltpans. There are four ‘black-and-white’ stilts worldwide differing only in the precise pattern of black and white on the head, neck and back and there is a good argument for lumping them all together.

 

Joining the Stilts, Godwits and Whimbrel in this photo is a single Stilt Sandpiper in the foreground and four Willets. This omnatopoeic bird surely consists of two species, Eastern and Western Willet (these are all Western Willets) and a proposal to split the two forms is being considered by the NACC currently, here is a summary taken from the proposal: The Willet (Tringa semipalmata) includes two broadly allopatric subspecies that exhibit morphological, ecological, vocal, and genetic differentiation. The eastern subspecies (T. s. semipalmata) breeds almost exclusively in saltmarshes and brackish coastline habitat along the Atlantic Coast, the Gulf of Mexico, and certain localities in the Caribbean In contrast, the western subspecies (T. s. inornata) breeds in brackish and freshwater wetlands in the Great Basin as well as prairies in the north-western United States and southern Canada. The western subspecies winters along rocky habitat on the Pacific coast from the north-western United States south to Chile. While the two species may co-occur during migration and on certain wintering grounds, pair bonding occurs on breeding grounds which are allopatric between the two subspecies. For more see: http://checklist.aou.org/assets/proposals/PDF/2017-A.pdf

 

There were a number of Short-billed Dowitchers on the pans. This is a difficult bird to separate from the similar Long-billed Dowitcher (and no, bill length isn’t much help) especially if they are silent. Long-billeds are regular if scarce in the UK but Short-billeds are mega rarities, the one at Lodmoor, Dorset in 2012 was only the 3rd for the UK.

 

Here is a better portrait of one species that has appeared in the background in previous photos – Stilt Sandpiper, (not to be confused with the unrelated Black-necked Stilt at the back). A regular migrant in the Americas, this is a very rare species in the UK although I have seen three in Dorset or west Hampshire over the years.

 

Here a Ruddy Turnstone, a very common species in the New World and the Old, perches behind the New World Spotted Sandpiper.

 

The New World Semi-palmated Plover is very similar to our Ringed Plover. Small differences in the bill and facial pattern separate the two and of course there are the semi-palmations between the toes for those with very good scopes and perfect viewing conditions. But the best way to locate a vagrant Semi-P Plover is by call.

 

It’s now time to look at the smallest waders, the so-called ‘peeps’. This, a Semi-palmated Sandpiper, was by far the commonest.

 

Semi-P Sandpipers and a Semi-P Plover. with a single Least Sandpiper at the far right.

 

A flock of Semi-palmated Sandpipers beautifully reflected in the brine solution.

 

This flock of ‘Semi-P Sands’ is joined by a single Stilt Sand and a Semi-P Plover. Notice the bird in the far lower left, the long curved bill means that this is almost certainly a Western Sandpiper on route to Alaska or far-eastern Siberia. Relatively easy to separate in juvenile or in breeding plumages, winter plumaged adults can be very tricky. They winter further north than Semi-Ps, a lot of them within the southern USA and they were much rarer than Semi-Ps in Costa Rica.

 

Perhaps the rarest bird at the pans and one that had never been recorded by Birdquest on their many trips to Costa Rica was this Wilson’s Phalarope.

 

There were relative few non-waders/terns at the pans but this Great Egret posed for its portrait. The taxonomy of the species isn’t settled either with the small far-eastern subspecies modesta probably deserving species status, whilst the New World alba differs from the Eurasian form in bare part colouration, breeding plumes and display.

 

As was always the case we didn’t have enough time to really study all the subtle features of these fascinating waders and soon it was time to leave the pans and head for Hacienda Solimar which will be the subject of the next post.

 

…. but we’ll end this post with a portrait of the world’s smallest wader, the appropriately named Least Sandpiper.