Sunday, May 1, 2016

A Perfect Ten: Signature Warblers of the Southwest Featuring Red-faced Warbler, Painted Redstart and Olive Warbler

[Southeast Arizona. April 2016]

A quick trip to Tucson in late April for some flash birding afforded this blogger an opportunity to revisit the spectacular "Warblery" of the area featuring both migrating warblers as well as arriving breeders -- a group of ten signature warblers that can be enjoyed in the Southwest at this time of year, namely:
  1. Red-faced Warbler
  2. Lucy's Warbler
  3. Grace's Warbler
  4. Townsend's Warbler
  5. Audubon's Warbler
  6. Wilson's Warbler
  7. Olive Warbler
  8.  Black-throated Grey Warbler
  9.  Painted Redstart
  10. Orange-crowned Warbler

Of this "perfect 10" grouping of warblers, we lead with this blogger's personal favorite, the incredible Red-faced Warbler:

Red-faced Warbler seen on Mt. Lemmon

Best seen in the Sky Islands of Southeast Arizona from late April through early August, these Mexican warblers are seasonal breeders in montane forests of the region. This blogger's favorite venue for observing this stunning species is Mt. Lemmon where they may be reliably found.

Unconfusable with any other species in the region, this warbler is instantly recognizable due to its black bonnet, red face, light-grey body and white nape and rump.

According to the well known expression "See Rome and die" -- the eternal city is so enriching and fulfilling that the satiated visitor is left with a feeling that their life's mission has been accomplished with no further desire to see anything else. It would not be unreasonable to coin a parallel expression for the Avian world -- "See the Red-faced Warbler and die"!

Compared to the striking crimson aesthetics of the Red-faced Warbler, the Lucy Warbler's coloration may seem a bit bland:

Lucy's Warbler seen at Sabino Canyon
The Lucy's Warbler is a light grey warbler with ivory underparts; the crown and rump are rusty brown.

Lucy's is our only desert warbler and they can be quite common in the arid canyons of SEAZ.
Unlike Lucy's, Grace's Warbler is found in the mountain forests of the Sky Islands:
Grace's Warbler seen at Rose Canyon, Mt. Lemmon

Grace's Warbler seen at Madera Canyon
Grace's Warbler was observed at both Madera Canyon and Mt. Lemmon (General Hitchcock Campground and Rose Canyon).

Grace's Warbler seen at Mt. Lemmon
Grace's Warbler is a breeding species in SEAZ unlike the next species, Townsend's Warbler, which is just passing through on its way to the Pacific Northwest:

The male Townsend's Warbler sports bold black facial markings and throat; the female lacks the black on the throat and has olive markings instead.

Townsend's Warbler seen at Madera Canyon

Audubon's Warbler is currently recognized as a subspecies of the Yellow-rumped Warbler:

Audubon's Warbler seen at Florida Canyon

Like the Townsend's, and Audubon's, Wilson's Warbler is also just passing through:

Wilson's Warbler seen at Florida Canyon
Olive Warbler is more of an "honorary warbler" than a true warbler -- DNA studies have shown that, while similar in habits to wood warblers, the Olive Warbler is genetically distinct and it is currently placed in its own monotypic family:

Olive Warbler seen at Rose Canyon
The male Olive Warbler is striking with its turmeric head and black mask. It is a breeding species in SEAZ.

Black-throated Grey shares the black mask of the Olive Warbler but it is a typical warbler:

Black-throated Grey Warbler seen at Florida Canyon
Painted Redstart, like the Black-throated Grey, is another breeding species and on a couple of occasions, they were observed gathering nesting material:

Painted Redstart seen at Mt. Lemmon
This, like the Red-faced Warbler, is another iconic warbler of the Southwest.

Painted Redstart with nesting material. Madera Canyon.

We conclude with the drab Orange-crowned Warbler seen at Florida Canyon:

Birders often talk of the distinct set of Eastern warblers and Western warblers in the country; however, it is the Southwestern warblers such as the Red-faced Warbler and the Painted Redstart that are the true gems of the warbler family in the US and there is no better place for the intrepid birder to find them than in the Sky Islands of Southeast Arizona.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Birding the Yucatan Part I: Motmots and What-nots at Muyil

[April, 2016. Muyil Archeological Area]

The Muyil area is renowned not only for its Mayan archeological treasures but also its avian ones. A quick glance at eBird shows the wealth of species that may be expected here. This is due in no small part to the area's proximity with Reserva de la Biósfera Sian-Ka'an.

It is customary for this blogger to pre-warn the family that any vacation is subject to incurring a 1-day "birding tax" which involves the blogger's escape to engage in some quality birding time. In this instance, this blogger was fortunate to employ the services of an extraordinary birding guide, conservationist and a true world citizen, Miguel Amar Uribe to explore the birdlife of Muyil. When time is limited, the area and species unfamiliar, the right guide can make the difference between a spectacular birding excursion or a frustrating one. I learnt more, saw more and enjoyed more thanks to Miguel's efforts and knowledge.

We lead with the Motmot:

Turquoise-browed Motmot is one of 9 motmot species found in Central America. They belong to the same family as the Kingfishers, Bee-eaters and Rollers and are colorful birds of neotropical forests. The "brows" of the Turquoise-browed Motmot are much like the double crests of the Double-crested Cormorant (but in brilliant blue of course!).

Like Kingfishers and Bee-eaters, Motmots also nest in excavated burrows (the walls of Cenotes or sinkholes are a favored location) and while not sexually dimorphic, the male's tail is longer and is used as a semaphore in visual signaling.

The Masked Tityra is a a striking songbird -- white with a red mask bordered in black.

The female (above) is duller and shows more brown in the plumage. Earlier placed with Tyrant Flycatchers or Cotingas, this species is now placed in the Tityridae.

Bare-throated Tiger Heron is a much more familiar looking species. This sub-adult's cryptically striped plumage betrays the origin of its moniker.

Inca Jay looks like a Green Jay with a yellow iris -- it is considered a separate species. This colorful bird is as loud as its looks.

Trogons are a specialty of the tropics and Muyil did not disappoint -- two species were sighted: Gartered Trogon (above) and Black-headed Trogon (to feature in Part II).

Groove-billed Ani is a familiar species for those who are acquainted with it from Southern Texas where it ranges in the US:

Now, consider the following 2 Orioles:

Both orioles look almost identical -- but the top oriole is the Hooded Oriole and the lower is the Orange Oriole. Note that the Orange Oriole has a straighter bill, orange (not black) back and "handkerchiefs" on the wing (white patches further down from the wing bar). The Orange Oriole is a Yucatan endemic while the Hooded Oriole can be found all the way North into the Southwest US.

Other species included:

Olive-throated Parakeet:


Ruddy-ground Dove:

Red-legged Honeycreeper:

Rose-throated Becard (female and male):

Tropical Pewee:

Yellow-bellied Elaenia:

Yellow-throated Euphonia:

Yucatan Woodpecker (another Yucatan endemic):

Note that extensive yellow around the bill -- it otherwise resembles a smaller version of Golden-fronted Woodpecker.

We conclude this remarkable collection of species with an introduction to Miguel -- the person credited for making this blogger's first excursion into the neotropics successful:

Mexico is the neotropics in the US's own backyard -- and, thanks to the terrific tourist infrastructure of the Mexican Riviera, a trip to the Yucatan holds the prospect of great reward for the intrepid birder.