Friday, September 16, 2016

California Waterfowl Review Featuring Greater White-fronted Goose, Common Goldeneye and Cinnamon Teal

[Bay Area, CA. Early 2016/Late 2015]

Envision traversing the Western United States from the mountains of the Sierra National Forest to the Pacific -- entering the sea through San Francisco Bay. 

In the ensuing journey of transitions in the landscape from canopy, mid-story, shrublands, grasslands, marshes, mudflats, to water bodies and finally ending in a vast marine expanse we breeze past a succession of birds such as warblers and jays, tanagers and flycatchers, grosbeaks, sparrows and quail, herons and rails, shorebirds to waterfowl and finally the pelagic species. Every habitat supporting its own rich collection of birdlife that is superbly adapted to its particular niche in the environment. 

In this "habitat spectrum", we pause briefly to explore the extensive water bodies of the Bay area and the tremendous variety of waterfowl that can be observed there, including iconic species such as:

  • Greater White-fronted Goose
  • Green-winged Teal
  • Cinnamon Teal
  • Northern Shoveler
  • Common Goldeneye
  • Bufflehead 
  • Canvasback
  • American White Pelican
  • Brown Pelican
  • Gadwall
  • American Wigeon
  • American Coot
  • Eared Grebe
  • Ruddy Duck
We start with the Goose:

Greater White-fronted Goose has a huge range but is uncommon in the Eastern US. It breeds in the Arctic and winters in California.

The "white-fronted" refers to the white border to the bill on the face of the goose. This is a brown goose with black patches on the breast. The legs are bright orange.

This spectacular individual was observed at the Sunnyvale WPCP.

Our smallest dabbler is the Green-winged Teal. This blogger has not usually had the opportunity to observe this beautiful duck out of the water -- yet, here at Baylands Preserve in Palo Alto, this resplendent male was glistening in the early morning sun:

Every birder has a favorite waterfowl species -- for anyone living in North America, Cinnamon Teal has to be high on that list:

The male's deep cinnamon-chestnut color is unforgettable. The female is predictably plainer. Both were observed at Sunnyvale WPCP.

Among the various similarly shaped ducks, one catches the observer's eye on account of the prominent "honker" of a bill -- this is the Northern Shoveler:

This is a global species with a large range and instantly recognizable thanks to its uniquely shaped bill.
The male Common Goldeneye is a stunning small duck that nests in tree cavities:

The female is a warm brown but also shows the pale iris:

The male Bufflehead's coloration shows subtle shades of purple and green when the lighting permits:

Unlike the dabbler teals and shoveler, the Bufflehead, Goldeneye are diving ducks as is the Canvasback:

While the Canvasback is large relative to the Bufflehead or the Common Goldeneye, it is decidedly dwarfed in relation to the American White Pelican:

These magnificent creatures were seen at Charleston Slough. We have only two species of Pelican in the country -- and both can be observed here in the Bay Area.

The 2nd pelican species, Brown Pelican is found on all three coasts (Pacific, Atlantic and Gulf). However, the Western race of the Brown Pelican is somewhat distinctive with its brighter colors -- the male sporting a bright red gular pouch:

The silvery white accents, red bill and cream-colored head contrast well with the brown plumage of this acrobatic plunge-diving feeder:

Finally two more ducks that sometimes can be confused: Gadwall and American Wigeon:

American Wigeon:

Other species included an American Coot:

An Eared Grebe in winter plumage:

In Spring the Eared Grebe will be completely transformed:

The breeding colors of the grebe were witnessed several years ago at Bolsa Chica in coastal Orange Co.

Finally, a Ruddy Duck:

Our waterfowl species -- dabblers, divers, pelicans and the like -- are a remarkable collection of birds that have mastered not only the air but also the water -- and, for the intrepid birder there are few places more rewarding than the many inlets, water bodies and channels in the San Francisco Bay area to observe them in their natural habitat.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Muyil Part II: Rediscovering the Ivory-billed; Plus Red-throated Ant Tanager and Blue Bunting

[April 2016. Mayan Ruins at Muyil]

Located near the Sian Ka'an lagoon ("Where the Sky is Born" in Mayan), Muyil is one of the most ancient sites of the Mayan civilization dating to 350 BCE. And, while the Pyramids still stand, they are but a hollow reminder of what must have been a thriving outpost of human civilization 2000 years ago.

But, with the humans gone, the jungle has reasserted itself and this means that an amazing assortment of birdlife can now be found here; species such as:

  • Blue Bunting
  • Red-throated Ant-tanager
  • Ivory-billed Woodcreeper
  • Yellow-throated Euphonia
  • Black-headed Trogon
  • Great Kiskadee
  • Rose-throated Becard

We start with the Bunting:

Living in the US, we are blessed with a wealth of Buntings (Varied Bunting, Snow Bunting, Painted Bunting, Indigo Bunting, and Lazuli Bunting) but the diversity continues south of the border as well.

This stunning species is a midnight blue with turquoise highlights on the crown, face and shoulders. Blue Bunting is a rare vagrant to Southern Texas so the best chances of observing one will require a trip to Mexico.

Ants are a phenomenon in the American tropics and a whole ecosystem of ant specialists have evolved around them -- including this Red-throated Ant tanager:

These birds will follow army ants and other insects. They are found by the forest edge (hence the low lighting in the photo's):

While the reader is unlikely to come across an Ivory-billed Woodpecker, a close namesake -- the Ivory-billed Woodcreeper is probably the next best thing:

This huge woodcreeper feeds on insects on tree trunks much like our Brown Treecreeper.

Yellow-throated Euphonia, like others in the family, is a bright songbird of the tropics:

Finally, Black-headed Trogon:

Great Kiskadee:

and the Becard:

Man overestimates his ability to mold Nature to his whims -- many ancient civilizations have come and gone yet each was convinced of their invincibility in their heyday. 

What remains after these countless ups and downs is something far more enduring -- the incredible diversity of Nature and the resilience of life in adapting to the changing environment. A fact that is so well underscored by iconic species such as the Ivory-billed Woodcreeer and the Red-throated Ant-tanager profiled here.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Avian Joy from Jaipur: Greater Painted Snipe, Oriental White-eye and Greater Flamingo

[Hotpspots in the Jaipur Area. June 2016]

Rajasthan is the Arizona of India -- an arid state in the Western part of the country that, like Arizona, has some remarkable birdlife. In this post, we explore some of the species that can be seen within the vicinity of the state capital of Rajasthan -- namely, the city of Jaipur (named for Maharaja Jaisingh).

While none of the species presented here are either uncommon or unusual, they nevertheless represent an eclectic mix of passerines, shorebirds and waterfowl that can be found in a suburban (in Jaipur) or countryside setting (in Chandlai; about 45 minutes from Jaipur):

  • Oriental White-eye
  • Purple Sunbird
  • Common Tailorbird
  • Ashy Prinia
  • Rose-ringed Parakeet
  • Bank Myna
  • Crested Lark
  • Greater Painted Snipe
  • Black-winged Stilt
  • Common Sandpiper
  • Little Ringed Plover
  • Greater Flamingo
  • Little Grebe
  • Spot-billed Duck
  • Lesser Whistling Duck
We start with the White-eye that was observed in Jaipur:

"The eyes have it!" -- one look at this striking songbird and it is clear that this species deserves no other name.

This tiny, beautiful bird has one of the most distinctive eyerings of any bird on this planet and ranges from South to Southeast Asia. We would be hard pressed to think of any species in the US that has as bold a look. Note that our White-eye is the White-eyed Vireo -- named for the color of its iris not its eyering.

Sunbirds are the Old World equivalents of Hummingbirds. They are tiny, iridescent, and subsist on nectar and insects. Unlike hummers, they can be vocal and accomplished songsters. The Purple Sunbird is a common sight in Northern India:

The female is, predictably, duller:

The Sunbird was observed in both Jaipur and Chandlai.

Over to warblers -- two Cisticola warblers were observed: Common Tailorbird and Ashy Prinia:

Like our Ovenbird, the Tailorbird is named on account of its nest -- in this case, how it is put (or "sewn") together vs. what it resembles (an "oven").  

While the Ashy Prinia is not as colorful, it is an equally loud songster:

Rose-ringed Parakeet are an introduced species in the US and other parts of the world -- they are, however, native to Asia and Africa:

Bank Myna, like Ashy Prinia, is endemic to the subcontinent:

It is named for the "banks" in which it digs nesting cavities for breeding -- in addition to river banks, they will also use holes in brick walls for nesting.
Crested Lark:

Befitting  a species that ranges in Europe, Africa and Asia, the Crested Lark is known to consist of 37 subspecies. It is a ground nester and was seen in Chandlai.

Over to shorebirds (all observed at Chandlai), the star species here was Greater Painted Snipe:

Despite its name, Greater Painted Snipe is not a true snipe. Looking at the pair above, the observer would not be faulted for assuming the male is the bird on the right given the brighter colors and bolder patterns. But the Greater Painted Snipe is full of surprises -- the sex roles are reversed in this species (like Phalaropes) -- the female is larger, more colorful and mates with many males.

The female will court males and the latter are responsible for incubation and raising the young. A resounding (yet rare) example of female dominance in the Avian world.

Resembling our Black-necked Stilt is the Black-winged Stilt:

And, Common Sandpiper is a bit larger but otherwise doesn't seem to be too different from Spotted Sandpiper:

They smallest shorebird, however, was Little Ringed Plover:

This tiny shorebird is less than 6inches -- a veritable dwarf compared to Greater Flamingo:

We conclude with a few waterfowl:
Little Grebe:

Spot-billed Duck:

and, Lesser Whistling Duck:

The Old World opens up new avian vistas for the intrepid birder -- from striking White-eyes to shiny Sunbirds and the unique Greater Painted Snipe. And in Rajasthan, India's Arizona, a wealth of species is on-hand and easily accessible from in and around the capital city of Jaipur.