Sunday, October 20, 2013

Hutton's Vireo, Western Bluebird and Western Wood Pewee

[Late Sept/Early Oct. Mt. Lemmon, AZ.]

Hutton's Vireo is a small drab vireo that looks surprisingly similar to Ruby-crowned Kinglet.





Exclusively found in the West, this vireo not only looks like the kinglet but also acts like one -- gleaning insects from leaves and branches in a hyperactive manner.


Population trends for this small songbird are positive and molecular studies are indicating that of the dozen-odd subspecies, perhaps some may warrant promotion to full-species status.




Western Wood Pewee is a summer breeder in the Western US. It overwinters in South America; a common flycatcher, it is visually virtually identical to the Eastern Wood Pewee. However, they do not inter-breed in the limited areas where their ranges overlap.


Western Bluebird is an attractive thrush of the West.Displaying more cobalt in the blue of their feathers than the Eastern Bluebird,


Like other bluebirds, these small thrushes are cavity nesters. And, although socially monogamous, the nesting pair is not beyond committing the occasional infidelity -- in one study, up to one fifth of the young in nests were found to be fathered by an outside male.

Other familiar birds seen included -- The always delightful hepatic tanager:


... a lesser goldfinch:


.. and the usual nuthatches and the 4 species of wrens commonly found in this area:


Starting with the splendid Pygmy Nuthatch:


... White-breasted Nuthatch:


And, now the wrens, starting with Bewick's:

.. and House Wren:

Canyon Wren:
.. and Rock Wren:


In closing, presenting a wild turkey for luck (seen at Madera Canyon):


Even a limited excursion into the fabled Sky Islands of Arizona is bound to turn up some surprises; and, even the common species are sure to delight even the most jaded of observers.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Birding Puerto Rico: Bananaquit, Carribean Elaenia, Smooth-billed Ani, and More ...

[Puerto Rico. September 2013]

Apart from the endemics noted in the earlier post, a wide variety of other birds were observed:

Doves
  • Scaly-naped Pigeon
  • Zenaida Dove
  • African Collared Dove
Scaly-naped Pigeon range is restricted to the Antilles. This is a large blue-grey dove with a tinge of maroon. The eyes are red and surrounded by a patch of bare skin.

Zenaida Dove ranges throughout the Carribean, and, also, in Audubon's days, they were known as a breeding species in the Florida Keys as well. However, now they are seen in the Keys only as rare vagrants. Similar to the Mourning Dove, they are slightly smaller, darker and show a small white wing patch.
African Collared Dove is an exotic species established in Puerto Rico; it is similar to Eurasian Collared Dove but browner.


Waterfowl
  • West Indian Whistling Duck
  • White-cheeked Pintail
  • Least Grebe
  • Caribbean Coot
  • Ruddy Duck
West Indian Whistling Duck (seen at Laguna Cartagena)

This is the largest of the 8 species of Whistling Duck -- it is also the rarest of the lot. Numbers have declined due to hunting and the loss of wetlands in the Caribbean.


White-cheeked Pintail occur in 3 subspecies -- the Caribbean subspecies (above); the South American; and the subspecies found on the Galapagos. It is the Caribbean subspecies that is is sometimes seen in Florida as a vagrant.


Least Grebe is the smallest Grebe. It is found in the US in the Rio Grande Valley area of Texas. It ranges additionally in the Caribbean, Mexico and South America.


Caribbean Coot is similar to the American; however, it lacks the red knob on frontal shield.


A wide ranging stiff-tailed duck, the male Ruddy Duck is distinctive with it's pale blue bill, chestnut body, black crown, and white cheeks.


Shorebirds
  • Solitary Sandpiper
  • Stilt Sandpiper
  • White-rumped Sandpiper
  • Black-necked Stilt 
  • Greater Yellow-legs
  • Pectoral Sandpiper
  • Semipalmated Sandpiper
All the shorebirds seen were at Cabo Rojo and will be familiar to the American birder:
Solitary Sandpiper

Stilt Sandpiper

White-rumped Sandpiper

Black-necked Stilt

Greater Yellowlegs

Pectoral Sandpiper

Semipalmated Sandpiper


Passerines
  • Caribbean Elaenia
  • Puerto Rican Pewee
  • Banaquit
  • Grey Kingbird
  • Loggerhead Kingbird
  • Mangrove Cuckoo
  • Orange Bisop
  • Pearly-eyed Thrasher
  • Smooth-billed Ani
  • Venezuela Troupial
  • Antillean Grackle
  • Yellow Warbler (Golden race)
Caribbean Elaenia is a tyrant flycatcher found in the islands of the region. 

Puerto Rican Pewee -- found in the Lesser Antilles, this could be a future candidate for a split; resulting in another endemic for Puerto Rico.

The Bananaquit is probably the most abundant passerine on the island. A tiny bird, no one is quite sure where it belongs and is classified as Incertae Sedis.

Grey Kingbird is probably the 2nd most common bird -- it is also observed in Southern Florida where it is a summer breeder.

The Loggerhead Kingbird, on the other hand, is infrequently seen. It looks like an Eastern Kingbird but is larger and has a stouter bill.

Contrary to what its name implies, Mangrove Cuckoo is not restricted to Mangrove habitat.

Orange Bishop, like the African Collared Dove, is another exotic sourced from Africa.



Pearly-eyed Thrasher is a mimid and related to the Northern Mockingbird. It is an aggressive bird and outcompetes other species for nesting sites.


Also found in Southern Florida (although rare), the Smooth-billed Ani is widespread in Puerto Rico and the American tropics.

Another New World blackbird is the Venezuelan Troupial. A striking species, it is commonly found in the Southwest of the Island.


The Greater Antillean Grackle is a typical grackle found widely on Puerto Rico, other islands in the region as well as Mexico.

The Golden Warbler is the race of the Yellow Warbler found in the West Indies; it tends to be more Olive on its uppersides and can have a rufous crown or mask.


Hummingbirds
  • Antillean Mango


Antillean Mango is found on Puerto Rico, Hispaniola and the Virgin Islands. It is a green hummingbird with a downcurved bill.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Birding Puerto Rico: A Sampling of Endemics (Puerto Rican Tody, Puerto Rican Tanager, Elfin-woods Warbler ...)

[Puerto Rico. September, 2013]

Puerto Rico offers some of the most unique birding on American territory. Ceded to the US after 400 years of Spanish rule (during which the indigenous population was exterminated and replaced with enslaved Africans), this tropical island of the Greater Antilles has been a part of the US since 1898 and its people have been US Citizens since 1917.

However, the fascinating history alone is not what draws the American birder to this corner of the Caribbean; rather, it is the rich endemism of the island that is its chief attraction; the full list of endemics is as follows:
  1. Puerto Rican Parrot
  2. Puerto Rican Lizard-Cuckoo
  3. Puerto Rican  Screech Owl
  4. Puerto Rican Nightjar
  5. Puerto Rican  Emerald
  6. Puerto Rican  Tody
  7. Puerto Rican Woodpecker
  8. Puerto Rican  Flycatcher
  9. Puerto Rican Vireo
  10. Puerto Rican  Spindalis
  11. Puerto Rican Tanager
  12. Puerto Rican  Oriole
  13. Puerto Rican Bullfinch
  14. Yellow-shouldered Blackbird
  15. Elfin-woods Warbler
  16. Adelaide's Warbler
  17. Green Mango
(Species profiled in this post are bolded).

Moreover,  some of these species have only been recently discovered (the Elfin-woods warbler was described in 1972) and it is quite possible that future genetic studies into subspecies such as the Puerto Rican Pewee could well elevate them to full species status.

Let's start with Elfin-woods -- this is the newest addition to the New World wood warbler family:

The spectacular Elfin-woods warbler seen at Maricao

Classified as "Vulnerable", this rare warbler looks superficially like the Black-and-White. However, it has black cheeks and chevron-shaped streaks on its underside.


The other endemic warbler is Adelaide's Warbler -- named after the daughter of the first type-specimen collected by Robert Swift. It became endemic to Puerto Rico in 2000 when the subspecies found in Barbuda and St. Lucia were elevated to full species status (and named appropriately the Barbuda Warbler and the St. Lucia Warbler).

Adelaide's Warbler seen at Laguna Cartagena



Found at lower elevations and drier habitat than the Elfin Woods, this warbler has bright yellow undersides while its facial markings and uppersides recall Grace's Warbler.

Puerto Rican Bullfinch seen at Maricao

The next endemic is the Puerto Rican Bullfinch; it became endemic to Puerto Rico in 1929 with the extermination (via collection) of the last known individual from St. Kitts and Barbuda. This is a New World bullfinch completely unrelated to its namesake of the Old World (which really are finches; unlike this species which is taxonomically part of the Tanager family).


Next, the tich of the endemics --the Puerto Rican Emerald is a tiny hummingbird weighing merely 3 grams. It is found in the Southwest region of the Island.

Puerto Rican Emerald (female) seen at Maricao


The Puerto Rican Spindalis is a tanager widely found on the island. The males are brightly colored with distinctive facial markings.


They are exclusively frugivores and are important as seed dispersal agents in the tropical ecosystem of the island.


The other endemic tanager is the Puerto Rican Tanager -- not as colorful as the Spindalis, this tanager is an opportunistic feeder eating insects, fruit and other small prey.

Puerto Rican Tanager seen at Maricao


The next endemic is the Puerto Rican Tody -- Todies are exclusive to the Caribbean and are related to Kingfishers. Indeed, like Kingfishers, they nest in small tunnels dug into mud banks or rotten trees.

Puerto Rican Tody seen at Maricao

These tiny 4-inch birds eat insects, arachnids and even small lizards.

Puerto Rican Vireo seen at Maricao

Much larger is our next endemic -- the Puerto Rican Vireo -- a typical vireo, this endemic ranges widely on the island and is quite vocal.


There is but one resident woodpecker on the island -- the endemic Puerto Rican woodpecker. In the breeding season, this woodpecker is striking with a lot of red on the undersides; contrasting strongly with the black upperparts and prominent white spectacles. This species was observed at Maricao and is commonly found throughout the island.


The last endemic covered here is the Puerto Rican Cuckoo-Lizard. A large cuckoo, it is named after the lizards that typically form 75% of their diet. Like the Todies, the Lizard-Cuckoos are also exclusive to the Caribbean.

The small size of Puerto Rico, the excellent infrastructure and an enticing list of endemics are sure to lure many birders from the American mainland to this Caribbean bird-haven. If you go, be sure to tap into the local resources; I was fortunate to have Gabrel as a tour guide as this greatly accelerated finding target species and maximized "hits" over "misses".