Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween! (All Hallows Eve)

For this year's Halloween, I wanted to share with you one of my favorite Halloween stories.

Happy Halloween! :D

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Peruvian Paradigms: Pt 3: Rainforest reminisces Pt 2: 1000 birds and counting

Inca Terns, Callao, Peru
 When I first arrived in Peru, I knew I would break the 1000 mark on the first full day of birding.  I guessed that I would at least break the 1400 mark.  What blew me away was the number of species I actually saw.   I still don't have the exact total, but I'm fairly certain that my life list is now upwards of 1600. That would be nearly 600 species seen in two weeks in Peru, 465 of them in one week. Talk about insane......

The number of species in a single week was so mind blurring that had I not photographed a lot of them I might not even believe that I had seen them.  During the trip, I birded almost every habitat in Peru; from coastal mudflats to beaches to western slope foothills to paramo to Andean bogs to east slope foothills to cloudforest to tropical rainforest and more.

The two Inca Terns above were one of my most wanted birds in Peru. The most elegant of all the Terns, these birds are graceful (if not somewhat chunky) fliers.  The other coastal species I saw were pretty awesome too. Guanay (pronounced "wan-aye") Cormorant, Peruvian Booby, Peruvian Pelican, Kelp, Grey, Band-tailed and Andean Gulls, South American Tern, Peruvian Thick-knee, Surfbird, Whimbrel and many other species that were both lifers, and familiar residents in the US.

Of special interest were the members of the Toucan family that I encountered, like this Chestnut-eared Aracari and Blue-banded Toucanet:

Chestnut-eared Aracari, Puerto Maldonado, Peru
Blue-banded Toucanet

Higher up in the Andes,  the stunning Gray-breasted Mountain-toucan takes over:
Gray-breasted Mountain-toucan
Toucans are a family of birds that have no living relatives in the ABA area, so for me, it's always fun to see one of the Toucan family.

Birding the tropical rainforest is always fun. You never know what you're going to see and you can always get a lifer, no matter how long you've spent in one spot.  I actually know someone who spent three months at a single lodge in the Ecuadorian rainforest and got a lifer on his last day.

Rainforest birding is much like birding in Southern AZ in the fall. You spend a lot of time walking the trails looking for mixed flocks. Once you find one, you spend half an hour following it trying to glean out every last species in the group.  Sometimes, there are so many birds in the flock that you don't know which way to look.  There were a few times that I ended up birding with my camera rather than binoculars just to make sure I had a picture of the bird to identify it.  This was necessary, because by the time you saw the bird, got a good look at it, flipped through half the field guide trying to find it, ID it and then look up again, the flock would be gone.   Had I not been birding that way, I would've missed this Peruvian Recurvebill:
Peruvian Recurvebill, Puerto Maldonado, Peru
The bird came zipping through the leaves, landed on the branch for a second, then took off again.  Too short of a time to see the diagnostic bill, but just long enough to snap a shot off.

One of the highlights of the week in the Amazon rainforest was a short trip up the Tambopata River to a small oxbow lake known for being the only place in Peru where one could find Unicolored Blackbird. A bird discovered at the location previously by our guide, Gunnar Engblom, of Kolibri Expeditions.
We did eventually see the Blackbird, though my photo of it is mostly grass and reeds.

Gunnar was pretty happy about getting the Blackbird:

The other inhabitants of the lake provided some better photo ops. This Hoatzin posed quite nicely:

Hoatzin, Puerto Maldonado, Tambopata, Peru
Hoatzins are, perhaps, the wackiest, as well as largest, member of the Cuckoo family; being roughly the size of a small turkey, with their spiky crown and the most insane call of any Cuckoo.

Here is a recording of a Hoatzin from the same area:

Also present on the lake was a bird that I had been hoping we would see.  If you recall last fall, a Sungrebe turned up at Bosque Del Apache in central New Mexico constituting a first US record of an unexpected species.  Fortunately, the bird is far more common in the tropical Amazon and provided us with some great looks:

Sungrebe, Puerto Maldonado, Tambopata, Peru
Other birds seen during the day proved far too numerous to mention.  Along the river, we had two chance sightings of birds that we never saw again. The mystical Bare-necked Fruitcrow in a quick flyby, high above, and the almost comical Red-crested Cardinal sitting on a rock in the middle of the river. Not wanting to get my camera wet (the river boat we were in was slightly more than a long, motorized Canoe...), I missed the chance to photograph either of these species.

Tune in again soon for part 3 of Rainforest Reminisces.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Peruvian Paradigms: Pt 3: Rainforest reminisces: Pt 1

Sunset in the Amazon
As we crested the top of the last hill, all of a sudden the earth dropped away before us and turned from rolling foothills and wide river valleys to a vast ocean of trees, stretching as far as the eye could see towards the east. The land became utterly flat without a hint of the rolling hills we had just left. Sad was the view from the highway as we entered this sea of green for it appeared not as it had from above. Comprised not of continuous rainforest, but rather of small tracts of trees interspersed with vast open pastures, farm fields, savannah and lowland marsh.  Only those few protected areas we visited displayed any resemblance to the stunning, untouched rainforest that is so often advertised.   The town of Puerto Maldonado, while quite a large town, appeared nothing like the city of Lima that we had left the day before.  Just as North American cities appear all the same, each Peruvian city was different. Puerto Maldonado was characterized by long, cobblestone or dirt streets lined with cinderblock or often mud brick buildings; power lines on the poles above all clumped together like a string of dense vines through the jungle; few of the buildings were more than one story high, and yet, this town, because of its location along the edge of the Rio Madre de Dios, is one of the most important cities in southern Peru due to the wide use of rivers in the Amazon as rainforest superhighways.   Unlike the US where you can drive anywhere you want, much of the Amazon basin is not stable enough to support a vast highway or rail system. The result is the continuing use of riverboats as a primary means of transportation.  So much so, in fact, that the city of Iquitos in Northern Peru, the largest city in the Peruvian rainforest, is accessible only by water.  

But what, might you ask, is the primary mode of transportation on land?  Well, it's not a car.  

Auto Rickshaws, also known as Mototaxis or Pedicabs, like these below, are little more than a dirt bike with a metal or plastic cab attached: 

Sorry for the blurred photo. Taken from a moving car
So how many people can you fit in one of these Pedicabs?  Ten I think is the most I saw.   Four in the back, four in the front (including the driver) and two riding on the back of the cab just like you'd ride on the back of your friend's bicycle.  

Tune in again soon for Part 2 of Rainforest Reminisces when I actually start talking about birds again. :D

Monday, October 18, 2010

Peruvian Paradigms: Pt 2

Andean Fox
Eight, two-legged creatures carrying weird-looking things over their shoulders walk up the road towards me. They stop, all facing the same direction, apparently looking and listening for something.
I slip through the dry brush to get a closer look. They're facing away from me, looking out over the nearby lake. They raise some curious looking black things to their eyes. I move closer.
There are ruins nearby, from some long-lost civilization who my ancestors must have watched as I watch these creatures today.  Ruins that these present-day creatures now observe intently. What could these creatures be looking at with no apparent intent to hunt? A small bird flies up from the ruins and away towards the lake, and yet, these creatures make no move toward it. They simply observe.  
I move closer, making sure they can't see me, and give them a good once over.
They carry no weapons I know of. They don't appear to be out to harm anything.  Simply to observe.

The day is moving on, the sun rising higher in the sky. I must be off to find food before it becomes to warm.  Sensing that these creatures pose no threat, I run across the road, up the hill a little ways and stop and turn for one last look. One of the creatures points something at me, but nothing happens save for a clicking sound. I turn and make my way around the hill and out of sight.
These creatures are a regular part of my life. There are many of them, but only a few of us.
I will live day to day and forget, but they will remember me for a long time to come.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Peruvian Paradigms: Pt 1

The chill wind whipped across the nearly barren landscape. Nothing moved or shuddered under it's influence. Most of the plants growing up here were pressed close against the ground.  I, being the sole object in its way, had to lean forward slightly to avoid being blown over backwards.
The mountains rose around me like a circle of sentinels, ever watching with a stern impassiveness. The valley fell below me like some deep chasm seeking to pull its known world down into its clutches.
The spectacular scene was lost on its observer however. Ignoring the stunning view, I raised my binoculars and scanned the boggy tundra in front of me. A flash of white caught my eye. White-fronted Ground-tyrant. It was a good bird, but rather drab by the standards I was searching for. I skipped over it moved on to the next bird in line. This one displayed a brown back and a pure white belly. White-bellied Cinclodes. An endemic and certainly a very desirable bird, but since I had spent time observing one at length about an hour earlier, I again skipped over it.  Not finding my quarry, I started walking on a heading that took me through the bog in front of me. Hoping to flush something, I hopped and skipped from dry grass to raised lumps of hundred year old moss.  Something dark moved in front of me. Excitedly, I raised my binoculars for a closer look. False alarm. It was one of the dirt common Bar-winged Cinclodes. Don't get me wrong, they're cool birds, but once you've seen a thousand of them, they lose some of their interest.  I picked my way around the outskirts of the bog trying not to dunk my foot in the frigid water.  Some of the small ponds were still covered with a thin layer of ice, still shaded this early in the morning from the harsh sun by a clump of grass or moss.  Sunlit areas were bright and shadows were dark in the harsh light making finding birds a bit of a challenge. There were too many places to hide out there.  I kept walking.  

Stopping to scan again, I noticed a movement in the shadow of a clump of moss. I watched for a minute. Eventually, the bird popped out.  It took only a split second to figure out what it was; a long-legged Charadriiforme with a slate-grey back, black and white barred chest and belly, black face, long, weirdly bent bill, rusty-rufous nape, and a thin white diadem encircling it's head.