Monday, October 25, 2010

Birding Tiputini Biodiversity Station

First off, a big congratulations to Harry Legrand for correctly identifying the nest as belonging to a tinamou...impressive!

He was off with his species guess of Cinereous...this was actually a Bartlett's (correct me if I'm wrong!)

Now before I dive headfirst into the Amazon I should mention that I will be paraphrasing myself from my other blog's post from back in April: Elementary my dear Hoatzin. If this current post leaves you wanting more (like pictures of monkeys), then follow that link.

Alright let's give this place some context:

View Larger Map

Yeah, this place is a bit out of the way. Travel from the nearest airport (Coca) takes 6 hours and 3 legs via boat, truck and motorized canoe. So you'll have to budget a day of travel each way.

They neither solicit nor discourage "tourists" or birders from visiting; the station is primarily for researchers: tropical ecologists, primatologists, ornithologists, etc. to conduct field work. So it has a much different (and refreshing) vibe to it, than the standard Amazonian ecotourism lodge. They do have fantastic and knowledgable resident guides who know all of the place's 550+ species and ours, Jose, showed spent a couple days enthusiastically leading us around a few of the trails.

I ended up at Tiputini because I had the serendipity to meet one of the station's directors, Prof. Kelly Swing, while he was visiting La Hesperia with a group of students.

I managed to convince my buddy, Peter Capobianco, to fly down from the states to get in on the trip as well.

Anyway, on to the birds:

What stood out most about the bird life at Tiputini, aside from the staggering total species diversity, is that so many of the birds encountered were considered either "rare, scarce or local" according to the field guide (Ridgley and Greenfield). Most birds were encountered only a single time. For a serious birdwatcher this does demand constant vigilance as a once-in-a-lifetime type species could show itself at any moment and then disappear just as quickly. For us this happened when were were with Jose when he spotted an (to us anyway) invisible Rufous-vented Ground Cuckoo. He said it was the second one he had seen at Tiputini in four years. Don't worry I made up for it later at Jatun Sacha Bilsa (account coming soon to a blog near you!).

Not a mega-bird, but one example of something "rare" that cooperated for a photo was this Black-bellied Cuckoo that joined us in the 35-meter canopy tower. We must have spent 40 hours in that tower over the course of our six full days at the station. It was an awesome spot to see passing groups of macaws (we saw lots of Scarlet as well as Blue-and-Yellow and Chestnut-fronted), canopy flocks (loaded with Paradise, Opal-rumped and Opal-crowned Tanagers) and various toucans including:

Many-banded Aracari.

And here a Common Piping-Guan:

...and a Double-toothed Kite:

...also joined us in the canopy tower.

Along the river we found a foolishly tame juvenile Great Black-Hawk:

...and a totally badass Sunbittern!

...not a great photo unfortunately.

Another nice vantage point was a gazebo by the dock overlooking the river. A nearby fruiting tree was a popular spot for Dacnis, such as:
...this Yellow-bellied
...and this Black-faced

Combining our lists for the 6 days we had a little over 170 bird species (we each individually had around 165) and also saw 8 types of monkeys. Bird highlights were many, but to name a few: the macaws, the Salvin's Curassows (we saw 7 individuals in one day), the Bartlett´s Tinamou, Gray-winged Trumpeter, Black-faced Hawk, and of course the Hoatzins:There were loads clambering clumsily among the trees by La Laguna.

We were a bit unfortunate in our timing in that we missed the ornithologist who was mist netting understory species. It would have been nice to see some of these birds up close as finding them in the field we both decided was some of the most difficult bird-watching either of us had ever experienced, because of the poor light under three or four layers of canopy, the density of the habitat, and the diversity of similarly plumaged species (i.e. dusky-throated antshrike vs cinereous antshrike).

Another bit of bad timing was that the mannikins happened to be molting rather then displaying and every individual we did happen to see was immature/female and essentially unidentifiable. Otherwise we probably would have added 6 or so charismatic species to our lists.

I was really hoping for a Harpy Eagle, which are erratic, but regular at the station. It's hard to really complain though:

This Crested Owl was one of many "consolation prizes." A big thanks Jose for this stakeout; it was my first owl sighting in Ecuador!

I hope the mediocre photos managed to pull you through all the text. For wayyy better shots check out Pete's work here. Pages 1 through 10 have Tiputini pictures. My personal favorite.

More information about Tiputini can be found here.

I would end on video, but don't have anything from Tiputini worth showing. Sooooo instead let's have another nest quiz!

Hint: this one was found at approximately 1500 meters elevation on a trail at La Hesperia (about 2 hours west of Quito).

Good luck!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Connecticut Warbler and White-rumped Sandpiper at Falls Lake

I went out this morning to Falls Lake with Robert Meehan, the man who discovered the Connecticut Warbler a week ago, with pretty low expectations. The bird hadn't been reported for about 48 hours and it had been 7 days since Robert's original discovery.

Against all odds we flushed it from the sedge along the lake side of the peninsula and then spent a good hour following it through the thickets losing it and re-finding it. I tried to get some pictures, but the thing always seems to keep at least two or three layers of vegetation between it and any observers. I have a hard time focusing through dense stuff with my point-and-shoot, so this is the best I could do.
We came up empty on our first sweep along the path and with no sign of any Palm Warblers we assumed that the Connecticut was long gone. So we went further out to check for lingering shorebirds. Surprisingly we found 2 Least Sandpipers, a Dunlin and a White-rumped Sandpiper, which we thought would end up being our consolation prize for missing the Connecticut. The best part was that these birds had apparently been feeding on sedatives and let us walk right up to within 15 feet of them without ever taking flight.

It was probably the best closest look at shorebirds I've ever had anywhere and the White-rumped was my 215th NC bird!

Back to the main celebrity though...

When looking for the Connecticut, definitely check all the sedge (tall grassy stuff) along the shoreline. This is where we first flushed it and where we found it again later after losing it. We also stumbled upon a Marsh Wren this way (a life bird for Robert!)

Seven days seems like quite a long time for a migrant to stick around and Robert and I could only foolishly wonder if it might stick around to winter. I'm sure other folks will be checking up on it this weekend.

I'm going to end with a re-posting of my link to the birds of La Hesperia. I added 14 awesome pictures by Peter Capobianco (the same guy who shot the Cerulean Warbler nesting video) of some really cool birds like Toucan Barbet, Flame-faced Tanager, Blue-winged Mountain-Tanager, Red-headed Barbet, etc. They are all right at the beginning for easy viewing.

And finally here's an HD video of the White-rumped Sandpiper from today. Sorry for the wind noise! And you may want to skip ahead to 40 seconds when the Least Sandpiper shows up for good size comparison. Also around 53 seconds the bird ruffles its feathers briefly exposing its white rump.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Birds of La Hesperia, five state lifers, more on ebird and a nesting Cerulean video!

I promised when I started this blog that I would go back and revisit some of my birding experiences in South America. So to make good on this promise I present to you the birds of La Hesperia:

Birds of La Hesperia
(click it and watch the slideshow!)

In here are all my best bird shots from La Hesperia, the biological station where I worked from January through June, 2010. They are roughly ordered from best to worst in terms of quality, with some hilariously poor shots toward the end (see Blue Seedeater and Black Hawk-Eagle).

I included bad pictures in a record keeping effort. Nobody to my knowledge has previously worked on a photo inventory for this site. And all were taken on site. I have better shots of some species, but they were taken elsewhere and have not been included.

So while this is not meant to be exhibition of my photographic skills (and I don't even claim to be a photographer), some of them did come out pretty well. If you would like to use any, just please give me credit and mention La Hesperia. There are also a handful by my friend David Kilner (a.k.a. "Colorado" on and these are marked DK.

Also this is a bit of a challenge to anyone who fancies him or herself as a naturalist or photographer, and somehow ends up at La Hesperia, to photograph any species I was unable to capture or to submit better photos so I can take down some of the embarrassingly bad images.

For more information on La Hesperia, see or visit the facebook page.

Turning to domestic birds...

I participated in another fall count back on Sept. 25: Jeff Pippen's in Duke Forest gate 23 (Korstian division). I got the times mixed up and showed up 15-minutes early and was serendipitously rewarded by a Common Raven being mobbed by several American Crows. The raven is quite a good bird for the Piedmont and state bird #210 for me! (#209 was Cattle Egret, which I had seen before but somehow left off my NC list).

Other wildlife pretty much stole the show for the rest of the count. A big copperhead was a highlight for the other student participants. And Jeff got really excited about this butterfly:

...which apparently is somewhat rare. (a White M Hairstreak, can you see the white 'm'?)

We did encounter a small migrant flock at the bridge near the end with Magnolia Warbler, Northern Parula, Black-throated Blue Warbler and Chestnut-sided Warbler Bay-breasted Warbler. I missed the latter two, which would have been state birds.

I quickly made up for these misses when I went out to Eno River State Park (off Pleasant Green Road) with Norm Budnitz three days later. Warblers were thick along the river and we managed 11 species including the missing Black-throated Blue (NC #211) and Chestnut-sided (#212) as well as Cape May (#213) and Tennessee (#214).

A pair of noisy Pileated Woodpeckers kept trying to distract us from the warbler show and with a Hairy Woodpecker and a couple Red-headed present (not to mention the ubiquitous Downy and Red-bellied) we were only a sapsucker short of a woodpecker sweep.

Also in the mix were about 10 Yellow-billed Cuckoos (pictured), a couple Scarlet Tanagers and the other warblers: Blackburnian, Redstart, Parula, Pine, Yellowthroat, Black-and-White, Magnolia. I ended up being probably my best day of fall migrants outside of trips to Block Island, RI.

I'll finish this post with a few more comments about ebird...

My discussion on ebird last time generated nice comments from a couple other bird bloggers: Ali Iyoob (see his birding journal) and Andrew, who keeps a blog on birding in Arizona. It turns out a lot of folks keep birding blogs, in fact there's already another one that calls itself birds on the brain. Since it was started a few months before mine, I should probably think about changing the name. Any suggestions?

Another nice thing about ebird is that regional volunteers check up on rare sightings among lists and contact birders to confirm that a mistake was not made. This has happened to me three times so far and in one case it alerted me to a life tick I had missed. I had recorded a few sightings of Pied Oystercatcher in New Zealand. At some point this species was split into Pied (in Australia) and South Island (in New Zealand).

So I went back and corrected the errors in my data for accuracy's sake and got a life tick in the process. I had lost a few ticks while updating my checklist due to various lumps, so I am now at 1443, but who knows what other splits out there I am missing out on? Hopefully some alert volunteer will see the red flags in my list backlog and help me out!

Finally I'm going to end with an amazing HD video of Cerulean Warblers nesting behavior taken by my friend, Peter Capobianco. I promise it will blow you away (make sure to chose the highest resolution and watch full screen!)

Pete is also a fantastic photographer and puts anything I'll ever post here to shame.

Check out his work:
And his new Zazzle storefront where you can buy sick refrigerator magnets! :