Sam Crowe on August 21st, 2016

If you went on a birding trip to Melanesia, where would you be?  Any guesses?

Melanesia extends from the western end of the Pacific Ocean to the Arafura Sea, and eastward to Fiji. The region includes the four countries of Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands, Fiji, and Papua New Guinea. Now you know.

Each of these island groups has their own history and reputation.  Vanuatu is perhaps the least know of the group. It is also known as the New Hebrides and includes New Caledonia.

Fiji is known for its beautiful beaches and Papua New Guinea for its famous Birds-of-Paradise.

The Solomon Islands are best known to many from World War II and the Battle of Guadalcanal, one of the islands in the Solomon island chain.

All of these distant islands can be difficult to reach and are seldom visited by birders.  Rockjumper Birding Tours is one of the few companies that regularly provides birding and nature tours to the area. In October of 2017 they are offering tours to New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.  These are great trips that provide birders with the opportunity to see birds found no where else in the world.

Blyths Hornbill

Blyths Hornbill. © Markus Lilje

Their Secrets of Melanesia 2017 expedition features birding, wildlife and cultural tours as it takes birders into a world that few have ever experienced, including visiting idyllic islands and isolated villages.

Ducorp's or Solomons Cockatoo

Ducorp’s or Solomons Cockatoo

Commencing in Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands, the tour sets sail to discover the beauty of the outer Solomon Islands. Birders can relax as their ship glides into secluded bays. The trip extends into Vanuatu where birders will search for several endemic bird species.

In addition, the waters of the Solomon Islands provide some of the greatest diving in the world. The trip offers various opportunities for participants to snorkel and appreciate the beauty beneath the waves. An optional scuba-diving program includes an opportunity to explore wrecks from World War II.

This would certainly qualify as a trip of lifetime.

Rockjumper Birding Tours

Sam Crowe on August 15th, 2016
Tundra Swans in flight

Tundra Swans.

The latest video cameras are shooting 4K video.  The results allow amateurs, like me, to end up with fantastic video quality that matches what the experts were doing 20 years ago.  But just as vinyl records have made a comeback, old video formats can still be used effectively.

Steven Siegel of Raven on the Mountain has always taken a creative approach to the video he produces. He has developed several tricks that produce interesting and beautiful presentations that can effectively use older video formats.

American Dipper

American Dipper

American Impressionism‎
Using painting techniques with video editing software Steve has created a five-minute video of birds that resembles a moving impressionistic painting. The screen shots are from the video. View them as you would a painting.  The old impressionist masters would be impressed.

swans

Visit Monet Goes Birding on Vimeo to view the presentation. The video looks best on larger screens.

Western Grebes

Western Grebes

waterfall

Sam Crowe on August 13th, 2016

Most migratory shorebirds are headed south to their winter home.

While most people are staying inside to dodge the summer heat, most shorebirds are migrating south. Large numbers and a great variety of shorebirds can be seen this time of year.

Where to see them
Shorebirds will be migrating across much of the United States.  Coastal shorelines can be ideal, both sandy and rocky shorelines will have their own group of birds.

Almost any interior body of water with a mud flat can be productive.  With water levels typically low in August, mud flats can be common.

Settling ponds around waste-water treatment plants can be very productive.  A few such facilities in the country are managed to provide habitat for both nesting and migrating birds.

Shorebird identification
Identification of shorebirds can be extremely challenging.  Some species, like the Long-billed Curlew are hard to miss.

A group of birds known collectively as “peeps” provide many birders with a real challenge.

It can take years of experience to accurately separate Long-billed and Short-billed Dowitchers.

See how you can do with these images.

Long-billed and Short-billed Dowitchers.

Dowitchers. Which is the Long-billed and which is the Short-billed Dowitcher?

 

Baird's and Least Sandpipers

Name the peeps.

 

Long-billed Curlew.

This is an easy one.

Shorebird guides
The very best shorebird guide book is called simply The Shorebird Guide.  It was written by Michael O’Brian, Richard Crossley and Kevin Karlson.  It is available on Amazon for under $20.00.  It is a must-have guide for anyone trying to improve their skills in identifying shorebirds.

The Shorebird App
Birdzilla.com and Keven Karlson (one of the authors of The Shore Bird Guide) combined efforts to produce the Shorebirds of the United States and Canada app.  The app covers 50 species with multiple images of each species.  Kevin provides descriptions of the various plumages of each species.  The app is available for the iPhone and iPad.  Available in the Apple App store.

How far do they go?
Many shorebirds nest in Alaska and northern Canada and migrate amazing distances twice each year, often to South America.

For example, the rufa race of the Red Knot will be leaving its home in the Canadian Arctic to visit its winter home in Argentina or Chile, a distance of up to 9,000 miles.  Then back again next spring.  The Red Knot is not much larger than a robin and has a wingspan of about 20 inches.  It may fly up to 1500 miles at a time before stopping to rest and feed.

Answers:
Dowitchers:  Long-billed Dowitcher is the top image, Short-billed the second image.

Peeps:  Baird’s Sandpiper is the first image, Least Sandpiper the second image.  The Least is the easiest to identify of all the peeps as it is the only one with yellowish legs.

Long-billed Curlew

Credits – images © :
Kevin Karlson
Glenn Bartley
Greg Lavaty
Sam Crowe

Sam Crowe on August 7th, 2016

These “lover of grubs” are spectacular birds.

Campephilus is the genus of several large woodpeckers (12 species, 2 of which are now probably extinct.)  The name Campephilus means lover of grubs.  They (the birds) are found in Mexico, Central and South America. And previously in the United States.

The most famous is the Ivory-billed Woodpecker.  At about 20 inches in length it was the size of crow.  Reports of an Ivory-billed Woodpecker in Arkansas surfaced in 2005 but no conclusive evidence was ever obtained. The Cuban Ivory-billed Woodpecker is considered a subspecies and is also thought to be extinct.

Campephilus woodpeckers are known for making a rapid double-knock. Listen for the sound if you are ever in isolated forests of the southern U.S.  In this film David Attenborough calls in a Magellanic Woodpecker (Campephilus magellanicus).

An even more spectacular woodpecker was the Imperial Woodpecker. It was up to 24 inches or so in length. The bird was once widespread and fairly common throughout the Sierra Madre Occidental of Mexico, from western Sonora and Chihuahua southwards to Jalisco and Michoacán.  Logging and hunting have both contributed to its demise.  Like the Ivory-billed, it needed a very large area to survive.  It fed on beetle larvae found in dead or dying trees. This article describes a search for the Imperial by famous author George Plimpton and birder Victor Emanuel.

imperial woodpecker

Imperial Woodpecker. Kaiserspecht, (Campephilus imperialis), male and female from Mexico, Museum Wiesbaden, MWNH, Naturhistorische Landessammlung

Fortunately other members of the Campephilus genus still exist.  Here are examples of four of the remaining eight species.

Crimson-crested-Woodpecker

Crimson-crested-Woodpecker.
Up to 20 inches in length. Found in Panama, Argentina, and Trinidad.

 

Guayaquil Woodpecker

Guayaquil Woodpecker. Found in Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru.

 

Pale-billed Woodpecker

Pale-billed-Woodpecker. About 15 inches long. Found from Mexico to Panama.

 

Red-necked Woodpecker

Red-necked-Woodpecker. Found in several South American countries.

Photographs by Glenn Bartley.

The U.S. National Park Service (NPS) has been celebrating its 100th anniversary with a series of centennial events.  As part of the celebration all national parks (including monuments and memorials) will be offering free entrance from August 25 to August 28, 2016. That’s a Thursday through Sunday.  The perfect time for a quick trip before summer ends and schools get started in earnest.

Its a great opportunity to visit an old favorite or explore a location you have never experienced.  The NPS has an excellent web site with a map that shows all NPS locations by state or region.  Each location has a basic description with links to directions, hours, and a link to more information abut the location.   Its a excellent tool for exploring the national park system.

Shorebird migration lights up in August.  If you are a shorebird fan, and who isn’t, a trip to seaside location might be a good choice.  Many of the individual national park web sites have a checklist of the birds, or failing that, a quick Google search will often find a list of birds in the area.

Wood Storks on Cumberland Island National Seashore.

Wood Storks on Cumberland Island National Seashore.

Getting there is half the fun
The trip to a distant national park does not have to be boring.

Pokemon Go is all the rage these days.  I do not play it but understand it can be fun on a trip.

An app I do use is called RoadsideAmerica.  The app finds nearby points of interest and provides a distance to the point of interest and ratings based on reports of other visitors to the site.  You will not want to go far off your destination trail to see many of the locations but that is where the distance information comes in handy.

For example, right now I am:

– 196 miles away from seeing Barbadilla, the Texas giant armadillo. Three stars out of five.  Rated worth a detour, and its free.

– 163 miles away from a Museum dedicated to the creator of Conan the Barbarian 2 stars out of 5. Rated as worth a stop.

Birding trails
Many states have now developed birding trails. These trails, covering expanses of roadway that often across many miles, offer birders and nature lovers opportunities to visit different habitats and key birding hot spots. Maps are available for each trail and show the best birding locations along the trail. Over 30 states now have birding trails.

Following a birding trail on the way to a national park would be great approach.

The American Birding Association provides an excellent list of birding trails by state.

Visiting a national park and having fun along the way, what could be better than that?

Sam Crowe on July 31st, 2016

Grebes are an interesting family of birds.  The Horned Grebe is the most colorful grebe but for some reason the Red-necked is my favorite.  Maybe because it is the only North American grebe species I have yet to see.

Red-necked Grebes are primarily a coastal species during the winter. In the east they can be found from North Carolina to Canada. Along the west coast they can be found from California to Alaska. There are isolated inland reports during the winter.

Nesting occurs along the U.S. and Canadian border, large parts of western Canada and Alaska.

Red-necked Grebe

Red-necked Grebe with adult feeding young.

Red-necked Grebes are known for the wide variety of elaborate courtship displays. The grebes pair-up before returning to their nesting grounds so lucky observers may get to observe the displays in the birds’ winter homes.

Red-necked Grebe displaying.

Displaying Red-necked Grebes.

The nests are placed in a variety of locations; from well-made floating nests in open water to nests nestled in reeds and brush that line the margins of lakes. Generally 4 to 5 bluish-white eggs are laid.  Storms can produce waves which destroy many Red-necked Grebe nests and eggs.

Shy around humans, Red-necked Grebes are very territorial, not only against other Red-necked Grebes but also against other water birds. A variety of chases and attacks are used, including an underwater attack in which the grebe swims underneath the intruder and jabs the intruders underside with its bill. Ouch!

Red-necked Grebe guarding nest.

Red-necked Grebe guarding nest.

Red-necked Grebes feed on fish with their swift dives. Their feet are positioned well back on the body, great for swimming but makes for clumsy walking.  When disturbed they will dive instead of flying away.

Outside the U.S. and Canada, Red-necked Grebes are found in Europe and eastern Siberia.  Their population appears to be stable.

Red-necked Grebe.

Red-necked Grebe love.

All images © Alan and Elaine Wilson.

Sam Crowe on July 31st, 2016

Birding Products Showcase to be held in Columbus, Ohio.

Birders interested in a hands-on experience with the latest binoculars, spotting scopes and cameras will have the opportunity to do so at the second annual American Birding Expo. This year’s event will be held September 16-18 in Columbus, Ohio.

The American Birding Expo is a retail-sales-oriented showcase of products for birders and nature enthusiasts. Attendees will have the opportunity to visit with optics companies, tour companies and representatives from some of the major birding destinations from around the world.

The Expo is the largest and most diverse shopping experience available to bird watchers in North America.

The Event is free and open to the public. Attendees who register in advance will receive these special benefits.

• Fast pass registration onsite
• A free subscription to the Expo newsletter with the latest updates and discount leaks
• A collectible Expo gift bag
• Exclusive invitations to behind-the-scenes events
• Be the first to know when information is released

A portion of the proceeds from the Expo will be earmarked for three distinct conservation projects at the local, national, and international level.

The even is patterned after the British Birdfair, which attracts about 20,000 birders a year to the small village of Egleton, Rutland Water in England. The British Birdfair takes place August 19-21.

Resources:
American Birding Expo

The British Birdfair

Sam Crowe on July 24th, 2016

Antbirds are a large and diverse family of birds (more than 200 species) found from Mexico to South America.  Antbirds are often high on the list of visiting birders as they represent a family of birds not typically found in the United States.   They are known by a variety of names including antshrikes, antwrens, antvireos, fire-eyes, bare-eyes and bushbirds.

One of the most unusual birds in this group is the Barred Antshrike.  It is found as far north as the state of Tamaulipas, Mexico, and as far as I have been able to determine it is the only member of the antbird family to have ever been recorded in the United States.

Male Barred Antshrike

Male Barred Antshrike

Its presence in Texas was based on an audio recording of a singing bird which was not seen.

Its easy to see how this bird got its name, although the missus might disagree.

Male and female Barred Antshrikes do not resemble each other in the least.  The male is one of the world’s easiest birds to identify, if you can find one. It feeds on ants and insects on the ground as it skulks through the forest undergrowth.

The female is rufous above with a chestnut crest. The sides of her head and neck are streaked with black, and the underparts are rich buff.

Female Barred Antshrike

Female Barred Antshrike

The tip of the bill is slightly hooked, perhaps the reason for the “shrike” name.

Barred Antshrikes are thought to be monogamous, to mate for life, and to defend their territory. Both sexes incubate the eggs.

The song of the Barred Antshrike can be heard on the xeno-canto web site.

Most antbirds have generally, dark, subtle colors.  The Fasciated Antshrike is similar in appearance to the Barred Antshrike but most other species on the family are less distinctively marked.

Spotted Antbird

Spotted Antbird

 

Spot-backed Antbird

Spot-backed Antbird

 

Fasciated Antshrike

Fasciated Antshrike

References:
All images © Glenn Bartley.  Glenn is a Birdzilla.com staff photographer and leads his own photography work shops to Central and South America.

The song on the Barred Antshrike can be heard on the xeno-canto web site.

From Texas Bird Images web site – Barred Antshrike – Cameron Co., September 1, 2006.  A singing bird was recorded, but not seen, at Harlingen, Cameron, on 1 September 2006, TBRC# 2006-95).  The audio can be heard hear.

Male Barred Antshrike

Male Barred Antshrike

Hawk Mountain Sanctuary is a 2,600-acre natural area in southeastern Pennsylvania. The terrain acts like a funnel for migrating raptors. The local mountains run north-south and cross winds hit the ridges and create updrafts favorable for slope soaring.  Hawk Mountain is on the Appalachian Flyway and is one of the best places in the country to watch migrating raptors in the fall.

The area has a bloody and sad history. In 1929 the Pennsylvania Game Commission placed a $5 bounty on goshawks and Hawk Mountain was a favorite location for hunters. Richard Pough, an amateur ornithologist visited Hawk Mountain and watched hunters shooting hundreds of migrating raptors, just for sport. The bodies of the dead birds were left to rot on the ground.

Richard sent photos of the dead birds to New York conservationist Rosalie Edge.  Mrs. Edge visited the area. She leased 1,400 acres, stopped the hunting, and created what eventually became the Hawk Mountain Sanctuary.

Today Hawk Mountain is the most famous hawk watch location in the country.

Male Northern Harrier in flight.

Male Northern Harrier. Photograph by Greg Lavaty.

Scenic overlooks range from 1,300 to 1,500 feet in elevation offering spectacular views. Between August 15 and December 15 an average 18,000 raptors fly past its ridge tops, often at eye-level.

By mid-August the first Bald Eagle signals the beginning of the fall raptor migration, followed by Ospreys, and American Kestrels. Thousands of Broad-winged Hawks pass in mid September, and October brings as many as 16 species of raptors.

Peregrine Falcon.

Peregrine Falcon.

While fall is the most popular time of year, the sanctuary is open year-round. Free programs feature live birds of prey and are held most Saturdays and Sundays, May through November.

Almost 250 bird species have been seen in the area. Numerous hiking trails run through the area. The Visitor Center includes the Mountain Bookstore, Wings of Wonder gallery, and gift shop.

Broad-winged Hawk in flight

Broad-winged Hawk

Location:
About 30 miles west of Allentown, Pa.

Sam Crowe on July 10th, 2016

Birds in a specific family usually have a high degree of family resemblance.  Gulls look like gulls, hawks look like a hawk and owls look like an owl.

This is not the case with Cotingas.  Contingas vary in size, body structure and behavior.  They carry names such as Kinglet Calyptura (about 3 inches long), Bearded Bellbird (11 inches long), Orange-breasted Fruiteater (7 inches long) and the Amazonian Umbrellabird (almost 20 inches long). The group is so diverse it seems that there is always a discussion among scientists to decide if a particular species really belongs in the Cotinga family.

Cotingas are found in Central and South America.  Their preferred habitat is forest and forest edges. They are a member of the passerines (sometimes called perching birds or song birds). They feed on insects and fruit.

The Andean Cock-of-the-Rock is the showiest member of this diverse group

The Andean Cock-of-the-Rock is the showiest member of this diverse group

Females are usually much duller in appearance than the males.

Bare-necked Fruitcrow

Bare-necked Fruitcrow. The only member of the genus Gymnoderus. It is found in the Amazon Rainforest.

In some species courtship occurs on lekking grounds, with birds like the Cock-of-the-Rock performing elaborate displays.

Bearded Bellbird

Bearded Bellbird. Occurs in humid forests and woodland of Trinidad and Tobago, Colombia, Guyana, Venezuela, Bolivia and northern Brazil.

In some species both parents care for the young and in others the males depart after mating.

The Purple-throated Fruitcrow is a colonial nester and does little to hide its nests.  Often one female will lay an egg and the others, male and female, help provide insects to the chick.

Orange-breasted Fruiteater

Orange-breasted Fruiteater. Native to Colombia and Ecuador. Found in subtropical or tropical moist montane forests.

 

Yellow-billed Cotinga

Yellow-billed Cotinga. Found in coastal Costa Rica and western Panama. Found in a variety of habitats.

The photographs are from Central and South America and were taken by Glenn Bartley. Glenn has been a Birdzilla.com staff photographer for many years. Glenn leads his own photographer work shops to Central and South America as well as Canada. His trips are so popular that his tropical workshops scheduled for the balance of 2016 and all of 2017 are already sold out.  Visit Glenn’s web site to sign up for email alerts about future workshops and to see more of his fantastic work.

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