Monday, March 2, 2009

A new species for El Salvador

In last week’s entry, I said I was going to spend some time in the office. Little did I know that only a couple of hours after posting, I’d be off on a 5-day trip to Montecristo, a cloud forest reserve in El Salvador, close to the Honduran and Guatemalan borders. I was invited by two Salvadoran biologists, Carlos and Roselvy, to accompany them on a bird banding expedition. An excellent opportunity for me to gain more banding experience, and to bird a wonderful national park in El Salvador.

Later this week I will be posting about this trip, but today’s story is all about a new species for El Salvador, the Pearl Kite pictured above.

This is a small, primarily South American raptor that was first recorded in Panama in 1977, and has since then spread further north in Central America into Costa Rica (where a small population is now found in the Guanacaste area) and Nicaragua.

On Sunday 1 March 2009, Oliver Komar, Roselvy Juarez, Luis Girón, Melissa Rodríguez and myself were the first to see it in El Salvador. We found it on the coast near the Playa El Icacal, in the municipality of Intipucá, in the southeastern province of La Unión.

A little prehistory. When the three of us got back from birding Montecristo Saturday night, Oliver asked us if we were up for more birding in La Unión. More birding? Claro que si! So a little after 6 AM Sunday morning, we were on our way to bird an area which, according to Oliver, doesn’t get birded all that much, and consequently has potential for new discoveries. In the car we even talked about the possibility of encountering this bird, the Pearl Kite. Sometimes that will jinx it, but yesterday we were lucky. I had never seen one before, and had no more than a vague idea of what it looked like. As I said to Oliver, "a small raptor, like a kestrel", which was all I had for a mental image of this bird.

Then, as we were driving on a dirt road parallel to the beach at El Icacal, a small, kestrel-like raptor flew across the road in front of us. It was close enough for us to be able to tell immediately that it was a raptor, that it was kestrel-sized, and that it wasn’t a kestrel.

There it is! I cried out. Luckily, we saw it land not far from us. We got out of the car, sneaked up on the kite, and I started snapping these photos.

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