Sunday, October 11, 2009

Raptor banding again

Thursday, on one of my days off, I went with Yani to the raptor banding site at Cansaburro, in the dunes 20 km north of Cardel. I had visited this site last year and thought I knew where it was, but we actually got off the bus about 500 m too soon, and then got lost for a while in the cane fields. It was hot and as we crossed cow pastures and ran into local farmers, I felt like an idiot for getting us lost, especially since I had repeatedly and confidently stated that I knew exactly where the banding site was. More than an hour later than planned we did eventually get there, where Gustavo and Lynn were banding that day. A British photographer, Iain, was also there on assignment for National Audubon’s magazine. We had missed a Zone-tailed Hawk and a Sharp-shinned Hawk, and for a while it was slow going in the blind. The atmosphere was relaxed and we enjoyed the conversation. Slightly hung-over from the night before and on very little sleep, I actually did OK considering. I had made armadillo sandwiches from leftover armadillo (roasted at the party the night before), which Yani, Lynn and Gustavo enjoyed but which Iain politely declined. Later in the afternoon, almost as soon as he left to catch his flight to Los Angeles, we started getting birds: two Merlins, two more sharpies, and a Cooper’s Hawk.

One the Merlins (top photo) had just eaten, with bits of passerine and a drop of blood still on the beak and throat.

Merlins are so aggressive, they will even come in on pigeons as lure, even though the pigeon is actually bigger than the Merlin.

Here I am in the blind holding a Merlin.

And after it was banded I got to release it.

A juvenile Northern Harrier also showed an interest, but you don’t catch them with pigeons.

A few days ago, while I was counting in Cardel on the rooftop of Hotel Bienvenidos, I was correctly identified by none other than Steve Howell, one of the world’s top birders, and author of the definitive bird guide to Mexico and Central America. There currently is an American Birding Association convention going on here in Veracruz, and Steve Howell is one of the leaders on their field trips. He was at our count site for about 5 seconds, during which he asked co-counter Rigo about the flight. Rigo told him the flight had moved inland, and that Chichicaxtle would now be the better observation site. He then said “thank you Rigo, thank you John” and left, and I thought: how does he know my name? He never introduced himself. (I was busy counting.) Well, he probably made his identification based on behavior and plumage. I was one of only two people on that roof using clickers – a strong clue for me being a counter. Also I was wearing an official Pronatura t-shirt worn only by counters and assistant counters – another clue. He probably then focused in on a plumage detail: the small name tag I happened to be wearing.

I also met Bill Clark, author of several North American raptor field guides, with whom I talked for quite a bit today. This was again in Cardel, where as usual the flight had moved inland in the afternoon. Thus we had ample opportunity to observe our winter resident Peregrine chase off other Peregrines crossing its air space, and discuss some finer details of raptor identification. Our pleasant conversation ended abruptly when the construction crew – there’s still construction going on at the roof of the hotel – started blasting reggaeton through the speakers they were about to install.

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