Monday, December 21, 2009

Looking for Gampsonyx

We're in Honduras! After nearly a month of waiting in El Salvador, Kashmir and I were finally able to take off Saturday and embark on another field season looking for Golden-cheeked Warblers in Honduras.

Piggybacking on this project we planned brief visits to a couple of sites in western El Salvador and southern Honduras, where earlier this year first observations of Pearl Kite (Gampsonyx swainsoni) for each country were made. An article describing these first records is currently in press. We figured we might as well revisit these sites, as they were more or less on the way to Tegucigalpa, where we would meet up with our Golden-cheeked Warbler field assistant Fabiola.

Saturday morning we left San Salvador and drove out to the department of La Unión in western El Salvador, to go to Playa El Icacal, near the town of Intipucá.

It took a bit of searching and a flat tire to reach our destination. The searching brought us to areas that appeared to qualify as potential Pearl Kite habitat, so I didn't consider this a waste of time. We scanned every treetop and all wires for this small raptor, but did not encounter it.

This is where Oliver, Roselvy and I saw an immature Pearl Kite back in March of this year. Kashmir and I scanned the area carefully, but did not find it. Unfortunately, we didn't really have that much time because we still had to cross into Honduras and drive to our next destination, Choluteca, the same day.

Choluteca is a town in southern Honduras where Honduran biologist Mario Espinal, one of my coauthors on the Pearl Kite article, saw and photographed the first record of this species for Honduras in April of this year. Since then, he has observed the species a couple more times in this area, which suggests that there may be a small pioneering population in the region. Our goal was to collect more evidence to substantiate that hypothesis.

Early Sunday morning we set out for a dirt road south of the town of Choluteca, where a couple of sightings were made. This time we found the dirt road very easily. This, it would seem, is what Pearl Kite habitat looks like: cattle pastures with scattered acacias.

The two raptors we did encounter here were Crested Caracara and American Kestrel. Both species were common. But two and half hours of fairly intensive scanning did not yield any Pearl Kites. If the species is indeed a resident here, not merely a vagrant, it seems to be an uncommon one.

Common birds here included Groove-billed Ani, Ruddy Ground-Dove, Great Kiskadee, and Tropical Kingbird. These are of course all species common in disturbed habitats throughout Central America.

Particularly abundant was Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, a winter resident here.

Another common winter resident here was Mourning Dove.

Around nine we returned to Choluteca for some breakfast, and then drove on to Tegucigalpa, to meet up with Fabiola and to do grocery shopping. Mid-afternoon, we left Tegucigalpa and drove to our first field site, La Esperanza. At 2000 m, this is our highest - and coldest - field site. Night fell as we reached Siguatepeque, where we turned onto what by daytime is a very scenic route, winding through the mountains to La Esperanza.

In the morning, the weather had been sunny and agreeable in Choluteca. Here in central Honduras, it was overcast and rainy. As soon as we turned onto that winding mountain road, we hit dense fog - clouds - and the driving on this dark, unlit road became extremely difficult and hazardous. We made it to La Esperanza a little later than initially planned, because I had to drive slow in many places.

Then finally today, Monday, we were supposed to go out and describe our first mixed warbler flock here in the forests surrounding La Esperanza, but hard rain prevented us from going out into the field. It was raining all night and is still raining as I write this. We'll go out and hit several of the field sites today, just to reconnoiter and refresh my memory of sites we did when I was here last, two years ago. We'll also try to get our spare tire fixed.

It seems to me that we've been struck by an uncommon amount of bad luck recently, and I'm starting to think the cosmos owes me big time, if it cares in any way about restoring karmic balance...

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