Sunday, May 23, 2010

Banding in Montecristo

I just returned from a great 5-day bird banding trip to Parque Nacional Montecristo, in the northwestern mountains of El Salvador. I assisted one of SalvaNatura's bird monitoring staff, Roselvy Juárez, filling in for another SalvaNatura bird bander, Carlos Zaldaña, who was sick this week. The site consists of cloud forest at higher levels, and pine-oak forest at lower levels. SalvaNatura has been monitoring bird populations here for a number of years with two field stations, one in the cloud forest and one in pine-oak.

The first couple of days we worked in the cloud forest, where birds like the above Spotted Nightingale-Thrush are common. We caught a bunch of these beautiful but otherwise rather elusive birds.

Other very cool birds we caught in the cloud forest included Scaled Antpitta, Black Thrush, Tawny-throated Leaftosser, White-faced Quail-Dove, Blue-throated Motmot, Grey-breasted Wood-Wren, Slate-colored Solitaire (quite a few), Common Bush-tanager, and Golden-browed Warbler (several), among others.

Wednesday morning I briefly tried for Cocoa Woodcreeper, a species that was recently found at the site as a first record for El Salvador. Oliver Komar, who found the bird with Álvaro Moisés a few months ago, told me where they heard it. This was about a 20-minute walk from the banding station. I went out there knowing I'd have to be incredibly lucky to find it in very little available time and without playing a tape for it. I didn't see or hear that bird.

A bird that I am very familiar with but had never seen up close was this Rufous-browed Peppershrike. It's a bit of a generalist. We caught this individual in the pine-oak forest, but I've also heard it in scrubby edge-habitat in Cuscatlancingo for example, a suburb of San Salvador. Peppershrikes are very large vireos that feed on insects as well as fruit. They sometimes associate with mixed warbler flocks, and briefly become flock members, before continuing on their own. It's not uncommon in Montecristo, though it's only been captured a handful of times there. Last week we caught two individuals.

Here another familiar Central American pine-oak resident, Bushy-crested Jay. This bird too is common at the site but usually stays higher in the canopy, and is not frequently caught in the mistnets. Having seen groups of Bushy-crested Jays at practically every field site for the Golden-cheeked Warbler winter monitoring project I've worked on, I was really excited to find one in one of our nets. As I extracted it, I learned what incredible strength it has in its feet and bill. "This," as I said to Roselvy, "is a bird with personality."

Here I am holding it after I banded it. Note the raised crest of this excited bird. It pecked a little at my hand and also tried to remove the band I had just put on its right leg.

Obviously the neotropical migrants that winter here are all gone, so we only caught residents. This is a young Ochre-bellied Flycatcher, a bird that ranges from SE Mexico all the way to Ecuador and Brazil.

Magnificent Hummingbird. This is an adult male. Click on the photo for more detail. Aren't those colors fantastic?

One of the last and most exciting captures this week was this Olivaceous Woodcreeper, a very small woodcreeper that is not known from any other site in El Salvador and is not at all common in Montecristo. This was only the second time for this species to be caught in the bird monitoring program here.

After we released it, it landed in a tree nearby.

Tomorrow morning, I'm off to Honduras, for another banding trip, this time at Monte Uyuca. This site also happens to be one of the Golden-cheeked Warbler sites, and in late January and early February I was there also, first to collect GCWA data, and then to assist with bird monitoring. This time of year there won't be any goldencheeks there, obviously, but there will be a bunch of really cool birds and butterflies for sure. More about that next time...

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