Monday, July 30, 2012

Yellow-headed Caracara

Last time I went to my local birding patch Laguna Villa Royal (Sabana Grande), a couple of weeks ago, I found a Striped Owl. Yesterday, this was topped by this immature Yellow-headed Caracara. 

It appears to be only the second record, and the first documented record, for Honduras. An undocumented sight record from northern Honduras in November 2005 was published in North American Birds (fide Oliver Komar).

image provided by eBird ( and created 30 July 2012

Yellow-headed Caracara is common in disturbed habitats (even cities) in South America and southern Central America. The first Costa Rican record dates back to 1973 (Garrigues & Dean 2007); now the species is common in the Central Valley and Pacific lowlands. eBird shows recent records in southern Nicaragua, and Yellow-headed Caracara may well be one of several open habitat species (like Pearl Kite and Double-striped Thick-knee) expanding their range in Central America, as a result of continuing deforestation and the creation of cattle pastures. 

Cited literature:
Garrigues, Richard & Robert Dean. 2007. The Birds of Costa Rica. Zona Tropical, Ithaca, New York.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Los Farallones

Los Farallones

Yesterday, Roselvy and I took our friend Dan Germer on a boat trip to a group of rocky islets in the Gulf of Fonseca called Los Farallones. Our objective was to find breeding Bridled Terns, and who knows what else pelagic. These rocks are about 10 km from the Cosiguïna Peninsula of Nicaragua, and about 10 km from Meanguera, an island that belongs to El Salvador. We left from Amapala, a Honduran island at about 25 km distance. Yes, the small Gulf of Fonseca is littered with volcanic islands and peninsulas from all three countries. Most authorities now accept that Los Farallones belong to Nicaragua, although the (Honduran) harbor master of Amapala was of the opinion that those rocks really belong to all three countries. It matters little to the birds that breed there, and ultimately — I'm not really a lister — not that much to me either. I was excited to see these birds no matter what nationality they possess.

Bridled Terns (and a Brown Booby)

The Bridled Tern colony on Los Farallones was first described by my friend Oliver Komar (Komar & Rodríguez 1996), who encountered an estimated 600 breeding pairs in 1993. Nineteen years later, this colony still exists, although my impression was of fewer individuals. 

Bridled Terns

As we circled the islands, it was difficult to get an accurate sense of how many Bridled Terns were there, but we estimated about 600 individuals, or 300 pairs. There may be a fairly wide margin of error in this estimate.

breeding Bridled Terns - note chick on right

We found at least one chick, and many apparently incubating birds. Komar and Rodríguez reported 8 chicks in early August of 1993, so the breeding season there appears to be July/August.

Blue-footed Boobies and a Brown Pelican

We saw five other species on the island: Blue-footed Booby (estimated 30, possibly more); Brown Booby (estimated 60, possibly also a low estimate); 300 Magnificent Frigatebirds; 80 Brown Pelicans; and 15 Gray-breasted Martins. A Least Storm-Petrel was seen darting away from the islands just as we approached.

Blue-footed Booby with a USFW band on its left leg

One of the Blue-footed Boobies was banded. Blue-footed Booby, a relatively recent addition to the Honduran list, now appears to be regular in the Gulf of Fonseca, as well as off the coast of El Salvador. Jenner et al. (2007) listed the species as unknown but expected from the Honduran part of the Gulf of Fonseca, and indeed eBird shows several recent records for the area.

Adult male Brown Booby

Unlike Atlantic Brown Boobies, adult male eastern Pacific Brown Boobies have a beautiful frosty-pale head around the face.

Note: a trip to Los Farallones needs to be planned beforehand; you can't just show up there and ask a fisherman to take you to 'those rocks out there'. If traveling from the Honduran side, a permit can be obtained from the harbor master in Amapala. Bring your passport and enough money to buy gasoline. From Amapala, the roundtrip is about 50 km. We spent about 80 USD in gasoline (which included the boatsman's fee) plus 12 USD for the permit.

Cited literature:
Jenner, T., O. Komar & A. Narish. 2007. Noteworthy bird records from the Gulf of Fonseca, Honduras. Cotinga 28: 13—20.
Komar, O. & W. Rodríguez. 1996. A Major Bridled Tern (Sterna anaethetus) Colony in the Gulf of Fonseca, Nicaragua. Colonial Waterbirds Vol. 19, Nr. 2: 264—267. 

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Striped Owl

Yesterday, while birding my 'local patch', I found this Striped Owl. We've been birding this little laguna about 10 minutes from our house fairly frequently since we discovered it back in January. This place, Laguna Villa Royal it's called, delivers consistently, and after 17 visits thus far we've accumulated 136 species there, including species considered uncommon in Central America. Almost every time we go there, we pick up something new. I expected the pace to slow down a bit during the summer (with all the migrants gone) but we're still adding new resident birds, like Thicket Tinamou and Yellow-billed Cacique last week, and this week Striped Owl.

It wasn't difficult to find. Tropical Kingbirds, Melodious Blackbirds and Groove-billed Anis were kicking up a tremendous racket, so I knew upon approach that there was likely a raptor perched somewhere.

The owl seemed completely oblivious to all this commotion, as it sat there low on a branch dozing in the late afternoon sun. As I got closer, it became more alert, and then flew off a short distance, with loud, angry passerines in tow. Although easily relocated, I decided to leave it alone and give it some rest.

Striped Owl occurs from Mexico through Central America well into South America. Here in Central America it is rarely reported, with most of the eBird records from places more heavily birded by tourists (Belize, Costa Rica). eBird has no records from Guatemala, El Salvador or Nicaragua for this species, and my record is the first Honduran eBird record.

Laguna Villa Royal is just a small, artificial lake (or large pond, if you will) in a valley surrounded by pine-oak forest. The valley is mostly cattle pasture and dry scrub forest. The laguna area is privately owned and fenced off, although the owner allows people on the property. Many people from the nearby hamlet come here to fish or swim, and there's usually cattle or horses grazing the area. The birding there is as good as any in the area, with notable sightings such as Ruddy Duck, Lesser Scaup, Masked Duck, Roseate Spoonbill, Great Black-Hawk, Bell's Vireo, Mangrove Swallow, and Mourning Warbler. Resident species such as Limpkin, Lesser Ground-Cuckoo, Yellow-bellied Elaenia, Brown-crested Flycatcher and White-lored Gnatcatcher are easily observed there.