Monday, August 31, 2009

Nearly 6,000 kingbirds!

This afternoon, Kashmir, Mercy and I counted nearly 6,000 Eastern Kingbirds migrating over the city of Cardel, Veracruz!

In the morning, I had high hopes of a big Swallow-tailed Kite flight, because conditions were similar to those that triggered a big flight last year around this time. That, and the fact that we're currently about 150 short of where we might be with this species in this part of the season, had me scanning the sky for this gracious bird. However, we only got one! A few more Mississippi Kites, but their numbers too remained much lower than we've been seeing recently.

Instead, we got a magnificent Eastern Kingbird flight, of which I have no pictures, because I was too busy counting them...

Pretty decent shorebird migration too, with mostly White Ibis, some White-faced Ibis, and two small groups of Solitary Sandpiper. We also had decent looks at both Great Black-Hawk and Common Black-Hawk - both resident species here. Another enjoyable hawk-watching day...

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Numbers so far

With just 10 days of counting and a couple more days to go until the end of the month, it's a little premature to look at numbers so far. But let's do that anyway.

August in Veracruz is all about kite migration. Last year, Swallow-tailed Kite peaked on the 29th, with 153. We haven't had such a concentrated Swallow-tailed Kite flight yet, although nearly every day so far had double-digits. So our running total of 152 falls well below last year's August total of 297.

For Mississippi Kite, we're pretty much on a par with last year: 66,567 so far, against an August total of 66,063 for 2008.

Other migrant raptors we've seen include Osprey (23 so far, similar to last year), Zone-tailed Hawk (8 so far, I think I've seen and even found most if not all of them), Peregrine Falcon (3) and Turkey Vulture (1).

Yesterday, two Upland Sandpipers were interesting migrants over Cardel.

This morning, on my day off, I went down to the river that runs a couple of blocks from our house. I found many common residents and expected migrants there: Yellow Warblers, Orchard Orioles, a Yellow-billed Cuckoo in the same trees I saw them in last year, Willow Flycatchers, and Bare-throated Tiger-Heron, Little Blue Heron, Green Heron (pictured above), Great Egret, Snowy Egret (pictured below), Green Kingfisher, Black Phoebe, a family of Brown Jays, a Bat Falcon and a Laughing Falcon.

I saw many familiar butterflies there, and one that was new to me but appeared to be common there: Red-crescent Scrub-Hairstreak.

Mississippi Kites were streaming through overhead.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Lineated Woodpecker

Today a picture of a yard bird that's neither a raptor nor a migrant, but a spectacular resident: Lineated Woodpecker. In Chichicaxtle, in the yard of the house where the counters are housed this year, stands a dead palm tree trunk with a few woodpecker holes in it. Several times we have seen this bird - a male Lineated Woodpecker - perched on that tree. This is one of three woodpecker species that are commonly found in and around Chichicaxtle, the other two being Golden-fronted Woodpecker and Ladder-backed Woodpecker.

Bird migration is definitely underway here in Veracruz, with each day good flights of Orchard Orioles, the first Eastern Kingbirds, the first Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, and waterbirds such as White and White-faced Ibis, Anhinga, and Wood Stork. Kites continue to migrate in (relatively) small numbers, and we've also seen a few Zone-tailed Hawks and Ospreys. Again an immature Snail Kite flew over Cardel today, possibly the same (resident) individual as a few days ago.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Kite migration

Kite migration has started here in Veracruz, with a decent first push on the first couple of days of the count (as noted in the previous post). Interestingly, the first hawk watch north of us - Hazel Bazemore just outside Corpus Christi, TX - is reporting good recent flights of Swallow-tailed Kites (pictured below), while their numbers of Mississippi Kites (pictured above) so far are lagging behind.

This is in marked contrast with what we down here in Veracruz have been seeing so far.

After three days of counting, we had seen almost 5,000 Mississippi Kites, while our number of Swallow-tailed Kites was 53 in the first three days. Compare that to a running total of 90 Mississippi Kites versus 113 Swallow-tailed Kites for Hazel Bazemore during the period 15-19 August. It's unusual for them (as it would be for us) to have more Swallow-taileds than Mississippi's. Note that our Veracruz numbers are really of two sites combined, Cardel and Chichicaxtle.

Since we're about 600 miles / 1,000 km south of them, one wonders if perhaps they missed that first push of Mississippi Kites, which possibly occurred just days before their count started. Good to see though that their numbers of Swallow-tailed Kites are so high - that bodes well for us. We can expect Swallow-tailed Kite numbers to build again rapidly to a peak in about a week or so.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Anna's Eighty-eight

Today just a brief entry and a picture of an Anna's Eighty-eight, a common butterfly around the Texolo Waterfalls near Xico, Veracruz. I went there on Friday with Kashmir and Mercy, two co-counters on the Veracruz River of Raptors project. Kashmir, who is from the area, was an assistant counter also last year, while Mercy is 'the other' non-Mexican counter this year; she's from Kenya. These waterfalls were more productive for butterflies last year, when I went here in October - I will likely revisit this place a little later in the season.

The raptor count this year started last week Thursday, and the first couple of days were actually pretty good with good early flights of Mississippi Kites and Swallow-tailed Kites. No doubt the rain of the preceding days had something to do with this, as backed up raptors were given an opportunity to migrate when the rain cleared. Things have slowed down a bit: I counted in Cardel today, where the most interesting birds were a (resident) juvenile Snail Kite and a Laughing Gull, a fairly rare species here. All morning, an Aplomado Falcon was perched on one of the radio towers in town. Only a few Mississippi Kites today, but several large flocks of Anhingas were seen on migration.

Numbers of Mississippi and Swallow-tailed Kites will start to build rapidly now. Swallow-tailed Kites will peak at the end of the month, while Mississippi Kites will peak one or two weeks later...

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Arrived in Veracruz

The bird pictured above is a Fan-tailed Warbler, one of several we banded last week in one of El Salvador's national parks El Imposible. After a short banding trip, I stayed around for a few days to attend Roselvy's thesis defense at the University of El Salvador on molt strategies in Long-tailed Manakins. She talked about this for about an hour and I was pleased to note I was able to follow 90% of it. Afterwards I briefly talked with a Salvadoran biologist about butterflies - yay for my still pretty basic yet much improved Spanish skills!

Since then, I traveled from San Salvador to Guatemala City on Saturday, from there on to Tapachula in the Mexican state of Chiapas on Sunday, and late Sunday afternoon I went straight through to the city of Veracruz, where I arrived Monday morning. From there it was only a 45 minute bus ride to familiar Cardel, where I spent three months counting hawks last year. Back then I liked it so much I decided to do that one more time. Many of last year's field crew are here again this year, so lots of familiar faces for me. Again, nice to be able to actually talk with everyone in Spanish, instead of smiling sheepishly at their Spanish like I did much of the time last year!

I now have a few days to kill before I commit once again to 10-hour sessions of staring at the undersides of clouds. Wanted to do some birding this morning in the fields behind the Chichicaxtle hawkwatch, but it started raining last night and it hasn't stopped raining since. Only had some yard birds, like Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Boat-billed Flycatcher, Tropical Kingbird, Melodious Blackbird, Bat Falcon, Band-backed Wren, Groove-billed Ani, Inca Dove... all those birds are very easily seen around here. I also have reports to write, a publication to submit and another article to write, so the rain doesn't bother me too much. As far as I'm concerned, let it rain until Thursday and we may get a nice push of kites on the first day...

Sunday, while riding the bus from Guatemala City to the Mexican border, marveling at the spectacular landscape on that particular part of the itinerary, I listened to a lot of Gillian Welch and David Rawlings on the iPod. They appeared at this year's Newport Folk Festival only a couple of weeks ago, and that fantastic show was recorded for NPR - the show can be downloaded for free here. Check it out...

Friday, August 14, 2009

On the road again

Figured it was time to place a bird picture here, to show that I haven’t completely abandoned birding just yet. This is a female Hepatic Tanager, a characteristic bird of Central American pine-oak forests. I observed it in Tisey last week, in the mountains of northwestern Nicaragua. If you followed this blog last winter, you may remember reading about this bird as one of the regular flock members in mixed warbler flocks. Those neotropical migrants are currently on their way to join pine-oak residents such as this Hepatic Tanager.

I’m now traveling in the opposite direction. I’m in El Salvador at the moment, where earlier this week I assisted Lety, Carlos and Diana with bird banding in El Imposible, a national park I first visited 6 months ago. Today I’ll be attending Roselvy’s graduation from the University of San Salvador. All these people I just mentioned are Salvadoran biologists. It is always a pleasure to spend time with them, and I love coming to El Salvador.

Then tomorrow I resume my northward journey, next stop Guatemala City. That’s not too far from here, and only a $15 bus ride. Sunday I plan to make my way across the Mexican border to San Cristóbal de las Casas in Chiapas, where I spent much time last winter studying Golden-cheeked Warblers. Next on the itinerary Monday is a nightly bus ride from San Cristóbal to Veracruz City, where I hope to arrive early Tuesday morning. From there, final destination Cardel & Chichicaxtle in Central Veracruz is only an hour’s bus ride away. Next week Thursday, the 2009 fall raptor seasons kicks off in Veracruz, and once more I’ll be a counter on Pronatura’s River of Raptors project. Looking forward to witnessing that spectacle of massive bird migration once more. I’ll be writing about it here of course.

This is what I’m up to next.

While here, I discussed exciting possibilities for field work in Central America during the upcoming winter season and the first half of next year. More about that some other time.