Thursday, May 23, 2013

Baby boids!

recently fledged Plumbeous Vireo

Down here in Honduras, 'tis the season when young birds are everywhere. This is a recently fledged Plumbeous Vireo, one of the members of the Solitary Vireo complex that is resident here. Its parents look more like Cassin's Vireos than northern Plumbeous, but that is how they remain classified for now. With some genetics work, this Central American population may one day be elevated to species level.

On a short walk I encountered a couple of Plumbeous Vireo families, now more easily detected because of the constant begging calls that the fledglings produce. 

these feathers were all grown at once, and thus – although new – are of poor quality

I photographed this bird a couple of days ago in the pine-oak forest of San Buenaventura, a small village 30 minutes south of Tegucigalpa, close to where we live. Also present there were recently fledged Eastern Bluebirds.

recently fledged Eastern Bluebird

This bird's dad was singing from the top of a tall, nearly dead pine tree. I recorded his song and posted it on Xeno-Canto:

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Lesser Nighthawk breeding in Honduras

Incubating female Lesser Nighthawk
The Lesser Nighthawk is a common migrant and winter visitant in Honduras, occurring in the lowlands of both coasts and in the interior highlands to 1,200 meters. It prefers arid situations and is most abundant along the Pacific coast and in the arid interior valleys. It is also a regular migrant in the Bay Islands and the Cayos Cochinos. There is no direct evidence that the species breeds in Honduras, although several specimens have been secured in June (Eisenmann, 1963: 165).

Burt Monroe, 1968, A Distributional Survey of the Birds of Honduras

Twenty-seven years later, Howell & Webb (1995) did not know much more ("exact distribution poorly known"), and their map shows it (incorrectly) as a breeding resident in the interior of northern Central America, from Mexico through Guatemala to western Honduras. Juárez & Komar (2012) however described breeding of this species on the beaches of El Salvador and Guatemala, away from the interior. They noted that breeding of Lesser Nighthawk is still not reported for Honduras.

Yesterday, while in the company of one of these authors, I almost stepped on an incubating Lesser Nighthawk down at one of the salt ponds in the Honduran part of the Gulf of Fonseca. Although a brown bird against a green background should have been obvious, we just weren't prepared I guess. 

Nest of Lesser Nighthawk

As the female flew off, a little scrape on the ground revealed two eggs. We decided to quickly take photos and then leave, to let the female go back to her nest.

Can you find the nest?

When we passed again an hour later, we found her back on her nest brooding her eggs. This time I took some photos of the bird on the nest, but was careful not to flush her again.

Although near the coast, the habitat here is notably different from breeding habitat on the beaches of El Salvador and Guatemala, where the birds were found breeding on white sand close to the high water line (Juárez & Komar 2012). This Honduran nest was approximately 20 m from a shack used by the supervisor of the salt pond complex, and on short grass, about 7 km away from open water.

At times we have seen large numbers of Lesser Nighthawks at dusk in the lowlands of the Gulf of Fonseca. Are these birds perhaps breeding in the salt ponds here and there, and on the beaches of Choluteca, between Punta Ratón and Punta Condega?

Cited literature:
Howell, S. N. G. & S. Webb. 1995. A Field Guide to Birds of Mexico and Northern Central America. Oxford University Press.
Juárez-Jovel, R. C. & O. Komar. 2012. Nuevo sitios de anidación para el Chorlito Piquigrueso (Charadrius wilsonia) y el Chotacabras Menor (Chordeiles acutipennis) en El Salvador y Guatemala. Bóletin SAO, Vol. 21, 6 pp.
Monroe, B. L. 1968. A Distributional Survey of the Birds of Honduras. Ornithological Monographs No. 7, American Ornithologists' Union.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Spring shorebirding in Honduras

Buff-breasted Sandpiper

This second week of May, the shorebirding has been rewarding down here in Honduras. We were alerted to this by our friend Oliver, who found Baird's Sandpiper, Pectoral Sandpiper and Wilson's Phalarope on the Zamorano University campus last weekend. On Monday, we swung by and observed those birds with him.

Wilson's Phalarope Monday at Zamorano University campus

We figured, however, that the southern salt ponds in the Gulf of Fonseca should be productive as well, so Wednesday morning we set out to bird that area. In our haste to be in the field as early as possible, before the infernal heat of midday, I forgot my camera. I'm sure any photographer will back me up when I say that it is precisely at such times that great photo opportunities abundantly present themselves.

Pectoral Sandpipers with a Buff-breasted Sandpiper

A cattle pasture next to extensive salt pans had a large flock (150+) of Pectoral Sandpipers, with four Buff-breasted Sandpipers and four Baird's Sandpipers mixed in. In the salt pans themselves, we found scattered little flocks of Wilson's Phalaropes, one large peep flock that consisted of 93 Semipalmated Sandpipers and 8 Westerns, some scattered Leasts, as well as another Buff-breasted, some Pectorals, scattered Stilt Sandpipers, Semipalmated Plovers and various other shorebirds. The best bird there was a White-rumped Sandpiper, a first for me in Honduras. We had great looks at all these birds, but no way to document them other than with field notes.

The next morning, we went back there, this time armed with a camera. Upon arrival, shorebird numbers seemed to be a little lower than the day before, but in the end we managed to see – and photograph – every species we reported the day before, with the exception of Greater Yellowlegs. 

Baird's Sandpiper

Only one Baird's Sandpiper remained in the field where the day before we had observed four. This individual had a small bill deformity, and the bill color was a little off too, but otherwise structure and plumage were good for this species.

Wilson's Phalaropes

In the adjacent salinera, scattered groups of Wilson's Phalaropes were still present, and easy to find.

This White-rumped Sandpiper (right) is too tired to stand on its legs

We also found a White-rumped Sandpiper, but this individual was clearly much more rufous than the one from the day before. It was in the company of Western Sandpipers, but unlike them it just sat there looking utterly exhausted, probably having just arrived after a non-stop flight from Tierra del Fuego!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Buff-breasted Flycatcher

Buff-breasted Flycatcher is a fairly common resident of pine-oak forests from the southwestern US through Mexico to Guatemala and Honduras; apparently rare in El Salvador. eBird does not have records for Nicaragua, although I observed this species in Honduras not far from the Nicaraguan border in 2007 and 2008 (as eBird reminds me), so it may occur there also. There's a historical record for El Salvador of four specimens collected in Chalatenango in 1927 (Dickey & Van Rossem 1938), and a slightly more recent record - 1976 - from Thurber et al. (1987). Evidently, the SalvaNATURA database (unpublished) has a few more recent records from northern El Salvador.

Yesterday we found a pair in Reserva Biológica Misoco (Honduras), on the border between the departments of Francisco Morazán and Olancho. This observation put a new dot on the eBird map for this species and a new bar (for the first week of May) in the Honduras eBird bar chart

Since the birds were vocalizing, I grabbed some audio and uploaded that to Xeno Canto. Although in the middle of the day there was no singing, they did vocalize briefly every time they changed position.

Dickey, D. R. & A. J. Van Rossem. 1938. The Birds of El Salvador. Field Mus. Nat. Hist. Zool. Ser. No. 23, 609 pp.
Thurber, W. A., J. F. Serrano, A. Sermeño & M. Benitez. 1987. Status of uncommon and previously unreported birds of El Salvador. Proceedings of the Western Foundation of Vertebrate Zoology, Vol. 3, No. 3, 294 pp.