Nature Notes

August 30, 2008

Birding Puerto Vallarta, the Mountains

Filed under: Birds,Mexico — Tags: , , — Harold Stiver @ 7:30 am
Painted Redstart

Painted Redstart

We contacted Birding Mexico and took their 1/2 day tour into the higher regions north of Puerto Vallarta. Essentially this involved driving the main highway south, and stopping a number of times at different locations and heights. If you had your own vehicle, you could easily do the area on your own, stopping at likely looking spots. The tour stopped in late morning and went to a restaurant. It is designed for the casual birder and those who are a little more hardcore will find this lunch stop frustrating as it reduces prime birding time to two or three hours.

Among the birds seen were Military Macaw, the endemic and threatened Lilac-crowned Parrot, Black Swift, Beryline Hummingbird, Russet-crowned Motmot, Acorn, Lineated and Pale-billed Woodpecker, Vermillion Flycatcher, White-throated Thrush, Green Jay, the endemic Golden Vireo, Grace’s Warbler, Painted Redstart, Hepatic, Summer and Western Tanagers, White-collared Seadeater, Rusty Sparrow, Orange-breasted Bunting, and Yellow Grosbeak.


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Birding Tierra Del Fuego, Argentina

Filed under: Argentina,Birds — Tags: , , — Harold Stiver @ 7:00 am
White-throated Caracara

White-throated Caracara

The flight from Buenos Aries to Ushuaia in Tierra Del Fuego parallels the Andes to the east. First, a simple snowy white line on the horizon, but gradually, hour after hour, becoming larger in my vision. Huge spires and crags can be seen until, at cloudy covered Ushuaia, we begin to descend, peaks jutting up through the clouds, until we break through. The city is below us as we come into land, stretched out along the Beagle Channel, and we drop into that bowl, huge mountains all around us.

As I drove out of the airport, a Chilean Skua wheeled lazily off the water, up in front of my car. This was going to be a good place to be.

Ushuaia is the most southerly city in the world and bills itself as The End of the World.It is an incredible mishmash of buildings centered around the harbor and backed by those impressive mountain peaks.The city proper has some good places for birds. The harbor front will have a few of the strangely beautiful Dolphin Gull mixed in with a great number of Kelp Gulls.You can find both South Polar and Chilean Skua present, and a mix of Terns feed in the waters, the majority South American Terns. Both the Flightless and Flying Steamerducks frequent the harbor, as well as other Duck species such as the Crested. You may also see that worldwide resident, the Black-crowned Nite-Heron, fishing for a meal. As a special treat, an Antarctic Giant Petrel may glide past, most in the dark juvenile plumage.

Behind the city, is the Martial Glacier which can be reached by ski lift or a 3 Km. hike if you are inclined.The main targets here are the White-bellied Seedsnipe and the Yellow Bridled Finch.

The airport is close to the city and the road to it runs along the sea, and it is always worth checking. Cormorants fish offshore and you should find Blackish Oystercatcher, and perhaps a Magellanic as well. Continuing past the cutoff to the airport towards the National Park, brings you to the rubbish dump. Besides the expected Kelp and Dolphin Gulls, you will find Chimango Caracara, Southern Caracara, and possibly White-throated Caracara. Additionally, I found Southern Lapwing, Black-faced Ibis, and an unexpected Ochre-naped Ground-Tyrant.

A few kilometers farther brings you to the Tierra Del Fuego National Park, worth exploring both for its wildlife and scenic beauty. At the campgrounds, Magellanic Woodpecker resides along with Patagonian Sierra-Finch, White-throated Treerunner, and the wonderful little Thorn-tailed Rayadito.

The skies should be watched for Andean Condor. Spectacled Duck, Speckled Teal, and Chiloe Wigeon can be seen in the waters in front of the main campgrounds and Upland, Ashy-headed, and Kelp Geese are widespread. Ruddy-headed are much less common. After a heavy summer blizzard went through, the sides of the road were filled with hundreds of Black-fronted Ground-Tyrants almost in a feeding frenzy, and joined by Gray-flanked and Dark-bellied Cinclodes as well as the elegant Austral Thrushes. In the more open areas, Fire-eyed Diucon may be seen on the top of a bush with the smaller Austral Negrito on the ground below. Here, as in many other habitats, the Rufous-collared Sparrow will be seen and heard.

Heading away from Ushuaia in the other direction, you pass through some impressive scenery, until you reach Giribaldi Pass and descend to the plains below. Your course is mostly open grasslands for the next 200 km. of drive to Rio Grande. On the way, you are likely to see Guanaco, a Llama-like mammal, as well as Austral Parakeet. At Rio Grande the tidal banks held a great many Two-banded Plover, as well as flocks of White-rumped Sandpiper.On the way back, a Rufous-chested Dotterel was an unexpected surprise by the side of the road. Before returning to Ushuaia, I detoured to Harberton Station, where the seaside grasslands held South American Snipe and Long-tailed Meadowlark.

From the central wharf in Ushuaia, you can take tour boats that make various trips down the Beagle Channel. I took the 3 hour trip to Bridges Island on the Yams, the 5 hour trip around various channel islands and lighthouse on the Barrucada, and the 8 hour trip to the Magellanic Penguin colony on the Rambo Sur.Each of them was interesting in different ways and I would recommend any of them. You can visit the Imperial and Rock Shag colonies, as well as the Southern Sea Lions. Black-browed Albatross and Antarctic Giant Petrel are likely, as well as both Common and Magellanic Diving-Petrels. I was thrilled to see a dozen Snowy Sheathbill at the Southern Sea Lion colony near the lighthouse. Although it was early in the season at the Penguin colony, the males had arrived and were establishing territories. It was a nice surprise to find a dozen Gentoo Penguins among them.

While in Ushuaia, I stayed at the Malinas Hostal and was very happy with it. The price was $35 US per night (November,2003).

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August 29, 2008

Phototrap: Infrared Camera Trigger

Filed under: Birds,Photography Tips — Tags: , , — Harold Stiver @ 7:50 am

Mourning Dove

I have visualized the above image for quite a while, a Mourning Dove coming in to land with it’s long tail feathers spread, the white diamonds flashing. When I picked up a Phototrap Infrared Triggering system from Arizona Inventor Bill Forbes, my first project was to try to get this shot. The device works by sending out an infrared signal which is detected by a sensor. This triggers the camera, and it can be set to fire when the signal is joined or interrupted. Since I had plenty of Mourning Doves coming to my backyard feeders, I could work on it right away. Setting up the equipment turned out to be easy but working out the details of getting good images turned out to be a lot of trial and error but a very enjoyable experience.

Some of the problems that needed to be solved where as follows:

1. Where to set the sensor and in what triggering mode? I set up the sensor about 1.3 m. (45″) in front of the feeder and about 0.5 m. (18″) below it. It was set with the source and detector together facing up, and would trigger when the sensor received the signal reflected when the subject intervened. In this way, it was completely clear of the camera framing. The black rubber tub inverted under the sensor is to stop the squirrels from using it as a springboard into the feeder.

2. How to corral the subjects in to a more or less predictable flight path to the feeder? The feeder was closed off on three sides. I watched which way the birds approached the open side and placed the sensor on the most common path. This was certainly hit or miss, but even a low level of “hits” was fine for this project.

3. How far away to set the camera? This turned out to be one of the more important items. At first I set up much to close, but finally settled on about 6m. (20′). This allowed a greater depth of field compared to a close shot, and therefore gave me room for a greater shutter speed.

4. What camera settings to use? It became clear right away that a high shutter speed was critical,and was in the region of 1/2000-2500 sec. minimum. This was because there was no ability to pan a moving subject and also the subjects would make a very fast wing movement as they came in to land. You can see in the image below, that even at 1/2000 sec, there is some wing blur on the tips. I therefore set the camera in TV mode with a shutter speed of 1/2000 sec. ( or rarely faster if it was bright enough). Most lighting conditions available allowed for f/7.1 at ISO400.

Mourning Dove

5. What lens and flash settings to use? I ended up using a 200mm lens on my Canon 40d, which of course was pre-focused manually. The 550e flash was set at High-sync ETTL at -2/3 and a Better Beamer was used. This provided reasonable fill light.

6. Where to frame the shot in relation to the sensor and feeder, where to focus on, and how far to lead the subject? I wanted to obtain a full frame shot and expected that a great number of shots would be wasted by clipped parts. I set the framing so that it bottom was slightly below the floor of the feeder (Based on my observation of how this species flew in) and one side of the frame just about where the sensor would trigger. Of course there are many ways of working out a problem like this but this is what I came up with. After fine tuning, I can leave this set up for the morning of about 4 hours and expect to get 5-10 good images of various species. This is a very low percent of the number taken, perhaps 5%, but its all digital.

Mourning Dove

 

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August 24, 2008

Birding Costanera Sur: Buenos Aries, Argentina

Filed under: Argentina,Birds — Tags: , — Harold Stiver @ 7:00 am
White-tufted Grebe

White-tufted Grebe

Buenos Aries, a huge modern city, is blessed with a wonderful nature reserve within walking distance of the downtown hotels, the Costanera Sur Ecological Reserve. The reserve itself is made great use of by the people of the city, and due to the constant human traffic, the wildlife has become accustomed to people and will frequently allow a close approach.

In November, the reserve opens at 8 AM, but if you wanted to get an early start, you can easily fill a few productive hours walking along the canals in front.The Rail family is well represented with Common Moorhen, White-winged, Red-gartered and Red-fronted Coots, Spot-flanked Gallinule,as well as Gray-necked Wood-Rail, Giant Wood-Rail, and Plumbeous Rail.

Yellow-winged Blackbird, Limpkin, White-faced and Green Ibis can also be found in the reedy portion. Brown-hooded Gull are abundant as well as Gray-headed and the occasional Olrug’s. Wattled Jacana are very tame, almost walking on the feet of passersby. Across the road, you should find Guira Cuckoo, Picazurro Pigeon , and Eared and Picui Ground-Dove, along with the squawk of Monk Parakeets. Rufous Hornero were very common. Spotting a Southern Screamer on a small island was a treat.

Green-barred Woodpecker

Green-barred Woodpecker

As you go in the main entrance of the park, look for Green Kingfisher along the water’s edge. The roadside trees also contain Rufous-bellied and Creamy-bellied Thrushes, and White-eyed Parakeet. Screaming, ShinyBay-winged Cowbirds can be found, and Rufous-collared Sparrow are very common. You might also expect Black-and-chestnut and Black-and-rufous Warbling-Finch. Solitary Cacique and and Hooded Siskin were found in the shrubs.

The Grebes present included Least, White-tufted, Pied-billed and Silvery. The White-backed Stilt, formerly considered a subspecies of the Black-necked Stilt, was also present.

The Reserve is made up of a number of looped trails around various habitat including a couple of reed fringed lakes.On the east edge it is bounded by the sea. Among the species to be found are Spectacled Tyrant, Fork-tailed Flycatcher, Many-colored Rush-Tyrant, Pied Water-Tyrant, White-headed Marsh-Tyrant, Gray Monjita, Vermilion Flycatcher, Great Pampa-Finch, Saffron Finch, Red-capped and Yellow-billed Cardinal.

Among the many species of waterfowl are Fulvous and White-faced Whistling-Duck. Black-necked and Coscoroba Swan, Crested Duck, Yellow-billed Pintail, Silver and Cinnamon Teal, Red Shoveler, Rosy-billed Pochard, and Black-headed and Lake Duck.

I could happily spend a week here but the day and a half was very productive.

In Buenos Aries, I stayed at the Hotel Goya, 748 Suipacha, Buenos Aries.which was 20 minutes walk from the reserve.In October, 2004, the cost was $41U.S. per night and a taxi to the international airport was $14US. You can email them at goyahotel@infovia.com.ar . Telephone/fax 4322-9311.I would recommend it.


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August 21, 2008

Texas Birding: Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge

Filed under: Birds,Texas — Tags: , — Harold Stiver @ 7:00 am
Aplomado Falcon

Aplomado Falcon

Laguna Atascosa Wildlife Refuge  was set aside in 1946 as a winter refuge for Ducks but it has a variety of habitat and a diverse assortment of species. (more…)

August 19, 2008

Want to be an Olympic Photographer?

Filed under: Photography Tips — Tags: — Harold Stiver @ 12:16 pm

Well, I can’t arrange that, but click on the image below to get an idea of what it feels like.

Olympic Photographers

The 360° panorama was taken by Kuukka, a Finnish sports photographer. His Olympic blog (In Finnish).

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Texas Birding: Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge

Filed under: Birds,Texas — Tags: , — Harold Stiver @ 7:00 am
Purple Gallinulle

Purple Gallinulle

Anahuac Wildlife Refuge  (pronounced anna-wak) at first light is a great way to start a birding trip.The refuge was established to protect waterfowl wintering area and partially financed through the Federal Duck Stamp program, and waterfowl can be found in abundance. In winter, it is home to many species of ducks but by early spring, most have left to make their way to their summer breeding areas.

By early April, herons seem to take precedence. In the early morning there are many Black-crowned and Yellow-crowned Night-Herons feeding and it is a good opportunity to note the differences between the juvenile birds. Stately Great Blue Herons mix with the smaller Great Egrets and the elegant Snowy Egrets. Tricolored Herons dance about, scaring up prey, and Little Blue Heron are found with the occasional white juvenile. The occasional Green Heron will be seen and Cattle Egrets are spread throughout.The two Bitterns, normally hard to see, can be seen easily here . A half dozen American Bittern were in the open hunting, and the occasional Least Bittern flew across open channels. Reddish Egret is the least common, but occasionally seen on the bay.

Least Bittern

Least Bittern

The Rail family is also well represented with all nine members which breed in the U.S., to be found at Anahuac . Common Moorhen are common indeed as is American Coot. The flashy Purple Gallinule is less so, but still easily found.All six of the resident A.B.A. rails are present, Clapper, King, Virginia, Sora, Yellow, and Black. Years ago, the refuge used to operate a “rail buggy”, a large tractor which hauled observers through the habitat, flushing Yellow Rails, as well as the occasional Black Rail. This may not have been the soundest ecological practice, but it did allow me to see all six rails in a single day, a feat which would be difficult to manage today. Even without this ride, you are likely to glimpse a few rails.

Many migrants use the refuge to rest and refuel, and even without a fallout, there are a few to be found. At a small pond near the Willow’s boardwalk, a Louisiana Waterthrush picked among the logs and debris, A Prothonotary Warbler and a Hooded Warbler both flashed like gems in the shadows of the bank, and a Palm Warbler moved through the fresh leaves of the trees.

Overhead a steady stream of swallows moved steadily past, the ubiquitous Black and Turkey Vultures drifted, and a Merlin added some excitement by making a run by some blackbirds.


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August 16, 2008

Orkney Birding: Hobbister Reserve and Waukmill Bay

Filed under: Birds,Orkney Isles — Tags: , — Harold Stiver @ 7:00 am
Rock Pipit

Rock Pipit

The Hobbister Reserve is a heather moor bounded by the sea. The cliffs are not particularly high, and are ideal for breeding Black Guillemot and European Shag. Red Grouse breed here, as well as a number of Stonechat and Rock Pipits pairs.

Nearby Waukmill Bay has a large sandy tidal flat which is very attractive to shorebirds and gulls. Bar-Tailed Godwit were present in mid July on my visit there.

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