Tuesday, March 20, 2012

*update* feathery finds

Taking a little break from Mexico postings...lots going on around here. The birds are coming back...hoping  for maybe a new duck this weekend? I just got to thinking about what my target birds might be this year.

Anyways, while out walking in the woods last weekend (read: geocaching), we came across these feathers on the ground. I saw them in a few spots--not sure if it was preening or the poor thing got attacked. Well, I've been known to collect feathers on my outings (I have a jar of them in the living room; I always get in trouble because M is a megagermaphobe and thinks they are covered in mites or something), I left these in place but was struck by that amazing, brilliant orange! I think it's maybe too bright to be a robin, but I could be wrong. Maybe even an oriole, although they aren't around yet (funny, after my previous oriole post).

And while I'm on the topic, I will slide in one more Mexico reference. We found this crazy feather on the beach. It's reallllly long, and black with a brown tip. Gotta be a big bird! (not to be confused with).
almost 2 feet long!
V. Laurin is going to help me with her awesome feather book (I think I've mentioned it before) so we can try to nail this sucker down!
*update March 27, 2012*
Just confirming that the orange feather is a red-winged blackbird! Here's a shot from the book above--it's a really excellent resource!
As for the 1.5 footer, it remains a mystery!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

all about orioles, and a birthday life bird! (#213-216)

This is a little crazy but I actually saw FOUR species of orioles in Mexico! And three of them on the property of the resort. The even crazier thing is that I didn't actually realize it until I got home...you know, sans guidebook I wasn't able to distinguish between hooded, altamiras and orange orioles since these birds are pretty unfamiliar to me--we really only get Baltimores and the odd Orchard around these parts! Basically all I could tell was that there were males and females, since they are pretty obviously different. I swear next time I travel I'm going to do better research ahead of time...

The differences are subtle but are definitely there:
  • The key to the orange oriole is the orange mantle
  • hooded oriole has no orange on his wing--only black and white
  • altamira has an orange but on its shoulder, and a different white spot on its beak
  • The orchard oriole is a rusty colour--that's an easy one!
Of course, those aren't the only differences, but they are easy things to look for :)

I almost didn't take this shot--Matt just kept on taking more and more and more shots of orioles until I said, "Ok, I think we have enough!" So glad we kept going though, because otherwise I wouldn't be able to count this lifer!

#213: Altamira Oriole; Mayan Riviera, Mexico (Barcelo Maya Resort) February 18, 2012

#214: Orange Oriole; Mayan Riviera, Mexico (Tulum), February 18, 2012

#215: Hooded Oriole; Mayan Riviera, Mexico (Barcelo Maya Resort) February 19, 2012
#216: Orchard Oriole; Mayan Riviera, Mexico (Barcelo Maya Resort) February 19, 2012
Funny story about this one. I had seen a painted bunting the day before, February 18, 2012. I wished I'd seen it a day later, as I wanted this special bird to be a birthday lifer (so arbitrary, I know). As we weren't seeing as many new birds at that point in the vacation, even though a little piece of me hoped for a birthday lifer, I knew it wasn't realistic. Anyways, as I was walking around the resort on February 19, I saw this bird, and thought, "it CAN'T be." Yep, it was. I took some crappy shots with my point and shoot, knowing full well that was the best I was going to get. A few hours later I headed back to the room and got the camera, and wouldn't you know, that bird was sitting literally in the same tree. And then I went back even later and it was still there! Anyways, I was extremely pleased to get myself a beautiful Orchard Oriole on my birthday :)

So in addition to these wonderful I have some other things that I have learned about orioles recently. First of all, I didn't see any of these in Mexico, but I just watched a documentary about Sian Ka'an in Mexico and they showed what an orioles nest looks like--I had no idea, but ..."The nest is a deep woven cup suspended like a hammock from a branch"...like this:
Here's another one, in real life:

Pretty cool right? I haven't done much yet to attract orioles to my yard, but I see feeders for them at the store, and apparently they will gladly come to visit you. Here are some tricks:
  • put out orange slices, grape jelly, fruit and berries in your yard in mid-May (Ontario)--you can hang them or place on a platform feeder. Apparently 7 feet up is ideal.
  • orioles are also known to enjoy sugar water just like that in a hummingbird feeder, but in an oriole feeder (orange)
  • plant orange flowers in your garden, or place orange decorations in your yard
  • make sure shelter is available, and your oriole station is separate from other feeders/activities. Orioles are shy birds--if you are used to seeing them, you know that you normally hear them before you see them!
  • this might seem pretty obvious but nix the insecticides/pesticides! A because it sucks and B because most birdies love insects!
I'll be trying all of the above this year!

I also saw a need little idea to help out our feather friends in the spring. Put some nesting material (yarn ends, bits of wool, etc.) in a suet feeder! Hey, maybe if you put some orange yarn in there, that could work for the orioles too :)
I FINALLY just have a post or two left from Mexico, and then it will be time to move on to spring birding. The temperatures are rising, the ground is getting muddy, the geese are on the move, the first grackles visited the yard and are squawking up a storm...it's coming soon!

Also a head's up for birding photographers, there is a photo contest for birds of Canada through Canadian Geographic. You can win a trip to Ireland. Check it out...the competition is stiff but might be worth a shot! (haha...no pun intended....really)

back in a jiffy...cheerio!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

*update #2* Tulum and more resort birds (#207-212)

As we stood on the side of the road waiting for the collectivo (public bus) to take us to Tulum, I saw something walking along the road. I thought, "wild turkey"! I ran after it only to smack my head...there were a bunch of chickens outside a house. Hey, it's a bird, right?
*update-March 16, 2012* Here I was assuming that the turkey vultures were the same--I was only differentiating between black vultures and turkey vultures. Dwayne at Nerdy for Birdy was so kind as to point out that I actually missed a really obvious lifer here. I questioned the colourfulness of the head, but somehow missed that this is a dead ringer for a lesser yellow-headed vulture! yippee! i think it is so awesome the way blogging and birding communities can can help you out...love the collaborative learning. so my numbering is all backwards but that makes it #211 :)
#211: Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture; Mayan Riviera (Tulum), Mexico; February 18, 2012
*end update*
At Tulum, we saw these turkey vultures come in really low and got great looks at them. But what was for lunch? This guy:
Luckily (for him), he scuttled off before they got him.

Just around the corner from here, we hit the goldmine. In this one tiny little spot, we saw so many great birds, including lifers--woodpeckers, orioles, warblers, hummingbird, the list goes on.

I noticed these rather plain looking birds on the ground. Wait now, take a closer look. Now that's a lifer. :)

#207: Bronzed Cowbird; Mayan Riviera, Mexico (Tulum), February 18, 2012
A bunch of people were sitting in this really cute grove of trees with stone benches when we noticed that there were lots of birds in the area. And also a snake, which was hunting a frog. All very eventful, and that certainly got a rise out of the tourists :)

I spotted this little hummingbird and it was only there for a few seconds. It's the only one we saw in Mexico. At first I was reluctant to call this one, but I'm almost certain of it. The other (less likely) possibility is Cinnamon Hummingbird; the bit of green on its breast indicates it's not. Hoping, knowing full well the complexity of light and the slim chance the WB was set right on, that I'm right. You should see the hummingbird section of the Mexican/Central American guidebook...it's really something (111 species!!!), especially when you are used to seeing exactly ONE variety of hummingbird at home!

#208: Buff-bellied hummingbird; Mayan Riviera, Mexico (Tulum); February 18, 2012

#209: Yucatan Woodpecker; Mayan Riviera, Mexico (Tulum), February 18, 2012
There were a lot of woodpeckers that had this general look. You can distinguish the Yucatan by the yellow that is not just on top of his bill, but also below. 
As luck would have it, I actually had two birthday life birds :) Here's one (another to follow):
Go figure. It's one that's at home but I had to go all the way to Mexico to see it!
#210: Cape May Warbler; Mayan Riviera, Mexico (Barcelo Maya Resort), February 19, 2012

The next one is also a birthday lifer, but I'm not 100% sure on it yet. I've pretty much narrowed it down to rose-throated tanager (broken eye ring), but it seems quite yellow to me (white balance may be partially to blame), which makes me question if it's a summer tanager. 
Here's what the guidebook has to say (sorry...sloppy pics taken before catching the bus):
The jury is out! Anybody feel confident?

*update March 16, 2012*
Looks like the mystery bird is a female or juvenile summer tanager. Thanks to my helpers for assisting me. There you have it!
#212: Summer tanager; Mayan Riviera (Barcelo Maya Resort), Mexico; February 19, 2012. 

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Mexican bird fiesta continues! (#203-206)

It seemed to be a constant bird party down in Mexico, with the majority of these birds seen right on the resort (all but the pigeons).

This guy's got attitude! One of a seemingly neverending variety of black/white/yellow warblers, in various combinations.
#203: Yellow-Throated Warbler; Mayan Riviera, Mexico (Barcelo Maya Resort), February 15, 2012
love it when they check you out -- have to wonder what they are thinking!

Yellow-bellied sapsuckers aren't just up here!
This next bird was one of my target birds--being a pretty common bird for the area, it wasn't going to be difficult, but I still didn't see them until a few days in. I was waiting outside Michelle's room waiting for her to go to the gym, and I thought I heard something that sounded...just a little different. I went to investigate. I guess my ear is getting better after all!
I only ever saw these birds on one part of the resort and only at one time of day. I'm just glad I was there at that time...they are so cool!

#204: Yucatan Jay; Mayan Riviera, Mexico (Barcelo Maya Resort), February 16, 2012

worm wars

Adults have black bills and immatures have yellow. Also, the adults don't have the yellow eye ring.
 We spent one day in the awesome little city of Playa del Carmen. Wouldn't be right if I didn't include a shot of the expected urban residents:
Pigeons in the park
#205: White-eyed Vireo; Mayan Riviera, Mexico (Barcelo Maya Resort), February 17, 2012
Love that eye! 

As we walked alongside one of the paths, I spotted a bit of red on the ground. My first thought: Scarlet tanager. Then I realized that there blue too...and then I realized that there was some green that wasn't just green from the leaves.....and then I freaked!


 Why am I so excited? Why did I put on a scene in front of confused resort goers? This has been a bird I've been just dying to see. I still remember, when I first got my first bird guide, I sat in the car and peeled over the pages, and I remember saying---"that bird is amazing!" It's been on the "birds I'm dying to see" list on the sidebar of this blog since it began.

I thought to myself, if only I had seen it one day later and it would have been a birthday lifer! I mean, it was possible, being in a new birding zone for me and all. Well, pickers can't be choosers; I know I'm being silly. But sometimes you secretly hope things to just work out perfectly like that.

Well, these pics are super shoddy--it was deep in the brush, no light, hard to focus...but, there's no question as to what it is! And I'm not letting this one go.

#206: Painted Bunting; Mayan Riviera, Mexico (Barcelo Maya Resort), February 18, 2012

if you think this pic is blurry, you should probably just get your eyes checked ;)

 A pretty white-winged dove posed in this nice natural frame
More loveliness
I can't believe that I've still got so much more to post!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

UPDATE: a mexican mystery...solved! (#202)

******UPDATE - March 8, 2012******
Well, it would seem that our friend #202 here is a Melodious Blackbird. I ended up putting this to a WhatBird Forum, and with a further look, I'm quite sure of it. Apparently, a few white feathers are common in the blackbird family; as for the tail, it has either been attacked, is in some serious moult, or may even have mites. The aspects that indicate melodious are the black feathers (no iridescent sheen) and the shape of the bill. Fantastic! I'm very appreciative of all the help I received.

#202: Melodious Blackbird, Mayan Riviera, Mexico (Barcelo Maya Resort); February 15, 2012

Original Post:
Ok friends, this is a call for HELP!

We saw this guy in Mexico. Normally, if you were approached by a dark, mysterious male in Mexico, you would probably be afraid (or seduced?), but not so for me. Indeed, I still find him haunting me...I never did get my satisfaction. I yearn to identify my Mexican suitor.

I have looked, and looked, and kept looking, and I CANNOT figure out this bird! I studied literally EVERY page of my Mexican guidebook and it is JUST NOT THERE! I can't figure it out. I've been looking since we got back two weeks ago. I'm stumped!

We saw this bird on our resort, and it's not like it was a one-off sighting. I saw them on a few occasions. Always with a bit of white edging the wing, and that crazy stumpy, pointy tail! My best guess was something in the Corvidae family, then I thought Emberizidae. The closest I got was a male lark bunting, but how do you explain that tail? It is truly bizarre.

#202: ?, Mayan Riviera, Mexico (Barcelo Maya Resort); February 15, 2012


Sunday, March 4, 2012

Mexico--arena, agua, cielo (sand, water, sky) (#198-201)

OMG...it published by mistake again. I give up. I'll leave it up this time!

I'm going to try to bunch the birds in the next few posts thematically, so my Mexican birds are not going to be exactly chronological. In this post I'm focusing on the beach and sea birds...Can't you just feel the salty air? Sigh...I miss it so.

Saw this fellow along the shoreline of our resort.
#198: Royal Tern (Spanish: Golondrin-marina/Pagaza Real); February 15, 2012; Mayan Riviera (Barcelo Maya Resort)

There was a pier at our resort where there was pretty decent snorkelling and where the scuba boats left from. If there were people around, there was almost certainly a flock of gulls hanging out too. Then I figured out why--people would bring stuff to feed to the fish, and the gulls saw opportunity in this too! As we stood there watching, a man gave me some bread and I just stick my hand up and one hovers right in front of me until swooping in for the goods. Pretty cool!

Feeding bread to the birds...bad, I know, shame shame

#199: Laughing Gull (Spanish: Gaviota Reidora); February 15, 2012; Mayan Riviera (Barcelo Maya Resort)

I can't say there was much overlap in terms of birds I saw there with birds we have here. I can only think of a handful, but when a large BOP cruised overhead on the beach, I certainly was not expecting an osprey! (Spanish: Gavilán/Aguila Pescador, literally, fishing eagle). Not long after while walking down the beach we saw a huge mob of birds chasing it away out to sea.
One of the best experiences during this trip was lying in the beach and the birds flying overhead--i.e. magnificent frigatebirds and, my favourite, huge flocks of pelicans cruising on by, nice and low in V-formation. So stunning to experience and it took my breath away every time!

My first frigatebird sighting was so exciting. I hadn't realized going down there that they would be so common, and I remember seeing one and saying, "is that...a frigatebird?!" It took silly me a little while to realize that there weren't two kinds--just male and females lol. The males have the small red patch, and females have the white!

Alright, time to point out, while not strictly chronologically, this is my 200th blog bird!! And what a beauty it is!

#200; Magnificent Frigatebird (Spanish: Fragata magnífica/Rabihorcado Magno); February 18, 2012; Mayan Riviera (Tulum)
And finally....the pelicans...sigh. I love them so. Not the first time I've seen them but the first time I'm counting them :)

#201: Brown Pelican (Spanish: Pelícano café/pardo); February 18, 2012; Mayan Riviera (Tulum)
They were so wonderful...beautiful...stunning...majestic. I never did get a shot of them flying over en masse, but it was absolutely amazing--something you have to experience to appreciate!