Tuesday, May 20, 2014

History repeating (#308-309)

This long weekend was the perfect opportunity to finally get out and do some serious birding. I hadn't really had a chance to check out the migrants, but we have enjoyed watching the bluebirds and swallows that nest nearby.

*Erratum: Bird below is tree swallow, not sparrow. Clearly I was snoozing when photo editing :) Sorry about that!

On Saturday morning I headed to Mud Lake. I was there early (for me) but there were so many cars! I seemed to get there at just the right time because the trees were seemingly just drizzled with birds.

I never imagined that I'd get not one, but TWO lifers, on home turf especially!

Now I wouldn't be surprised if I'd seen this bird before, but I definitely haven't counted. In the past I had a hard time photographing vireos, and never had a definitive shot of a red-eyed. I underexposed this (of course, the same day I told some one "I never shoot RAW, waste of space, totally unnecessary," and it came back to bite me!) Anyways, I managed to pull something out of the shot, but do scroll down for WICKED shot of a red-eyed vireo the next day.

#308: Red-Eyed Vireo; Mud Lake, Ottawa; May 2014 
And many warbling vireos as well, doing that thing for which they get their name. I searched my own blog to see when else I posted about warblng vireos, and I think it's hilarious that three years ago, I was in the exact same place (Mud Lake) on the exact same day (May 17) and sightings were very similar.

Again, this is not a tack sharp, but it's the best shot I have of a Black-Throated Blue and a huge improvement over the last one. I've seen these twice before...my first, also at Mud Lake, was a female and I didn't even know what it was for the longest time, and my first male was just a fleeting glimpse in the thick of the brush.  Come one, how AWESOME is this bird? He has got a mask on!
There were so many redstarts around. I forgot they are quite tiny (warbler size....I seem to recall them being bigger) but they are so joyful! And I love that almost neon orange on his sides...he's wearing the uniform of the early 90s! (was it the 90s? I don't know, I was only like 4 at the time...)
I spotted this awkward baby cardinal hiding in the bus, and mom flitting around nearby. Not one I found by hearing the song....definitely trying to go unnoticed.
As usual, many many yellow warblers were about. I believe this is an immature (no streaks on breast), according to my National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America (my absolute favourite guide, by the way).
East of the ridge, in the evergreens there were a ton of Cape May warblers and yellow-rumped warblers. The Cape Mays are a special treat...my first Cape May was in Mexico!

I walked past a man standing close to the water treatment plant and he waved me over and pointed out a blackpoll warbler. I didn't realize that I hadn't seen one, and I definitely would have brushed it off as a chickadee or a black-and-white-warbler! So, a lifer, just because this nice man pointed it out to me!

#309: Blackpoll Warbler; Mud Lake, Ottawa; May 2014

It was such a great day that I got that addicted adrenaline buzz and had to head back again the next day, this time one hour earlier. Worth it? I think so!
Much better shots of the red-eyeds...uh....yeah.
I'm quite certain about this warbler, although I didn't get a great view, just one quick moment and it was gone..
There were so many yellow-rumped warblers. I assumed the one below is a female, but is it normal for them to have a yellow eyebrow?
Many catbirds could be heard singing their uneven warbled song.
More adorable redstarts everywhere.

I didn't see nearly as many species as are being reported but I certainly had an amazing day. I didn't make a list, but saw (I'm sure I've forgotten a bunch):
- ooodles and oodles and oodles of cedar waxwings (so many this year),
- lots of yellow-rumped warblers
- cape may warblers
- warbling vireos
- red-eyed vireos
- 1 black-and-white warbler
- at least one blackpoll warbler
- several American redstarts
- many yellow warblers
- red-winged blackbirds
- 1 black-crowned nightheron
- 1 magnolia warbler
- tree swallows
- mallards
- gray catbirds
- downy woodpeckers
- great egret (overhead)

You may have noticed I've started putting text on my images, because I've noticed an increase in photo downloads and also some images popping up around the web (Pinterest...). That's great - it means people are seeing my stuff and that's really exciting, but want to make sure there is some reference back to the blog :)

This last shot I just adore...a cedar waxwing was totally silhouetted and the light play is totally fantastic.  I may even print this one up...I think it's just magical. Nice to bring a little art to my birds shots!

Until the next one,

Saturday, May 17, 2014

New bird, old place (#307)

Easter came and went a long time ago, but it's important to catch up on birds, especially when there are lifers in question! So I'm going to keep this short, since I have today's birds to write about too.

Holidays mean one thing--to Kingston we go. Luckily we saw some great birds on the way! I'm not sure why, maybe I'm just better at identifying them, but I've seen a lot of Northern Harriers this year. Is it just me?
We always drive by this one house with a pond, and usually see swans there. I guess they are pets, which means I unfortunately can't count these as life birds--they appear to be Whooper Swans, or the Bewick's version of the Tundra Swan.

We made the customary stop in Wilton and this guy was just singing his heart out on the overhead wires.
Eastern meadowlark
And once we finally made it all the way home, we spotted this merlin just ripping this animal, bird, I'm not sure what it was, to bits on my very own street. Eventually he flew off and took it with him and it was almost as big as he was.
After a great weekend of far too much and food and awesome family time, we walked over to the marina early in the morning, just to enjoy the water more than anything else. We certainly weren't expecting a lifer! There were so many Bonaparte's Gulls. I've seen Laughing Gulls down south, and wasn't sure at the time what the difference was, but the Bonaparte's has a black, not orange bill, so it was pretty clear! I don't remember seeing gulls with black heads growing up on the water, even if only for a short time during migration.
Long-tailed ducks playing around
Artist at work! Brand placement totally unintentional :)
Spring is here, and I can here a yellow warbler singing from my window. Exciting times ahead!

Monday, May 12, 2014

The Big 30 and the Big 300 (#300-306)

Well, we were mid-hike where I last left off...at #299...

I wasn't aware of it in the field, but I found my 300th bird out in the field, just one day before my 30th birthday. Turns out we found a lot of reasons to celebrate in Yelapa.

I'm not sure how the girl who set out to find 100 birds back in 2010 would feel about me finding #300.  But I think she'd be pretty impressed, and happy that something that started out as a little challenge became a full-blown passion. I think she'd marvel at the small, beautiful things I've found, the secret world I've been discovering, the knowledge I've gained, and the adventures I've had. I'm pretty sure she'd laugh at my unbridled nerdiness.

#300: San Blas Jay; Yelapa, Mexico; February 2014

There are amazing jays in Mexico. I'm still waiting to spot a Green Jay...one day, on another adventure!

#301: Groove-billed Ani; Yelapa, Mexico; February 2014
I had decided it was time to get moving a little faster (not as much fun when you aren't carrying the camera), but Matt was taking just forever and I was getting a little peeved. eventually I turn back to see where the heck he is, and I realize I totally missed out on a life bird. Luckily we found more soon after!
#302: Inca Dove; Yelapa, Mexico; February 2014
The inca doves were pretty easy to spot, were often pairs, and quite tiny.

 We couldn't believe our luck when we spotted a green kingfisher perched by the river!
#303: Green Kingfisher; Yelapa, Mexico; February 2014

#304: Common Black Hawk; Yelapa, Mexico; February 2014
 Matt had a knack that day for wandering off when I just wanted to get going and seeing life birds so then I'd feel really bad. This beautiful hawk was perched over a very quiet marshy area, right beside a bunch of the ricketiest houses you ever saw. Seemed a bit of a shanty-town over there.

I had a feeling this Muscovy duck was domestic but we weren't sure and took a shot just in case. Wild muscovies have black and domestics have more white. Safe to say this one is domestic!
Confusing Domestic Ducks (and hybrids)
Manky Muscovy Ducks

How's it hanging squirrel? Got nuts?
Not sure about this one...there are so many yellow/grey/brown flycatchers in Mexico!
On my birthday, I wanted to hike to the big waterfall (there's a smaller but also awesome one right in the village). It was about a 2-hour hike each way so we had ample opportunity to bird along the way. I couldn't believe that I'd hit my 300th bird just the day before and really wanted to keep up my "birthday life bird" tradition (it would have been too perfect to find my 300th on my 30th, right? Maybe I'll find my 500th on my 50th, lol!). We'd heard that macaws were frequently seen on the way to the falls and I was so hopeful that we'd see them too.
Following the directions to the falls "crawl through the gate on the left"
We made it all the way to the falls and still hadn't seen the macaws. I was starting to feel that growing, heavy feeling of imminent disappointment...until we heard this crazy loud squawking and these small specks
wayyyyyyyy overhead. The macaws are massive birds (70cm), so for them to appear so small is really something...I really expected them to just be perched on a nearby branch...like in a pet shop or something...

Anyways, it was clear that we'd seen them (and I had my birthday lifer), but we only had the most disappointing of photos.

Luckily, on the hike back, a couple flew back quite a bit closer, close enough that you could see the bold sections of colour.

#305: Military Macaw; Yelapa, Mexico; February 2014

While the quality of this shot is pretty far from spectacular, it made me oddly happy. Here are these birds that are at a high risk of being poached for the pet trade and there they are, up there, doing their awesome thing. It was sadly so odd to see them flying so high--because we only ever see them in cages. The reason this picture is not technically very good is the reason it's so awesome: because it's on the birds' terms. Here are two beautiful parrots, wild and free. And on my 30th birthday, I thought that that's pretty much the best thing you can be--wild and free. I can't say how good it is to hit a milestone and feel so immensely grateful, and to feel like maybe you've figured it out. To feel like the path is unfolding before you in the most wonderful way.

The day after my birthday I had a few hours to myself to roam around the village. It was generally pretty quiet, but I did spot this beauty...I'm not sure how, as it was sitting absolutely still.
#306: Russet-crowned Motmot; Yelapa, Mexico; February 2014

Later that day, on our last morning in Yelapa, we started out the day at Cafe Bahia. In addition to our first real coffees in several days and fantastic grub, I loved the view right out front pier, watching the water taxis come in, unload, load up and take off again. I love that on each post of the pier there was an awesome bird...magnificent frigatebird, brown pelicans, and black vultures around too. 
Me and my fave bird.

It's always fun watching the pelicans do their thing--dive bombing for fish, cruising, or taking a snooze on someone's rickety fishing boat. Also hilarious watching them try to turn the fish around to gobble them down whole, or take one that's just a bit too big.
As always lots of yellow/black birds that I could agonize over identifying them or I could just post the pics for you to enjoy.

Love these swallows and love the dramatic backdrop and how they lined up perfectly. Art in nature!
Well, it looks like I reached the end of Mexico 2014. I don't know what it is about that place, but it makes me feel more like me than I ever feel. It strips away all the distractions and everyone and everything is so real. it's vibrant, and confusing, and awesome.

It's so exciting birding away from home and seeing lifers it seems every day. The birding continues at home, but I don't always take my camera with me. but I'm out there, loving it as always.

catch ya later...

Sunday, May 4, 2014

YOLO in Yelapa (#295-299)

Yelapa...was like a dream. One of the first places where I felt like we were someplace different, and finally got away from everything. The only access to Yelapa is by a 45-minute water taxi from Puerto Vallarta. Yelapa just got electricity 10 years ago, and there are no roads (since there are no cars), just little paths zigzagging all through the village. I'd been wanting to go there since about five years ago when I stumbled on the website for one of the casas (private rental--there aren't really any typical hotels there). It took me forever to refind the place on the Internet, but I did and we spent three glorious days in Yelapa.

It's such a neat little spot and I'm sure the ex-pats there would kill me for spreading their little secret. We met some great people (a group of older folk who showed up at Tacos y Mas and there were no tables left...since we had seats left we asked if they wanted to join us at our table and they did. They told us about what not to miss, and we ended up seeing them all over...it's hard not to in that little village!)

There is a combination of indigenous people and ex-pats, and it's just kind of slow and lazy and great. There's not much going on, so no need to plan, but there is certainly an odd rhythm to this little village. As soon as the sun rises (which was amazing from our suite which was overlooking the ocean, and no windows or walls--basically a massive covered balcony---so it was just like us, the end of our bed and then OCEAN), you could see all the fishing boats heading out at the crack of dawn, and coming back into the pier a few hours later with the bonitas they'd caught. Sometime after the tourist boat from Puerto Vallarta gets in, but most of the tourists just come for the day and stick to the strip of sand across the river, so it gets busy (but not really) until the last water taxi leaves around 4 or 5 and then it quiets down again. Then if you want, there are a few restaurants (basically these patio affairs with plastic chairs in a yard), but you have to know which day of the week it is because there are usually only one or two open per day, and at certain times. And at night, there might be live music, or not, but everybody knows where to go on which night of the week.

On our first full day in Yelapa, we went for what was supposed to be a short walk around the village The thing I have discovered real time and bird time is like real time and football time. As a child I'd ask my dad how much longer, and he'd say 2 minutes. And then 2 minutes later it would still be a minute left. How did that make sense? Well, what's supposed to be a short walk quickly becomes a four-hour adventure when you have a camera and binoculars in your hands.

On our first walk into the village, we spotted a really exciting bird...black vultures on the ground, so close to us. It didn't take long for us to realize that there are black vultures everywhere in Yelapa.

 #295: Black Vulture; Mexico, February 2014
Black vultures and pelicans in the background...not shy around here
On the way into the village, this poster was on a tree, asking people not to poach the parrots.
And it was nice that just across from that poster, we saw a parakeet, wild of course. This picture is of a parakeet we saw later. You always heard them before you saw them, and they blend in so well, you could stare at the tree five minutes before you found them (and sometimes you still couldn't!)

#296: Orange-fronted parakeet; Yelapa, Mexico; February 2014

Their bulgy yellow eyes often made them look funny.

This really handy posted was posted in town, and was how I managed to figure out the parakeets we saw earlier in Sayulita. The mini guide I'd brought didn't have all these birds so I took a picture!


And how apt that we were staying at Casa Pericos? (House of Parrots)

There is a river that runs through Yelapa, splitting the beach from the village. The directions in Yelapa are not typical and quite interesting..."it's upriver," "it's down river," "past the tortilla place," "on the way to the telephone tower," "it's by the point," "near the second water taxi dropoff."
Map by "Map Jeff" who we met on the water taxi.

You can cross the river at the bridge by wading through it, or you can cross farther up at the bridge. Following the river is an excellent choice, and the basin behind the sand bar has excellent birding opportunities!
Juvenile little blue. Easy to confuse with the egrets and other herons!
Little boy blue
Little blue - big awesome
Following the river, you get some water-loving birds in the river, but other birds on the sides of the trail too. Golden-cheeked woodpeckers were really common in this part of Mexico and we often saw them in pairs.

I don't think I could post all these pictures from Mexico and not include a great-tailed grackle...they are as common there as the common grackle is at home!
The caciques were ubiquitous as well.

The caciques were most amusing when they tossed up their lids.They are incredibly loud birds.

#297: West Mexican Chachalacha; Yelapa, Mexico; February 2014
I didn't realize it at the time, but we saw a different type of chachalacha in Yelapa! Apparently I cannot read Mexican range maps...we were farther south than I realized!

It's amazing that even when you don't know the bird calls of birds in a place you're not familiar with that you can still recognize a sound you haven't heard yet.

Looking through the mini guide that I had on the plane, Matt and I loved picking out random birds we never heard of, and the ones with the weirdest names ("Yellow-throated euphonia!" "Montezuma's Oropendola!" Black-headed saltator!" Pauraque!" "Squirrel Cuckoo!" "Blue-crowned Motmot!"). It made it all the more wonderful when we spotted some of these birds, as if the oddness of their names made us incredulous of their real-life existence.

#298: Squirrel Cuckoo; Yelapa, Mexico; February 2014
#299: Elegant Trogon; Yelapa, Mexico; February 2014
The elegant trogon was one of the most majestic birds that we spotted in Mexico. It was on my list of the ones I really wanted to see. I saw them only on a couple occasions, and they were always pretty quiet, except for our last day in Yelapa when I had a chance to see one feeding. Seriously fantastic. Sometimes in awe of the beauty of some of nature's little beings.

Well, I don't mean to be a tease and it makes no sense to stop here but I have actually reached the limit for tags for this post. You may have noticed I stopped at #299.....!