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March 2018 – Chris Llewellyn's "Birds Eye Views"

Month: March 2018

Birding the Nevada Volcanos in Colima, Mexico.

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Rugged terrain, awe-inspiring beauty.  This is Nayarit and Colima, Mexico.  A place for adventure.

Chris’s view from The Durango Highway.

I started this journey with hopes and a list of birds I wanted to photograph for the first time.  I set a goal to find 20 new birds.  My guide, Mark Stackhouse put me on 19 photographed and the last one, an Aztec Rail, heard but couldn’t be coaxed out of the cattails before the mosquitos attacked and we were forced to retreat.  I think the photograph I’m most pleased with is this one, a Cinnamon bellied Flowerpiercer.  For the better part of two days, this quick little bird insisted on staying deep inside the brush only to peak out from frustrating time to time only to duck down just as I started to focus.  I finally took one shot I could live with.

Cinnamon-bellied Flowerpiercer













The cinnamon-bellied flowerpiercer (Diglossa baritula) is a species of bird in the family Thraupidae. It is found in El SalvadorGuatemalaHonduras, and Mexico. Its natural habitats are subtropical or tropical moist montane forests and heavily degraded former forest. It is a species known to be a nectar robber, apparently taking nectar while not pollinating the plant.

Photographing birds in the shadows of volcanos and deep jungle-like situations present issues of lighting that can be challenging to say the least.  I took some okay phots of two hummers new to me.  The Mexican Violetear 

Mexican Violetear













and the Violet-crowned Hummingbird.

Violet-crowned Hummingbird













Did a little night birding on a volcano road.  These roads were tight and when we met a vehicle coming from the other direction passing felt like nearly kissing bumpers and slapping side mirrors.  Here is a ghostly photo I took of a Balsas Screech-Owl.  Almost spooky!

Balsas Screech-Owl













Balsas Screech-Owl is the only species of owl that is endemic to Mexico. The plumage pattern of this screech-owl is typical of the genus, although Balsas Screech-Owl is not known to have a red morph, but this species is unusual among screech-owls for having brown (not yellow) irides. This species is resident in southwestern Mexico, with a distribution that is centered on the Balsas River Basin in southern Jalisco, Colima, Michoacán, central Guerrero, and southern Morelos. Information on the biology of Balsas Screech-Owl is extremely limited, even though this species is considered to be at risk from habitat loss or degradation.

In the dark of night, windows open to listen for birds and Mark stops the van, “get out”.  I grab my camera, step on the road and right away a bird almost lands on my cap and then lands on a nearby bush.  Mark shines his flashlight and we both can see an Eared Poorwill.  The bird takes off before I can focus but Mark whistles and back it comes again, almost landing on my head.  It lands…

Eared Poorwill












The eared poorwill (Nyctiphrynus mcleodii) is a species of nightjar in the family Caprimulgidae. It is endemic to Mexico. Its natural habitats are subtropical or tropical dry forests and subtropical or tropical moist montane forests.

Birds in the family Caprimulgidae, which includes Eastern Whip-poor-will , have been referred to as “goatsuckers” based on a superstition that goes back well over 2000 years. They all have tiny beaks that open to reveal an impressively large mouth used to catch flying insects, and they are active mainly at night. Their nocturnal habits made them mysterious, and their bizarre appearance required an explanation, and as early as the 300s BC Aristotle wrote about the trouble these birds could cause with goats. Four hundred years later not much had changed, and in 77 AD Pliny passed along the prevailing wisdom:

The Caprimulgi (so called of milking goats) are like the bigger kind of Owsels [Thrush]. They bee night-theeves; for all the day long they see not. Their manner is to come into the sheepeheards coats and goat-pens, and to the goats udders presently they goe, and suck the milke at their teats. And looke what udder is so milked, it giveth no more milke, but misliketh and falleth away afterwards, and the goats become blind withall.

Leaving the mountain and down at the base we come across another type of goatsucker, the Buff-collard Nightjar.  Beautiful bird!

Buff-collard Nightjar











The buff-collared nightjar (Antrostomus ridgwayi) is a small sized nightjar. Adults are dark with brown, grey, black, and white patterning on the upperparts and breast. The tail is dark brown, with darker finely barred markings throughout. The male has large white outer tail tips on the 3 outermost tail feathers. The female has buffy tail tips. The most distinguishing characteristic to determine its identity from its closest relative the Whip-poor-will is from where the bird gets its name. It shows a prominent buff-colored collar around its neck and nape. Its song is also very different. It sounds like an accelerating cuk, cuk, cuk, cuk, cuk, cukacheea.[2]

Their breeding habitat is open country of Mexico and Central America to central Nicaragua. The northern limit of its range reaches just over the Mexican border to southeasternmost Arizona and southwesternmost New Mexico–(the Madrean Sky Islands in the eastern Sonoran Desert mountain region), where they are the only breeding resident birds.[citation needed] The nightjar’s two eggs are laid directly on bare ground near rocks or scrubby vegetation—there is no nest. The adult may feign injury to distract an intruder from the eggs or young birds.

They catch flying insects on the wing, making forays to catch their prey from the ground or a perch from a bush, tree, or large rock. They are mainly active at night, but can also be awake at dawn or dusk. They usually rest on the ground during the day.

Okay, bye for now.  If you like this blog,” like ” it please.

This Baja birder leaving the Durango Hwy. and on to San Blas, Mexico.

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Here is a photograph of my guide, Mark Stackhouse, at one of the viewing areas on the Durango Hwy.  You can see the hazy lighting conditions I’ve been whining about.  Still had a great time there.

Mark Stackhouse










Now on to San Blas.  Mark knew right where to find this hummer of a hummingbird.  The elusive Mexican Woodnymph.

Mexican Woodnymph













Sorry about that watermark but people were always stealing my photographs. The Mexican woodnymph (Thalurania ridgwayi) is a species of hummingbird in the family Trochilidae and is endemic to western Mexico. Its habitats include subtropical or tropical moist lowland/foothill forest and plantations . It is threatened by habitat loss. It has been considered conspecific with the crowned woodnymph of Central and northern South America.

In some of the wetlands of san Blas, we found Spotted Rails.

Spotted Rail













These birds had to be coaxed out the thick waterplants by calling them.The Spotted Rail is a large rail of Central America, the Caribbean, and parts of South America.  It is relatively poorly known, and is curiously distributed in widely disjunct patches.  The species has proven to be a long distance vagrant, with a specimen record from southwestern Pennsylvania, USA.  Adults are quite dark overall, with a tapered, yellow bill with red spots at the base of the mandible, blackish head with red eye, black and brown upperparts, black underparts with white spotting, and pinkish legs. 

Moving to a different marsh we call up a Ridgeway’s Rail…

Ridgeway’s Rail













Ridgway’s Rail is a handsome gray-and-rusty bird that lives most of its life concealed in dense vegetation. It uses its formidable bill to probe into muddy wetlands for invertebrate prey. It lives in saltwater marshes, freshwater marshes, and mangrove swamps in California, Arizona, Nevada, and coastal western Mexico. Populations are declining largely due to wetland loss and degradation, and the species is listed in the U.S. as federally endangered. This species and Clapper Rail were considered the same species (along with Mangrove Rail) until 2014.

After moving to higher ground and listening carefully, we followed our ears to capture photos of these endemic Rufous-bellied Chachalacas.

Rufous-bellied Chachalacas













The Rufous-bellied Chachalaca is a Mexican endemic found from southern Sonora to northwest Jalisco. The most richly colored chachalaca species, the Rufous-bellied Chachalaca has bright chestnut on the belly and undertail-coverts and a bare red skin patch around its eyes. These birds are found in tropical deciduous forest and thorn forest, as well as palm plantations and mangroves where they forage for fruit and berries. The Rufous-bellied Chachalaca is tolerant of human disturbance and is not a species of conservation concern. 

Next is a nemesis bird for me.  So darn hard to photograph.  This is the best photo I could shoot of this shy bird. Constantly moving in mostly high branches is the beautiful Elegant Euphonia…

Elegant Euphonia












Unlike most euphonias that are attired in dark blue and yellow, the Elegant Euphonia sports turquoise and orange, similar to Antillean Euphonia (Euphonia musica) and Golden-rumped Euphonia (Euphonia cyanocephala), all three of which were once considered a single species. Most often, this dainty finch is encountered in humid, montane oak forests as high as about 3500 m. It occurs northward to Sonora and Nuevo Leon and southward to the highlands of western Panama. There, flocks, occasionally numbering dozens of individuals, may be seen feeding in clumps of fruiting mistletoe. The male’s bright blue crown and orange belly aid in locating this tiny bird (length 11 cm) in the foliage of tall oaks. The female also sports a blue crown, but her green back and underparts is more cryptic among the green leaves. Elegant Euphonias undergo some seasonal and altitudinal movements, occasionally being found close to sea level….Moving on, I was able to add another new bird to my photo list.  The Flammulated Flycatcher…

Flammulated Flycatcher













Originally described in the genus Myiarchus, Flammulated Flycatcher now generally is afforded its own, monotypic genus, although it has been suggested that the species is better treated as a member of Ramphotrigon. Needless to say, the plumage of Flammulated Flycatcher does recall that of a Myiarchus, but in size this species is smaller than most members of Myiarchus, and the pale supraloral, broken orbital ring, and streaked throat and breast all serve to distinguish Flammulated Flycatcher from any Myiarchus. This species appears to be a Mexican endemic: although postulated to range into Guatemala, no evidence for its occurrence in the latter country has been found to date. Flammulated Flycatcher inhabits dry deciduous woodland and thorn forest, as well as shade coffee plantations, and is found from sea level up to approximately 1400 m.  Lastly for today, one of the most difficult to photograph birds I’ve ever tried shot.  True to it’s name, the Rusty-capped ground Sparrow dodged my camera lens by running along the ground only pausing long enough to tease me…

Rusty-capped ground Sparrow












Its size ranges from six to seven inches (15–17.5 cm). The adult has a rufous crown with white lore spot and its face is olive brown with white eye ring while the upper parts grayish olive. Its throat and underparts are white with a black central chest spot and the undertail covers are pale cinnamon. Juveniles are dusky brown on the upper parts with the throat and underparts dirty pale lemon, streaked with brown.

Okay, I hope you enjoy today’s blog.  Happy birding!  My new email is chrisllewellyn0211@gmail.com