Embudito Canyon

May 20th, 2016

Embudito Canyon

So I drove out to Embudito Canyon, over on the east side of Albuquerque, in the dark, relying on Google Girl to find my way. Eventually I wound up in a high-priced suburb in the foothills, and a residential street that ended at a pair of locked gates. The signs declared it to be Embudito Canyon, but also that it opened at 7 AM. So I parked on the street, hoping not to get towed, and walked in.

It was still too dark to see birds, but I could hear them everywhere. It’s so frustrating to be in a new place, looking for new birds, and to be able to hear them a20ll around you but not identify them. I knew that any local birder would be racking up a substantial list just standing there. But I just sat on a curb in the parking lot and wondered what they all were. I’ve been listening to calls from Stokes Western Birds, but I don’t know many well enough to identify by sound. Still, pretty soon I realized that one of them had to be a thrasher. And when I played back the Curve-Billed Thrasher call on my phone, it was a good match.

Now I just needed to wait for it to get lighter. I walked a little way out on the trail, until it was obvious that the bird was very nearby somewhere. Finally, after maybe 20 minutes or so, I realized that it was perched right on top of a bush in front of me — and it was indeed a CBTH. It turned out later that they were quite bold, and one that had a nest in a cholla cactus just sat on top of the plant and sang at me while I took pictures.

Curve-Billed Thrasher

My first lifer of the trip!

All told, in about 2 1/2 hours I had 9 lifers there:

Scaled Quail
Broad-tailed Hummingbird
Gray Flycatcher
Cactus Wren
Curve-billed Thrasher
Black-chinned Sparrow
Black-throated Sparrow
Canyon Towhee

I’d say the Gray Flycatcher was the one I was proudest of. I sat on a rock in the trail, and by this time there were occasional runners and dog-walkers going by. But in a quiet moment, I saw some movement in a nearby thicket of bushes. It was clearly an Empidonax flycatcher, and though I played calls, it wouldn’t sing back. I was about to give it up as Empid sp. when I remembered to check Sibley – and sure enough, there was only one likely Empid here that would be pumping its tail like a phoebe. So, Gray Flycatcher.

I had promised to get back by 9, so I power-walked back to the parking lot, having gone about a half-mile into the hills. Time for breakfast (huevos rancheros, of course) and then the Rio Grande Nature Center.


May 20th, 2016


We got into Albuquerque on Wednesday afternoon, and our hotel is near Old Town. So we walked around a bit, and then headed for the Cocina Azul, which I’d seen well recommended. On the way we passed a house with these guys in its yard. No clue.

We had some really great green and red chile at the Cocina Azul. The carne adovada is excellent too. We were sadly too stuffed to eat sopaipillas after.

Thursday morning I got up about 4:30 and drove out to Embudito Canyon, the first of my target areas. More on that later.


March 18th, 2016

Mourning Cloak

Early this month when I was at Ball Mill Resurgence Conservation Area, I noticed that there were a few butterflies around. This one was cooperative enough to land on a branch in the sun and let me photograph it. I didn’t know what kind it was, but I was surprised to see how worn it looked. Clearly this butterfly didn’t just emerge from a pupa.

I looked through my butterfly books, but couldn’t find it; I later realized that was because they’re much yellower when freshly emerged, fading to more white later. I posted it to the Butterflies of the Eastern US Facebook group, and within about 10 seconds I had a response; “Mourning Cloak”. And someone added, “they overwinter as adults.”

I was intrigued. In fact, I was shocked.  I realize that insects have to get through the winter somehow; beetles have larvae — grubs — that burrow in the ground, maybe some survive as eggs, that sort of thing.*  But an adult butterfly? Surely it would freeze. Even here it gets down into the single digits Fahrenheit — over 10 degrees C below freezing. How can they do it?

Not content to just wonder, I hit the literature. First I read about “freezing-intolerant” and “freezing-tolerant” insects. These were the accepted categories for overwintering insects at least into the early 1990s.    What I got from work by W. Block and K.B. Storey was that the former use antifreeze compounds to lower the freezing point of their cell contents, and survive as long as the temp doesn’t get below their supercooling point (SCP). The latter use nucleation compounds in their extracellular hemolymph to allow it to freeze while keeping the intracellular material from freezing.

But it turns out that it’s more complex than that. More recent work, summarized in 1999 by Brent Sinclair, puts all of these on a continuum. Most insects use both antifreeze compounds and ice-nucleating compounds in some combination. They lower their freezing temperature, but then they may also be able to survive below the SCP when actually frozen.

The butterfly in the photo, the Mourning Cloak – Nymphalis antiopa, is a member of the family Nymphalidae. While most Lepidoptera overwinter as larvae or in some cases eggs, many Nymphalids overwinter as adults. They crawl under leaf litter or under loose bark and wait for spring.

The Mourning Cloak doesn’t freeze until -20 C, and it can survive temps down to -34 C — well below any recorded temp in this area. To me it’s pretty astounding. These guys sit there and freeze solid in a cold winter. Then when it warms up, they thaw out, crawl out of where they were hiding, and fly away.

So which of the butterflies you’re seeing sat out the winter as adults?  “Hibernal Diapause of North American Papilionoidea and Hesperioidea,”** a 1979 review by James Scott, includes a handy table  listing each species’ hibernal diapause stage as E, L, P, or A (egg, larva, pupa, adult), with references to back them up.  For me in Southeast Missouri, the take-home message of the table is that Red-Spotted Purples and most Fritillaries overwinter as larvae, Swallowtails overwinter as pupae, and Brushfoots mostly overwinter as adults.  So the adults that overwinter that I’m likely to see include the Mourning Cloak; genus Polygonia – the Comma and the Question Mark; and genus Vanessa – Painted Lady, American Lady, and Red Admiral.

Question Mark

Polygonia interrogationis, the Question Mark

Eastern Comma

Polygonia comma, Eastern Comma

Red Admiral

Vanessa atalanta
, Red Admiral

Butterfly on lantana

Vanessa cardui, Painted Lady

*The process of getting through a cold winter by slowing down body processes and waiting somewhere is loosely called “hibernation” in insects.  More properly, it’s referred to as “hibernal diapause”.  Some insects have a quiescent stage when it gets too hot as well, which is “estival diapause”.

**The Papilionoidea superfamily includes all the butterflies except the skippers, which are in the Hesperioidea.  So together those superfamilies constitute “butterflies”.

NOTE: One more local butterfly that overwinters as an adult is the Sleepy Orange, Eurema nicippe.

March 5, 2016: Saturday along the river

March 6th, 2016

Magnolia Hollow Lake

The MDC had Magnolia Hollow Conservation Area on its list for management plan public input the other day, and I’d never heard of it before. When I found that it was only an hour’s drive from me, I decided to go check it out. When I got out at the first parking area at around 6:!5 yesterday, it was already pretty birdy — yellow-rumps in the trees, sparrows flitting around, etc.

I walked down to the fishing lake, which is quite a pretty spot (see above).

The yellow-rumps were thick there,

Yellow-rumped warbler

and I spotted a GBHE perched in a tree way in the distance.

Great Blue Heron

I spent some time just sitting on a rock listening to the YRWAs chipping in the trees, and eventually walked back up to the parking area. I drove on, getting out briefly at each parking area. As I was pulling out of the campground parking lot, I noticed a fat little bird in the grass on the shoulder. I stopped and cautiously opened the car door, but he didn’t seem to be worried about me; it was an American Woodcock, bobbing up and down in the full sunlight. He was backlit, so my photos are a little oddly exposed, but it’s the best chance I’ve ever had to get a pic of one.


At the next parking area, I got out and instantly saw a raptor departing into the woods. I ran up to see if I could tell where it had gone, and I could see something perched in the distance. In the binoculars it looked like a koala, but I was pretty sure that was wrong. Fortunately, the camera gave a better ID.

Barred Owl

From the last parking area, a paved path leads to a little deck with a view of Establishment Creek emptying into the Mississippi. Between them there’s a large fluddle. With a spotting scope, that’s a good spot to observe waterfowl. I found Canada Geese, mallards, green-winged teal, wood ducks, and gadwall there, and heard a kingfisher as well.

View at Magnolia Hollow

Next I decided to move downriver a bit (and inland) by visiting Ball Mill Resurgence and its new sister area, Blue Spring Branch Conservation Area. I’d never been to the latter, and I didn’t want Mark Haas to get all the “First Seens” in ebird for it. It’s kind of a weird layout. There’s a parking lot with a sign:

Blue Spring Branch

But the path to get into the area starts about 1/4 mile down the road. I bushwhacked down the hill from the parking area through tall grass and brush, but I wouldn’t recommend that approach. At the bottom of the hill (where I met up with the path) is Blue Spring Branch. It’s a fair-sized creek, but there’s a ford that wasn’t hard to cross with rubber boots.

Blue Spring Branch

I crossed the stream, following the path when it veered across an old fence line into a marshy field. There were some sparrows, and a deafening chorus of frogs. Adding to the soundscape, someone in a farmhouse a quarter-mile to the east started practicing the flute. From there I followed deer trails uphill to the far eastern edge of the Conservation Area. While there wasn’t that much happening on the ground, a mixed flock of geese (Snow, Greater White-Fronted, and a Ross’) came over. I made a loop and wound up back at the Branch, where I flushed 5 Wood Ducks. Added 13 species to the ebird list for the area: take that, Mark!

Of course I had to go to Ball Mill as long as I was in the neighborhood. Things were pretty quiet there, but I did get a nice pic of a bluebird.


One of these days I need to go there after a big rain and see the resurgence in action.

Working my way southward, I headed for Red Rock Landing Conservation Area. Last couple of times I tried to get there, high water made it impossible. The MDC says you can’t get in when the Chester gauge is over 20 feet; Saturday it was at 17 and there was no problem. It was also pretty quiet — what do you expect in mid-afternoon — but there were two killdeer and a Wilson’s Snipe (new ebird record for the area) on the wetland. I walked down to the river and came back up, and saw an armadillo approaching along a side trail. I crouched down so as not to be conspicuous and got out the camera.


At full zoom, I got some decent pictures, but he kept trotting toward me so fast I couldn’t keep him in focus. I was starting to worry that he’d just run right into me, and even as I backed off the zoom, I couldn’t get all of him in the frame.


He hopped over a log just 5 feet from me, and when I turned to watch him go by he finally realized I was there. He quickly scuttled into the flood debris. Those guys really have nothing going for them but the armor — sight and hearing were clearly not priorities for them as they evolved.

Afterward I walked a mile of the trail up onto the bluffs. It was totally dead for birds except some eagles out on a sand bar in the Mississippi. Nice view, though, but it won’t be much after the leaves come out.

View from Red Rock Landing trail

It was interesting looking at the eagles from up on the bluff; one immature took off and flew across the sand bar to perch in a tree, and I was puzzled by the coloring in his wings — brown on his back, shading pretty abruptly to black on the wing tips. I’d never seen that before, but a quick look in Sibley showed exactly that pattern. Then I realized that I’m not usually looking down at an eagle in flight.

After a mile or so on the trail, it was about 2:30 PM, and I was getting a bit tired — I think my total walking distance for the day was about 9 miles. I headed back and went home. Total species for the day, 49. Not bad when neither shorebird nor warbler migration has started.

January 16, 2016: Chasing cranes

January 19th, 2016

Friday afternoon a post came up on the Mobirds mailing list detailing sighting of four immature Whooping Cranes on Kaskaskia Island in Illinois. I had been planning to go out to Maintz Conservation Area to look for woodcocks on Saturday, but I had to change my plans — Kaskaskia is only about a half-hour drive from my house. I emailed Mark Haas mentioning it, and late in the day he called to propose that we drive up together.

So, 6:30 on Saturday morning, I pulled into the commuter lot by the Oak Ridge exit on I-55. Mark was in his truck waiting, and we moved my scope and backpack into the cab. It was about 25 degrees, but with coveralls, a wool cap, and neck gaiter, I was comfortable enough. We drove up to Kaskaskia and discussed the cranes. We both saw the pair of cranes that visited Union County, IL a couple of years ago, so we had Whoopers on our Illinois lists.* The thing is, Kaskaskia “island” is actually an area inside a bend in the Mississippi where Illinois land is on the west side of the river. So if birds are in Kaskaskia, they’d only need to move a little way west to cross the state line and be in Ste. Genevieve County, Missouri. Jokingly, we talked about trying to scare them that way — but no ethical birder would purposely flush birds, especially critically endangered birds who are already off course for their normal migration.

We got to St. Mary, Missouri and turned onto State Road U; within a few hundred yards it crossed the line and became Illinois 15. As we drove past a group of houses, we saw several sparrows on the ground, so we stopped and got out for a while. It was a very birdy yard, with several White-breasted Nuthatches, some juncos, starlings, a couple of kinds of woodpeckers, a Golden-Crowned Kinglet, etc. After a while, though, we had to keep moving, as the cranes awaited. We hoped.

We got to the spot where they’d been reported and found no tall birds. Well, maybe they would show up; it was still only a little after 7, and a cold, cloudy morning. We proceeded to drive down a farm road, stopping to look at a fluddle with various ducks on it, some Horned Larks in the field, a Bald Eagle perched in a distant tree … and Mark says “there they go!” Four big white birds flying over the levee to our west. They went down beyond a tree line, and we drove back up the road and climbed the levee. There they were, walking around out on the mud flats – four giant white birds with rust-brown heads and spotting on their wings, and big colored plastic bands on each leg.

Whooping Cranes

By this time, several other vehicles had arrived, and we were part of a group of about 10 birders peering at the cranes through scopes. Somebody mentioned that there were a couple of Mute Swans over in a farmyard; I looked momentarily with binoculars, saw them squatting next to pond in a fenced yard, and figured they were domesticated. Not countable, so I went back to the cranes and the assorted woodpeckers in the tree line.

As we watched the cranes walk around in the mud flat, they got further and further away from us, edging gradually westward toward a dike on the other side. Was that the Missouri line over there? I pulled out my phone and looked at Google Maps. Quickly I realized that the state line where we were didn’t follow a dike or a watercourse — it was right out in the middle of those mud flats, and I was pretty sure that the cranes were now on the other side. We’d seen them in two states in the same morning!

Mark and I drove to the Missouri side looking for access to that far dike, but the remnants of recent flooding made the (private) road there impassable even if we’d wanted to risk trespass. We headed for Perry County Lake to finish out the morning instead.

At home later, I put records in ebird for both Kaskaskia Island and “near St. Mary”. And started reading the posts on Mobirds. Luann Holst was bemoaning a camera memory card that went kaput with her crane pics on it. Others were discussing which side of the state line the birds had been on. And Rob Francis posted that he’d seen two Trumpeter Swans. I responded “I saw two Mute Swans, and thought they were domesticated and uncountable.” He responded privately with a pic of them, and they clearly weren’t Mute Swans, but looked good for Trumpeter — I took back my comment. And then David Marjaama emailed me privately to say that he and his wife MaryAnne had walked into the farmyard and found that they were “roboswans” — decoys with hinged necks that can be repositioned to imitate live birds. When I looked at one of the pics on an ebird record, I could see the seams around their necks easily.

Trumpeter Swan decoys

So I guess those were some good decoys — fooled a number of birders, at least.

*Yes, I keep state lists now. Thanks to ebird, you can hardly avoid it. It’s so easy to see your world, continent, state, county, etc. list that you just become aware of such things.

August 1, 2013: O Cristo Redentor

August 2nd, 2013

Peggy and Robin with the view from the Cristo

Peggy’s one big wish for Rio was to go to the top of the mountain and see the Cristo Redentor. We also wanted to go to the top of Sugarloaf (Well, some of us did. I find the prospect of riding the cablecar terrifying in the extreme, but whatever), so we decided to start in the morning, go to the Cristo, then Sugarloaf. As it turns out, it’s a very long trip from Arpoador neighborhood to the Cristo — altogether it takes two city buses and two vans to get to the top, and by the time we’d stood in various lines, etc. we were pretty beat. So we had a beer at the feet of Jesus (there are two different cafes on the way up), and then climbed the steps to walk around the statue and join the crowds of people taking pictures of each other holding their arms out.

The view from up there is spectacular. In the panoramic shot above, you can see Copacabana beach (on Peggy’s side), then Ipanema beach (with Arpoador in between — that’s where our hotel is), then Leblon beach. The big lake is the Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas, where we saw Cocoi herons, common gallinules, neotropical cormorants, a Ringed Kingfisher, and the Southern and Yellow-headed Caracaras. The Jockey Club racetrack is visible to the right of the Lagoa, and the big green area to the right of that is the Jardim Botanico, where we also went the day before.

Today was not much of a birding day, but while drinking a beer near the top of the mountain, I saw a black bird in the trees. It turned out on closer inspection to have a pale blue bill, a slight crest, and white flashes in its wings when it flew; it was a Velvety Black-Tyrant, and my one lifer for the day.

We reversed the whole process getting home, though I was able to find a way to use only one city bus instead of two. After collapsing for a while, we wandered out and found a restaurant where we all had grilled salmon and salad for like $15 each — a great deal and more food than we could eat.

Back to Belo Horizonte tomorrow!

July 31, 2013: First (very) full day in Rio

July 31st, 2013

Yesterday was a travel day, and we were pretty wiped out by the time we got to Rio. So we went to a microbrewery pub and had beer and burgers, and then sat out on the patio behind our hotel and watched the stars and the ocean. We’re staying at the Arpoador Inn, which is a major coup on Robin’s part — very reasonably priced, and right on the beach; strictly speaking Arpoador beach, but it’s really part of Ipanema. Our room has a gorgeous ocean view, and the beach view isn’t bad either.
Tangara cyanocephala - Red-necked Tanager
Red-necked Tanager: photo by Arthur Grosset

This morning we resolved to do some birding, and we’d planned to meet at the hotel restaurant at 8. I woke up early, and decided to watch the sun rise from the Garota de Ipanema, i.e. the big rock just to the east of our hotel. I looked out the window and the first thing I saw was a life bird, the kelp gull. I then proceeded down to the beach and to the Garota, where I watched the sun come up and also saw a South American Tern.

After breakfast, we walked to the Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas, a saltwater lagoon just inland from the beach. There were Magnificent Frigatebirds and common gallinules, a pied-billed grebe to make us think of home, and then we saw a raptor with white bands in its wings fly into a palm tree. We spent a good bit of time studying the bird. First problem was that there was another raptor in the same tree, which turned out to be a Southern Caracara. We argued a good bit about the first bird, and the appearance of another of the same species didn’t really help much. Finally, we tentatively settled on Yellow-Headed Caracara, though the colors in my book didn’t look right. That’s often the case, and later I checked on the web and we clearly had the right bird.

Our next goal was the Jardim Botanico do Rio Janeiro; Google Maps has it in the wrong place, which didn’t help, but we eventually got there. It’s a beautiful park, with lots of streams and little waterfalls. The orchidarium and the bromeliad house were both closed for renovation, and the hummingbird garden was out of season. Nevertheless, we found some very cool birds, including the Rusty-margined Guan and the Red-Necked Tanager. I’ve included a photo of the tanager (again, not mine — I didn’t bring fancy lenses). It should be called the holy shit tanager, I think, based on what I kept saying while looking at it.

After about 3 hours in the Jardim, we were toast, and we still had to walk back. Thought I was gonna die. We had to stop and have a beer on the beach about a mile from our hotel. I counted up our birds for the day and realized I had 14 lifers total. This, of course, warranted a chicken dance.

July 29, 2013: The Bird Park and the Dam

July 30th, 2013

Itaipu Binacional. For scale, note the 5-story building just above the cooling water flow about 1/4 of the way in from the right side of the picture. Spillway water flow is on the left.

Today was a big day, as we planned two separate outings. Our hotel is conveniently located just next door to the Parque das Aves, a bird rescue center and aviary, and we had to check it out. It’s a good-sized place, with a concrete path leading past enclosures for various birds and through several large aviaries where you can get right next to the birds. They have a great collection of parrots and macaws, mostly recovered from illegal smugglers. There are some endangered species that are breeding in captivity here as well. We walked into the first aviary and a Red-Legged Seriema walked up and grabbed my map out of my hand. At about two feet tall, he was a little bit daunting, but I got it back. Turns out the nearest relatives of the Seriemas were the extinct Terror Birds, ten-foot-tall carnivores that were the largest predators in South America after the dinosaurs died out. I guess I was lucky. That guy looked mean, and when we were leaving he kept reaching up and trying to grab the door handle.

Another aviary had a huge assortment of macaws and parrots in it, who apparently express their dislike for mammals invaded their enclosure by buzzing your head – I had a Hyacinth Macaw pass so close I could feel the breeze. It was a little frustrating seeing all these cool birds that don’t count for your life list, being captive, but many of them we’d never have seen any other way. And while I’d seen two Toco Toucans the day before, in the Parque I was able to see one quite a bit closer. And a macaw closer than that.

Me and Macaw

After the bird park, we headed back to the hotel. Robin wanted to rest a bit, and we had about an hour and a half before leaving on our next outing. I, of course, went out with my binoculars. Instead of taking the nature trail behind the hotel, I followed the dirt road past the staff’s houses, and hit the jackpot – I found the hotel’s sewage lagoon. I wish I’d found it a couple of days ago, but even with just a half-hour to spend, I was able to see two new birds – hooded tanager and white-banded tanager, eating caterpillars in the same tree.

Made it back to the hotel and joined our little group, as our car had arrived to take us to Itaipu. At the city of Foz do Iguazu, a few miles west of our hotel, the river Paraná is dammed to form an enormous reservoir. The river is the border between Brazil and Paraguay, and the two countries made a treaty agreement in 1975 to build the Itaipu dam and power plant. It’s the largest water-power plant in the world; maximum capacity is 14,000 megawatts (that’s 14 gigawatts, enough to power 11.5 Delorean time machines). It provides 75% of Paraguay’s electric power (and almost all the rest is water power as well), and 17% of Brazil’s. We paid extra for the Special Nerd Tour and got to go inside the dam and see one of the 20 turbines in operation. It’s an incredible engineering project – it just dwarfed us. On the main floor just over the generators, workers rode bicycles or drove golf carts to get from one end to the other. Outside, we stood on top of the dam and saw the huge lake to the north, and the river to the south. The water was high, so they had some of the spillway gates open to drain the excess. The amount going out (with 5 of 14 gates open) was approximately the total flow of Iguazu falls. At peak flow, it can be 40 times that.

Of course, I was looking for birds when we were outside, and I realized that two nondescript brown birds walking around by the reception center were new to me. I took notes, and when I got back I looked them up and found that they were Rufous Horneros. These guys make mud nests up in trees that look like clay ovens; hence the name, as “horno” is Spanish for “oven.” There was a nest in a tree outside our hotel.

Exhausted, we got back to the hotel, had a light dinner and a couple of beers, and went to bed early. Our flight to Rio leaves the next morning at 6:55.

July 28, 2013: Iguazu falls

July 29th, 2013

Iguazu Falls

You can read all about Iguazu Falls in Wikipedia, but seeing it in person is absolutely stunning. Niagara has more water, but Iguazu is much wider. It just goes on and on. Our hotel is walking distance from the park entrance, and that’s what we did; once you get into the park, there’s a free bus that takes you to the falls trail. From there, you walk a total of about a mile on paved path with occasional steps, interrupted by about a thousand photo op sites, where you have to wait for the people in front of you to get through mugging for each other’s cameras so that you can do the same.

This is winter, and the dry season, so the flow of the falls is at its low end right now. All I can say is it’s hard to imagine it at its peak in that case. We passed on the opportunity to take a Zodiac boat trip up the river to the base of the falls. Temps were in the low 60s when we arrived, and it’s clear that you get totally soaked in one of those boats. We were content to walk up the trail; at its end it has an observation deck that comes right to the edge of the biggest fall, the Garganta do Diablo. We wore ponchos and still got pretty damp from the spray. There’s a nice restaurant at the top, where we had a buffet lunch before coming back.

At the restaurant, as at every stop along the way, tourists are assailed by coatimundis, who climb into the garbage cans and beg from the passers-by. Peggy and I watched one coati following a little girl, who must have looked to a coati like the kind of person who’ll drop food. She turned around and saw it and let out a shriek, but she was the only one scared. The coatis have seen it all.

While there wasn’t much birding to be done at the park, Peggy and Robin and I did get out by the pool this morning; the big find was a pair of toco toucans that flew into a big tree just as I walked outside.

Today’s list:

*Toco toucan 2
Red-Rumped cacique 10
Ruddy ground-dove
Plush-crested jay 5
Yellow-fronted woodpecker
Yellow-chevroned parrot 2
Great kiskadee 2
House wren
*Violaceous euphonia
*Green-headed Tanager 2
Sayaca tanager
Pale-breasted thrush
*Scaly-headed parrot 4

*Eared dove
Black vulture 40
Turkey vulture
Neotropic cormorant

*As usual, lifers marked with the asterisk.

July 27, 2013: A birding day

July 27th, 2013

Melanerpes flavifrons
Yellow-fronted Woodpecker: Photo by Arthur Grosset

Hamner having been sick the day before, we decided in advance that today would be a rest day so Peggy could stick around in case he needed something. So I got up before dawn and went out to see what birding could be done on the grounds of our hotel. It has a pool, then a soccer field, then woods with trails that lead all the way back to the Rio Iguazu.

I’m not used to it being winter — the sun didn’t rise till after 7. In the meantime, all the birds woke up and starting twittering, squawking, chirping, and shrieking according to their individual tastes. At home, say, at Maintz Wildlife Reserve, I’d know what pretty much all the sounds were. Here, I know squat. It’s a bit disconcerting. I quickly realized there was no point being back in the woods until it got good and bright, so I wandered out front and watched in the better light out in the open. A group of parrots flew into a tree near me, and I was able to identify them as maroon-bellied parakeets, for instance. Eventually I did head back in the woods, and wound up seeing quite a few birds. My big triumph was following the sound of hammering on a tree to get a good view of a lineated woodpecker. If it were in Missouri, it would be a slightly peculiar-looking pileated woodpecker; a really big bird and very striking.

When I came back out and walked into the pool area behind the hotel, I felt a little foolish, because it was just alive with birds, including a very cool yellow-fronted woodpecker. If the lineated is a pileated that’s a little off, a yellow-fronted is a hairy woodpecker that somebody has taken a set of paints to.

Robin, Peggy, and I had breakfast. The hotel puts on a pretty good buffet for breakfast, with excellent coffee. Afterward, while Hamner was resting, we went back to the trail to see if we could see the river at the far end. We saw a number of birds walking in, but they didn’t want to take too much time, so we kept moving. It’s about a kilometer walk back there, and when we got to the little observation deck, there were black-capped capuchin monkeys frolicking in the trees by the riverside. The Rio Iguazu seems surprisingly placid there, apparently unaware that it’s about to fall off a bunch of cliffs.

At the Rio Iguazu
Robin and Peggy at the observation deck.

Peggy and Robin headed back and let me dawdle and watch birds at my leisure, to rejoin them later. I’ve found in the past few days that there are so many unfamiliar birds (even though I’ve studied the likely ones) that I have to use the recording feature on my iPhone and just dictate notes about them and look them up later. I’ve been pretty fortunate in spotting the definitive features and noting them, although there are still some mystery birds remaining. Still, I had 15 lifers today, which is pretty good for never leaving the hotel.

The three of us spent the afternoon sitting out by the pool and playing sheepshead, and then we got Hamner and went to the hotel bar for a late snack. He’s feeling much better, so tomorrow we plan to go to the falls.

Today’s list:

Great kiskadee 3
Great egret
Red-rumped cacique 12
House wren 2
*Maroon-bellied parakeet 5
*Lineated woodpecker
Rufous-bellied thrush 2
*Yellow-fronted woodpecker
*Epaulet oriole
*Plush-crested jay 20
Pale-breasted thrush 5
Yellow-chevroned parakeet 4
*Black-tailed tityra 2
Black vulture
*Lesser woodcreeper 3
Rufous-collared sparrow 2
*Boat-billed flycatcher
*Gray-fronted dove 2
*Olivaceous woodcreeper
*Fawn-breasted tanager
*Golden-crowned warbler 5
*Chestnut-eared aracari