Tuesday, October 3, 2017

California Condors in Grand Canyon

The California Condor is one of the most endangered species on earth. Whilst attending a wedding in Grand Canyon last month, we had the opportunity to search out some of these unique birds.

We saw our first condor soaring below us in the canyon while we were hiking the South Kaibab trail, but it was a distant look. We had closer views of three birds at the Navajo Bridge in Lee's Ferry, Arizona.

California Condor H9

Condor H9 is a nine-year-old female that was raised in captivity in Portland, Oregon and released into the Grand Canyon in 2011.

California Condor P5

Condor P5 is a three-year-old male that was hatched in the Los Angeles Zoo and released into Grand Canyon in 2015.

California Condor P6

Perhaps the most interesting specimen that we saw was Condor P6, a three-year-old bird of unknown sex that was hatched in the wild.

The conservation of California Condors reached its most critical moment in 1987 when the entire remaining population of 22 birds was taken into captivity. A reintroduction program was commenced and the first captive-bred birds were released in California in 1991. Condor releases in Grand Canyon began in 1996 and continue to this day. At last count, there were 276 California Condors known to exist in the wild.

Phainopepla (photo from Nevada)

Friday, September 1, 2017

Life Cycle of a Black Swallowtail



Butterfly coming soon?

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The Heart of Texas

Mississippi Kite

We were recently in Abilene, Texas for a family wedding so of course we decided to squeeze in some birdwatching during our visit. We flew into San Antonio and spent a few days in the "Hill Country" before heading deep into the heart of Texas for the remainder of the trip.

Curve-billed Thrasher

Texas is fantastic for birds, but trying to locate them in the heat of July when breeding activity is largely finished is not particularly easy. Spring would have been a more advantageous season, but unfortunately the engaged couple did not consider our birdwatching preferences when they selected their wedding date. The nerve!

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

The two most sought-after species in the Hill Country region are Golden-cheeked Warbler and Black-capped Vireo. We were successful in finding the vireo, but could not locate the warbler despite a fairly intensive effort.

Golden-fronted Woodpecker

Ladder-backed Woodpecker

Texas has a great variety of birds, but we would have had to visit the Rio Grande Valley, coastal areas of the Gulf of Mexico, the Piney Woods region and several key locations in West Texas in addition to the Hill Country to fully appreciate the richness of bird species represented within the state. The large geographical area of Texas makes a visit to all of these areas impractical in a single short visit.

Mexican Ground Squirrel

Black-tailed Jackrabbit

In addition to birds, Texas is an interesting destination for viewing reptiles and mammals. One highlight of the trip was the opportunity to witness approximately 10 million Mexican Free-tailed Bats as they emerged from their maternity colony at dusk.

Texas is also well-known for its impressive variety of flying insects, particularly butterflies and dragonflies.

Halloween Pennant

Below is a complete list of birds recorded during our trip:
  1. Black-bellied Whistling-Duck
  2. Northern Bobwhite
  3. Least Grebe
  4. Pied-billed Grebe
  5. Neotropic Cormorant
  6. Anhinga
  7. American White Pelican
  8. Great Blue Heron
  9. Great Egret
  10. Snowy Egret
  11. Little Blue Heron
  12. Tricolored Heron
  13. Cattle Egret
  14. Green Heron
  15. Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
  16. White-faced Ibis
  17. Black Vulture
  18. Turkey Vulture
  19. Mississippi Kite
  20. Harris's Hawk
  21. Red-shouldered Hawk
  22. Swainson's Hawk
  23. Red-tailed Hawk
  24. Black-necked Stilt
  25. Killdeer
  26. Least Sandpiper
  27. Spotted Sandpiper
  28. Lesser Yellowlegs
  29. Rock Pigeon
  30. Eurasian Collared-Dove
  31. Inca Dove
  32. Common Ground-Dove
  33. White-winged Dove
  34. Mourning Dove
  35. Groove-billed Ani
  36. Yellow-billed Cuckoo
  37. Common Nighthawk
  38. Chimney Swift
  39. Black-chinned Hummingbird
  40. Belted Kingfisher
  41. Golden-fronted Woodpecker
  42. Ladder-backed Woodpecker
  43. Crested Caracara
  44. Peregrine Falcon
  45. Acadian Flycatcher
  46. Eastern Phoebe
  47. Ash-throated Flycatcher
  48. Couch's Kingbird
  49. Western Kingbird
  50. Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
  51. Loggerhead Shrike
  52. Black-capped Vireo
  53. White-eyed Vireo
  54. Hutton's Vireo
  55. Red-eyed Vireo
  56. Blue Jay
  57. Woodhouse's Scrub-Jay
  58. Common Raven
  59. Purple Martin
  60. Barn Swallow
  61. Cliff Swallow
  62. Cave Swallow
  63. Carolina Chickadee
  64. Black-crested Titmouse
  65. Verdin
  66. Canyon Wren
  67. Carolina Wren
  68. Bewick's Wren
  69. Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  70. Eastern Bluebird
  71. American Robin
  72. Curve-billed Thrasher
  73. Long-billed Thrasher
  74. Northern Mockingbird
  75. European Starling
  76. Louisiana Waterthrush
  77. Black-and-white Warbler
  78. Yellow-throated Warbler
  79. Olive Sparrow
  80. Chipping Sparrow
  81. Lark Sparrow
  82. Canyon Towhee
  83. Rufous-crowned Sparrow
  84. Summer Tanager
  85. Northern Cardinal
  86. Pyrrhuloxia
  87. Blue Grosbeak
  88. Indigo Bunting
  89. Painted Bunting
  90. Red-winged Blackbird
  91. Yellow-headed Blackbird
  92. Common Grackle
  93. Great-tailed Grackle
  94. Brown-headed Cowbird
  95. Scott's Oriole
  96. House Finch
  97. Lesser Goldfinch
  98. House Sparrow

Friday, May 12, 2017

Greater White-fronted Goose

Greater White-fronted Goose spotted by Hannah today in Cambridge Riverside Park.

Greater White-fronted Goose

The exact location is shown as the blue dot on the map below.

Addendum: From looking at eBird I see that this is old news and there are dozens of sightings from April.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

The Glades

On our annual visits to Florida we spend much of the time in the vicinity of Tampa Bay where my parents stay for the winter. Occasionally we travel further afield. This year we explored the Everglades of southern Florida.

My arrival to Everglades National Park was highly anticipated

The term "Everglades" is somewhat confusing, because it is used differently by different sources. For example, the Everglades is sometimes used as an abbreviation for Everglades National Park. The park, however, only comprises the extreme southern portion of the much larger Everglades drainage basin. Another source of confusion may arise because the boundaries of the Everglades as a natural feature are imprecise. Unlike, say, the Grand Canyon that has an easily recognizable rim to mark its boundary, the Everglades is demarcated by hydrological conditions that are not as simple to observe and that are constantly changing. Further confusion may arise from the fact that significant portions of southeastern Florida that were once a part of the Everglades are now either heavily urbanized (in particular the area of the Atlantic coast from West Palm Beach south to Miami) or have been intensely modified for agricultural production.

Purple Gallinule

One final source of confusion is that the Everglades is often associated exclusively with one particular plant community: sawgrass marsh. Although sawgrass marsh is the habitat most characteristic of the region, and there are indeed vast areas of this particular community, Everglades is actually a complex and interdependent system that includes cypress swamps, hardwood hammocks, pine rockland, estuarine mangrove forests, and the marine environment of Florida Bay.

Crested Caracara

Approximately speaking, the Everglades is the area of southern Florida that includes the Kissimmee River watershed south to Lake Okeechobee, and the area south of the Caloosahatchee River and the St. Lucie Canal.

Snail Kite

Birdlife in the Everglades is weighted towards species with a lifestyle that is in some way aquatic (e.g. ducks, rails, herons, ibises), but there is a considerable abundance of passerine birds as well (e.g. tyrant flycatchers, swallows). Also well represented are birds of prey (e.g. vultures, osprey, hawks, kites and falcons) and pigeons & doves.

White-winged Dove

Also present in the Everglades is a growing list of introduced exotic reptiles, the most destructive of which are probably the Burmese Python and the Argentine Black-and-white Tegu.

What, Me Worry?

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Short-tailed Hawk

Every time I visit Florida I make an effort to see at least one new bird species. Lately this is becoming more difficult as the possibilities are diminishing. I was able to pull it off again this year, and although I saw only one new bird, it was a good one.

Short-tailed Hawk

Short-tailed Hawk

Short-tailed Hawk is a small Buteo known mainly from the neotropics (i.e. Central and South America). However, there is a small breeding population in south Florida. It comes in two colour "morphs": dark and light. The bird we saw was obviously a dark morph bird. The dark brown body feathers contrast nicely with the bright yellow legs and cere. In Florida, it has been reported that dark morph birds outnumber the light morphs by a ratio of 3:1.

While we were in Florida a Zenaida Dove was found at Long Key State Park; a rarity for North America. This location, being at the approximate mid-point of the Florida Keys, was too remote for us to drive to, so we didn't see it but this dove species holds special significance for me. On my first day of teaching in Jamaica, one of my second form (grade 7) students gave me a pair of live Zenaida Doves as a gift. In Jamaica they are locally known as "Barble Doves". Not knowing what else to do, I released them.