Birds of Quivira – Ruddy Turnstone

Ruddy Turnstone
Ruddy Turnstone

With unique coloration and behavior, the Ruddy Turnstone is a shorebird that does not take a second guess to identify.  The photograph above captures this conspicuous behavior for which these birds have earned their name.  They do turn anything that they can – looking for any type of small invertebrate that may be hiding underneath.  Anything includes dead fish or other animals, shells or trash washed up on a beach.

Ruddy Turnstone
Ruddy Turnstone

These guys typically migrate along the coasts and finding them in the interior is not that common.  Although we missed out on finding any Buff-breasted Sandpipers during this visit, we were glad to have the opportunity to watch these guys in action.

Ruddy Turnstone with Pipping Plover
Ruddy Turnstone with Piping Plover

-OZB

 

Birds of Quivira – East Meets West – Part One

Eastern Meadowlark
Eastern Meadowlark

Located in south-central Kansas, Quivira NWR lies within the overlap of the ranges of both Eastern and Western Meadowlarks.  We had observed both species (mostly Eastern) in a past trip or two to western Missouri, but Steve and I were immersed in an almost 50/50 mix of the two at Quivira.  According to the literature, these guys participate similarly in their respective habitats, although Westerns prefer things a bit drier.  Visually, the two species are quite similar and depending on the season may be difficult for even the most experienced birder to be certain of their ID based on solely visual cues.  I believe the two images presented here do represent some of these subtle visual differences.  The Western appears to be less contrasty and lighter in color overall than the Eastern.  Pay close attention to the sub-moustachial area in the two birds pictured.  In the western, the yellow from the chin spills over into this area, but remains a clear and distinct white in the Eastern.  Lastly, the head stripes of the Eastern are darker than those of the Western.

Western Meadowlark
Western Meadowlark

Advertisement songs and calls are quite distinct between the two species and should always be sought for best identifications.  I was quite confident in this knowledge and sure that I had this down until I read recently, that because these are songbirds after-all, and songbirds learn their songs, there may be some similarities – especially where the two ranges overlap.  So, maybe the calls are the only true tool we have?

Thanks for your visit.

OZB

Day One in Southwestern Puerto Rico – Guanica State Forest and Biosphere Reserve

Guanica Monkey
Puerto Rican Lizard Cuckoo

Ask the average gringo about their perception of Puerto Rico’s climate and habitats and I am sure most would describe heavy rains associated with tropical rainforests.  However, due to rain shadow effects from the central mountain chain known as the Cordillera Central, much of the southern coastal regions receive very little direct rainfall.   On my first day of exploring southwestern Puerto Rico, I found myself a 20 minute drive west of Ponce in the Dry Forest of Guanica.  Guanica receives about 30″ of rainfall per year, which is very close to the annual average for the state of Missouri.  However, with the harsher tropical suns, coastal winds and rocky/sandy soils, this amount of precipitation does not go nearly as far in Guanica.  This coastal habitat is much more dry-adapted than the comparatively lush Ozark forests of Missouri.

IMG_0331
Welcome to Guanica

Typically dense and developed as Puerto Rico tends to be, the entrance to this reserve was literally on the edge of a subdivision, which is where I found myself with an hour to wait near sunrise before the gates where opened.  No worries, I grabbed the camera and the binocs and did some of my first real birding on the island.  With about 12 named trails of who knows how many total miles, Guanica (~10,00 acres) offers a lot to see, including a Guayacan tree estimated to be over 700 years old.  The photo below shows a monument I was to see elsewhere on the island.  These identification markers were carved by FDR’s Civilian Conservation Corps (“Las Tres C” in Puerto Rico).  I had never given a thought about the CCC’s presence in U.S. territories like Alaska and PR, but it turns out they were quite active in PR – not only building roads and other structures but replanting forests as well.  Applauds to these guys for replanting so many trees and helping to set up these reserves.  However, along with the National Forest Service the CCC unfortunately participated in bringing exotic, “desirable” trees like mahogany, teak and eucalyptus.  Many of these trees were chosen for their fast-growing ability and their tendencies to suck up a lot of water in order to dry out the island.  Consequently, in Puerto Rico’s protected natural areas, a significant amount of the forests’ composition is Australian or Asian and completely altered.

CCC-Puerto Rican Style
CCC-Puerto Rican Style

I parked at the visitor’s center, which is located on the site of an old sugarmill ruins.  I was unable to find a single trail sign.  I had read the park ranger on duty spoke English, but if the attendant on this Saturday morning did, maybe he was hesitant to do so with the sweaty, ginger gringo who wielded no more than a dozen words of Spanish (see below).

Pathetic Gringo
Pathetic Gringo

Always a good idea while out in wild areas, but definitely a good idea in PR is to use a GPS device.  Every map I could find was deficient in more ways than one.  The GPS unit I found to be the best during my visit was the map app on my iPhone.  Also, as you might have guessed, the Guanica Dry Forest is DRY.  Bring plenty of water.  I thought the three liters I brought on this hike was a bit of overkill.  However, at the end of my ~ eight miles of hiking up and down these coastal hills under extreme heat and sun, I was completely dry.   I decided to head out on the most promising of the retired forest road trails and it wound up being the one I hoped it was, leading me to the coast where I was to find Fort Capron that was built by Americans in 1898 and is really more of a lookout tower.  There is also a lighthouse nearby, but not all that interesting either.

Fort Capron
Fort Capron

Okay, enough with the tour guide stuff.  Early in the day, I made my first acquaintance with what would turn out to be my favorite bird of the trip – the Puerto Rican Tody.  Check it out…

Puerto Rican Tody
Puerto Rican Tody

I would find these guys all over my travels in southwestern PR.  They are related to and behave somewhat like the Kingfishers, are slightly larger than a Chickadee, are nearly as bold as a Kingbird and as brilliantly colored as a Parrot.  I captured the one below as it tackled a stick insect.

Puerto Rican Tody - IMG_2351
Puerto Rican Tody

Much of the trails of Guanica are old forest roads that cut through the habitat, mostly along hilltops.  Along most of my hike I was faced with thick walls of scrubby vegetation about 10- 20 feet high, often so thick that I was faced with a mere meter or two of visibility.  Even though I could hear bird vocalizations, I was often at a lost to see or identify the species.  With patience, however, views can be had.  Near the fort, where the hillside slopes got steeper and the coast loomed near, I heard what I immediately knew to be cuckoo on their way up to intercept the trail – the Puerto Rican Lizard Cuckoo.  These birds were at first so close, I couldn’t possibly get one in the frame without cutting off significant portions.

Puerto Rican Lizard Cuckoo
Puerto Rican Lizard Cuckoo

Towards this end of the reserve I was presented with more open views.

IMG_0355
Guanica Hillside

I was quite fortunate to find the quiet and shy Mangrove Cuckoo during this hike.

Mangrove Cuckoo
Mangrove Cuckoo

Abundant in Puerto Rico and across Caribbean coastlines, the Magnificent Frigatebird  is a seabird that feeds by catching fish on the wing.  This is a long-lived species.  The one pictured below is a juvenile.

Magnificient Frigatebird
Magnificent Frigatebird

It seemed that the closer I was to the coast, the drier the habitat became.  The Caribbean Sea is just behind me where I stood to take the picture below.

Cactus Scrub
Cactus Scrub

Well, that covers my trip report for the first of three days.  Southwestern PR is a great place for the birder-naturalist.  Of the approximately 17 or so endemic birds on the island, all but the Puerto Rican Parrot can be found here.  Also, highly varied habitats can be visited within short driving distances.  Stay tuned for my next day’s trip-log where I will be summarizing my day spent at Cabo Rojo NWR and Salt Flats.

Puerto Rican Tody
Puerto Rican Tody

If you made it this far, thanks for visiting!

OZB

 

 

 

 

From the Garden – Nectar Robbers Clash

a bit of protein
A Bit of Protein

Ants and most flies that are abundant around my milkweed are nectar robbers – providing no pollination services for the plant.  I do see flies from time to time that might carry a pollinia, and sometimes a lightweight like the housefly pictured above will get a leg or two stuck and be unable to free itself.  That’s what these ants are waiting for.  Here we see the ants beginning to dissect their prey while it struggles to free itself.

Snowberry Clearwing Moth

Snowberry Clearwing
Snowberry Clearwing

The Snowberry Clearwing is a member of the Sphinx Moths (AKA Hawk Moths).  Its name comes from the fact that one of this species important larval foods is the Snowberry plant.  Sphinx moths are important pollinators and are often mistakenly identified as Hummingbirds or Bumble Bees due to their size and their habits of visiting flowers.  Most Sphinx Moths are active nocturnally or at dawn and dusk, but the Snowberry Clearwing is diurnal.  One Missouri favorite, the Missouri Evening Primrose of glade habitats, shares an obligate pollination mutualism with a species of Hawk Moth, meaning that no other animal can provide pollination services for this plant.  This is a photography project someday in the future!

A Sphinx Moth
Not a Humingbird…

 

The caterpillars of these moths are known as “hornworms”, and they are just as fascinating as the adults.  Included in this group is the Tobacco Hornworm, which is a notorious pest on tomato plants.  A useful natural controller of hornworms are the parasitoid braconid wasps that lay their eggs on the developing moth and whose larvae then eat the caterpillar from the inside out.

Not a Hummingbird...
A Sphinx Moth

Next time you are in the garden, take a closer look at that bumblebee or hummingbird.  It might not be what you assume it to be!

Thanks for visiting…

OZB
email: handsomeozarkbillyboy@gmail.com

Birds of Puerto Rico – Brown Pelican

Brown Pelican
Brown Pelican

Talk about the place to eat.  I had a great time watching these birds preening and carrying on over the mangrove patches at a fantastic Mediterranean style restaurant named Santorini Ocean Lounge Restaurant.  Parts Greek, Spanish and Puerto Rican, seafood is the reason to dine here.  Add the views of the Caribbean Sea, potential for birds, English menus and servers and craft beer, and there is no reason to eat anywhere else in the area near the Holiday Inn in Ponce.

Less social than the American White Pelican, the Brown Pelican usually hunts alone and frequently dives for its food.  The American White is considered accidental as far south as Puerto Rico, but the Brown is quite common across southern shorelines.  This bird kept eyeing my seafood paella.

Thanks for visiting.

OZB
email: handsomeozarkbillyboy@gmail.com