Another Quetzal: longer streamers – but not perfect!

Male Resplendant Queztal (Pharomachrus mocinno). Cerro de la Muerta. Costa Rica. March

Male Resplendant Queztal (Pharomachrus mocinno). Cerro de la Muerta. Costa Rica. March

Male Resplendant Queztal (Pharomachrus mocinno). Cerro de la Muerta. Costa Rica. March

Male Resplendant Queztal (Pharomachrus mocinno). Cerro de la Muerta. Costa Rica. March

I was back out in the cloud forest at 6am yesterday morning heading for another Resplendent Quetzal nest. During a 5-hour watch at the nest I had a number of opportunities to photograph both male and female birds as they went foraging food. This male bird has also lost some tail streamers – he now has one long and one short streamer!

In Mayan mythology, it is said that this bird used to sing beautifully before the Spanish Conquest and will do so again once the Mayan lands are free. To hear an example of a rather mournful Resplendent Quetzal vocalization click below.

(Sound from http://www.xeno-canto.org/)

This was my last chance on the trip to find and photograph the perfect bird – perhaps next year!

The Resplendent Quetzal

Resplendent Quetzal (Pharomachrus mocinno). San Gerardo de Dota, Costa Rica. March.

Resplendent Quetzal (Pharomachrus mocinno). San Gerardo de Dota, Costa Rica. March.

In a flurry of sawdust, this beautiful male Resplendent Quetzal (Pharomachrus mocinno) leaves the nest on a search for food for its two nestlings. The picture was taken at ~9000 feet in the San Gerardo de Dota region of Costa Rica. The tail streamers can be up to 26 inches long, but the bird shown lost its two longest tail streamers in a fight over territory that was witnessed by local guides.  The two remaining streamers will grow to full length before the next breeding season and two new short streamers will also develop.

Tanagers and Toucans

One of the amazing things about being in the cloud forest is that birds with color combinations that you never dreamed of just keep popping out of the trees. Such was the case at a lodge in Tandayapa, Ecuador where brightly colored tanagers abound. They come with panels of solid contrasting colors (the Lemon-rumped Tanager –Ramphocelus icteronotus), paint-brush like dabs of highlight colors (Golden-naped Tanager – Tangara ruficervix and geometric accents (Golden Tanagers – Tangara arthus). It must be hard to be the subtly colored Blue-Grey Tanager (Thraupis episcopus)!

Tanager panel

As the afternoon was drawing to and end and clouds rolled lower over the valley, this Crimson-rumped Toucanette Aulacorhynchus haematopygus (with his rump hidden) stopped by the feeder for a banana snack.

Crimson-Romped Toucanette (Aulacorhynchus haematopygus)

Crimson-Romped Toucanette (Aulacorhynchus haematopygus)

And then of course there are the ever-present hummingbirds. Today’s species are the Buff-tailed Coronet (Boissonneaua flavescent) and the Western Emerald (Chlorostilbon melanorhynchus).

Buff-tailed Coronet (Boissonneaua flavescens)

Buff-tailed Coronet (Boissonneaua flavescens)

Western Emerald (Chlorostilbon melanorhynchus)

Western Emerald (Chlorostilbon melanorhynchus)

The richness and diversity of the avian environment in exemplified by the fact that all of these photographs were taken with me moving no more than twenty feet!

 

 

The Swordbill Hummingbird

The Yanacocha Reserve near Quito stands at 10,500 feet above sea level and boasts a spectacular views across a verdant volcanic landscape.

http://www.worldlandtrust.org/projects/ecuador/jocotoco-reserves/yanacocha

There were a number of new (to me) hummingbird species but the star of my show was a bird that I have long wanted to photograph: the Swordbill Hummingbird. I have caught glimpses of it before, I have spend a fruitless previous rainy day at Yanacocha looking for it, but I have never had this remarkable bird in my viewfinder.

Swordbill Hummingbird (Ensifera ensifera) Yanacocha, Ecuador. October

Swordbill Hummingbird (Ensifera ensifera) Yanacocha, Ecuador. October

 

The Swordbill has the longest bill of any species of hummingbird – over 5” in length. It has evolved to feed on the trumpet flowers such as the Brugmansia sanguinea (Red Angel’s Trumpet) – which has a bulb concealed at the very end of the tubular flower. To reach this feast the Swordbill thrusts not only its bill but its whole head inside the trumpet– quite a feat while flying blind to maintain position. This is a wonderful example of natural selection on the basis of a highly unusual characteristic – an absolutely enormous bill!

Swordbill Hummingbird (Ensifera ensifera) Yanacocha, Ecuador. October

Swordbill Hummingbird (Ensifera ensifera) Yanacocha, Ecuador. October

Swordbill Hummingbird (Ensifera ensifera) Yanacocha, Ecuador. October

Swordbill Hummingbird (Ensifera ensifera) Yanacocha, Ecuador. October

Red Angel's Trumpet (Brugmansia sanguine)

Red Angel’s Trumpet (Brugmansia sanguine)

Hummingbirds in Quito

I am starting a delayed blog of a recent trip to Ecuador and the Galapagos.

A good day spent in just one spot with three species of hummingbirds at a Lodge overlooking the city of Quito, Ecuador. The masters of the domain were the aggressive Shining Sunbeams (Aglaeactis cupripennis), who guarded every feeder from other users, including others of their own species. Their common name is derived from the beautifully iridescent feathers at the base of the tail in the female that dazzle with a rainbow of colors in the right light as shown in the image below.

Shining Sunbeam (Aglaeactis cupripennis) Ecuador, October

Shining Sunbeam (Aglaeactis cupripennis)
Ecuador, October

 

The Sparking Emerald Ear (Colibri coruscans), a widely distributed species along the Andes, is an elegant bird with long slender neck and the eponymous patch of violet on the ear with a stripe extending behind the neck to the other ear. The tail and tail coverlets are also striking.

Sparking Violetear (Colibri coruscans) Quito, Ecuador. October

Sparking Violetear (Colibri coruscans) Quito, Ecuador. October

The last of the trio is the diminutive Tyrian Metaltail (Metallura tyrianthina). This bird has a green iridescent throat and crimson/copper tail feathers – hence the name!

Tryian Metaltail (Metallura tyrianthina) Quito, Ecuador. October

Tryian Metaltail (Metallura tyrianthina) Quito, Ecuador. October

Red Kites in Wales

On a brief visit to the United Kingdom this weekend for a family celebration,  I carried on my 100-400mm f/5.6 lens and was able to slip away to photograph a bird that has been on my “must-photograph” list for a long time – the Red Kite (Milvus milvus). Thanks to the generous help of British birder/author/photographer Jim Almond (http://shropshirebirder.co.uk), I visited Gigrin Farm in Rhayader, Wales (www.gigrin.co.uk ) where wild Red Kites have been fed daily since 1993 as part of the successful plan to reintroduce this once abundant bird to its former habitat. Shortly after the food was thrown down, the sky was full with hundreds of kites — circling and then dramatically diving down to snatch a morsel of meat from the ground with forward thrusting talons in classic raptor fashion. A memorable afternoon!

White Sky, Red Kite (Milvus milvus)

White Sky, Red Kite (Milvus milvus)

Post Script:     While the 100-400mm lens is easy to travel with, giving up a full stop compared to the 500mm f/4 hurts more than one might think on a light-limited day where the action is fast — which was the case today!

Islas Ballestas

The last day of June was a warm but overcast winter’s day as we departed from Paracas in southern Peru on a speedy launch for the Islas Ballestas – sometimes called the Poor Man’s Galapagos. We traveled under the expert care of Jean-Paul from Ecologistica Peru. The Ballestas are a group of bird islands in the cool Humboldt Current that sweeps up the Pacific coast of South America from southern Chile. The islands are farmed for guano despite their protected status, and they are literally teaming with birds. The main species are the white-breasted Guanay Cormorants (Phalacrocorax bougainvillii), the strikingly beautiful Red-legged Cormorants (Phalacrocorax gaimardi), majestic and hungry Peruvian Pelicans (Pelecanus thagus), exquisite Inca Terns (Larosterna inca), and the irresistible Humboldt Penguins (Spheniscus humboldti). See examples of these species below – including an animation of a Humboldt Penguin jumping.

Humboldt Penguin (Spheniscus humboldti) Islas Ballestas, Peru. June

Humboldt Penguin (Spheniscus humboldti)
Islas Ballestas, Peru. June

Nice take off but he lost a few points on the landing!

Red-legged Cormorants (Phalacrocorax gaimardi). Islas Ballestas, Peru. June.

Red-legged Cormorants (Phalacrocorax gaimardi). Islas Ballestas, Peru. June.

Peruvian Pelicans (Pelecanus thagus) in front of thousands of Guanay Cormorants (Phalacrocorax bougainvillea). Islas Ballestas. Peru. June

Peruvian Pelicans (Pelecanus thagus) in front of thousands of Guanay Cormorants (Phalacrocorax bougainvillea). Islas Ballestas. Peru. June 

Inca Tern (Larosterna inca).  Islas Ballestas. Peru. June

Inca Tern (Larosterna inca). Islas Ballestas. Peru. June

Guanay Cormorants (Phalacrocorax bougainvillii). Islas Ballestas. Peru. June

Guanay Cormorants (Phalacrocorax bougainvillii). Islas Ballestas. Peru. June

The Eagle has landed

A Bald Eagle against a waning morning moon on Lopez Island today. Hard not to hear the echoes of Neil Armstrong’s dramatic radio call on July 20, 1969: “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”

Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) Lopez Island, WA. June 8. 8:08 am

Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) Lopez Island, WA. June 8. 8:08 am

White-tailed Eagles in Norway

My May travels have brought me to Smøla, a small island off the coast of Norway at latitude 63°24′7″N. There are more than 10 pairs of white-tailed Eagles living within about a 5km radius of the harbor from where we departed on a slow trip through the well-defined territories of each pair of birds. Most nests have chicks at the moment and the hungry parents often returned to the boat several times to take fish thrown into the water. The images below are of Harry, a favorite bird of guides Audun and Espen Lie Dahl.

White-tailed Eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla). Smøla, Norway. May.

White-tailed Eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla). Smøla, Norway. May.

White-tailed Eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla). Smøla, Norway. May.

White-tailed Eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla). Smøla, Norway. May.

White-tailed Eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla). Smøla, Norway. May.

White-tailed Eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla). Smøla, Norway. May.

 

A Bald Eagle Morning

It was a spectacular cloudless morning on Lopez Island, WA today! Three bald eagles were in the area moving from tree to tree. I had good light (with the sun behind me), good wind (blowing towards the bird), and good luck as this Bald Eagle took off from a favorite perch right towards my lens.

Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) Lopez Island, WA. April.

Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)
Lopez Island, WA. April.