Monday, April 20, 2015

Birding Lake Atitlan

Rufous-browed Peppershrike
 Greetings all!  We continue our Guatemalan trek into a beautiful area known as Lake Atitlan or El Lago Atitlan.  There are wonderful accommodations here for a birder to explore, relax and go shopping:)  It's a great place to visit.  And it's a great place to find cool birds!

Dusky-capped Flycatcher
 We arrived at the launch pad to get to our hotel(Casa Del Mundo). There were so many stairs to climb:)  It was a gorgeous place on a hillside overlooking the lake and forested areas.  And it's where we stayed for 4 days and set up camp.


Lesser Goldfinch
We hiked around several Mayan villages and jumped on board several boats to get to a couple areas that were difficult to explore. 


And quite honestly, the birding was best at our hotel. I monitored the area day and night discovering that our birds went by somewhat regular schedules.  

American Coots! 
Atitlan is famous for the massages and spiritual centers.  It also has several reserves. The one we went to visit was near the town of Panajachel.  It's a beautiful hike full of hummingbirds and other critters.

Prevost's ground sparrow
Imagine having your coffee out on the veranda with these views each day! 


It was a strange experience finding desert birds that I normally see mixed in with all the tropical ones. Once again, it reinforced the idea that birds have no borders.  What happens in one place affects the other.  And we are all interconnected.


The walks are wonderful but be mindful of the area.  Many of the people are very kind.  However, it is always best to go with another person.  A person can even hire a local guide to show them all the wonderful things that Atitlan has to offer. 

Yellow-winged Tanager-um....this bird is cool BUT a dash of yellow makes it a Yellow-winged Tanager?  This is one of those bird names that doesn't really work for me:)
The boat rides can be wonderful or scary:)  Atitlan can be calm and sunny one minute only to be followed by a massive lightning storm a half hour later.  Keep your eyes open at the ever changing weather patterns.  But have fun!  It's an awesome place!



Here are some interesting facts.  El lago is rising every year.  They are not certain why this is happening but many properties that were along the edge of the lake are now swallowed up by the lake.  In some areas, it looks like you are floating over the remains of Atlantis.


And I must share this tragic story. Every birder should hear it. Birds.  We love them very much.  Sadly, an endemic grebe lived here once and was known as the Atitlán Grebe.  Most of us reading this today were alive when this grebe went extinct. Did anyone see this bird before they disappeared?

The extinct Atitlán Grebe
 The decline of this grebe began in 1958 when smallmouth and largemouth bass were introduced into the lake. The populaton of the Atitlán grebe declined from 200 individuals in 1960 to 80 in 1965. Thanks to the conservation efforts of Anne LaBastille, in 1966 a refuge was established where this species was able to rebound.  The population recovered to 210 in 1973.  Then in 1976, an earthquake hit the area and the lake bed fractured.  An underwater drain led to a fall of the water level and decimated the grebe population.  By the late 80's, two birds were left and after they disappeared, the Atitlán grebe was declared officially extinct. So. Man caused the issue, but ultimately nature determined the fate of this species.  How many other bird species are at risk?  If one tsunami hit the coast of Southern California, the Channel Islands could stand to lose several of their endemic species like the Island Scrub-Jay.  

Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrush
This life we live can be quite fascinating.  Birds make me happy and they elevate me to learn more and do better.  What an awesome adventure it all is!



Rain forest photography is tricky.  The clouds, the rain and dark canopy make photo captures extremely difficult.


After climbing the 500 some stairs along the hillsides, my legs began to develop some muscle.  I discovered my first Rufous-capped Warbler, Brown-backed Solitaire, and Sparkling-tailed Hummingbird! And this was just the start!

Boat-billed Flycatcher
There are 7 main villages that line the shores of Lake Atitlan. Panajachel is the main village where you can shop and have a really nice dinner.  You will also probably need to grab a boat from the main boat launch to get to your destinations. The reserve is nearby this town.

A little Spanish lesson:)
 San Pedro is a great place to have a drink with a friend and walk around the town.  Just keep your eyes on the belongings. This is also a great place for you to learn Spanish!


Bushtit
San Marcos is my favorite.  Meditate, get an amazing massage or just.....relax.  I have so much stress from my job that I enjoy finding places where I can lose myself in the silence. 

Grayish Saltator
Santiago is another place to buy souvenirs bird.  Look for the hummingbird feeders around the neighborhood:)


Santa Cruz is a place for people to relax and take Spanish classes. Your loved one can dive here while you look for the Boat-billed Flycatcher.


Jaibalito is another great place to relax.  The sunsets are spectacular!


Santa Catarina Palopo is a nice town away from the tourist track so if you are like me, it's a good place to immerse yourself away from the gringos.


Birding around Lake Atitlan has its challenges.  Boats frequently stop at the boat launches around a relaxed schedule.  We always had to be aware of when the last boat launch would leave for the day.  OR watch for bad weather.  The lake can quickly go from calm to extremely choppy and dangerous within minutes.  When that happens, boats will stop operating!


If it does happen, just relax:)  Each town has its charms and there's always a place to chill out and wait until the storm passes.


When that sun comes back out, it'll be time to hit the trails again.  Until next time.....

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Let's Face It


I am always captivated by the beauty of the birds I notice while on birding excursions. More often than not, the birds are seen and photographed at quite a distance. Every once in a while, I am fortunate to observe a bird at close range. These rare instances allow me to take note of interesting beaks, beautiful eye colors and stunning, intricate feathers from a variety of birds.  Let's take a look at some close-ups ...


Limpkin


Female Anhinga


Female and male Anhingas


Sandhill Crane


Yellow-crowned  Night Heron


Juvenile Yellow-crowned Night Heron


 Virginia Rail


Great Blue Heron


Juvenile Great Blue Heron


Reddish Egret


Great Egret


Brown Pelican


White Ibis


Roseate Spoonbill



Posted by Julie Gidwitz

Friday, April 3, 2015

Sparrows: Many shades of brown

Sparrows can be a confusing lot. I'll admit that, without a good look, sometimes I must simply call them LBBs (Little Brown Birds). Brilliant colors help identify the orioles and warblers, but often color is of little use as a sparrow moves furtively through the dark underbrush. Some species are more difficult to classify when in immature and winter plumage.

A field guide to sparrows could be effectively rendered in black and white.  One must rely upon size, shape, habitat, habits, song and, most important, plumage patterns of their heads and undersides. 

A female Red-winged Blackbird might pass as a sparrow, but take a close look at its substantial pointed bill, an indication that it is omnivorous, adapted to eating insects as well as seeds and grain:

Red-winged Blackbird female 2-20130719

A female Rose-breasted Grosbeak may be sparrow-like, but is much larger and has (duh) a huge bill:

Rose-breasted Grosbeak 20120906

Winter Indigo Buntings can look somewhat like sparrows, but lack prominent streaking:

Indigo Bunting female 20121021

A female Purple Finch might cause confusion, but its voice, conical bill, heavier body and habit of feeding as flocks in the treetops help distinguishing it from sparrows, most of which are more commonly found on or near the ground:

Purple Finch 2-20121025

The tiny Pine Siskin has a thin bill and rather plain face pattern, usually shows some yellow in its wings, and may be seen extracting seeds from spent flower heads, often in the company of goldfinches;

Pine Siskin 20081113

Song Sparrows vary considerably but have a basic distinguishing facial pattern:

Song Sparrow 20100314

The large size and rufous (but sometimes slate gray) color helps identify a Fox Sparrow, so often found scratching noisily among the dry leaves:

Fox Sparrow 2-20101017

The Vesper Sparrow's belly is sparsely streaked and it has white outer tail feathers and a rusty patch on its shoulder:

Vesper Sparrow (Pooecetes gramineus ) 20110614

The Savannah Sparrow is a bird of open fields and shrubby borders. Its coarse streaks may resemble those of a Song Sparrow but it is smaller and has a proportionately shorter tail. Its face pattern and the usual presence of yellow over the eye also helps in recognizing it.:

Savannah Sparrow 3-20120506

The Swamp Sparrow likes wet places and has rich chestnut brown on its wings and tail, a reddish cap (in summer) and a white throat:

Swamp Sparrow 09-20140929

Lincoln's Sparrow may lurk in the underbrush. Note that the buffy brown cast to its "whisker," upper breast and sides of its belly, underlying narrow stripes. It often raises its small crest:

Lincolns Sparrow 5-20101029

White-crowned Sparrow is large and distinctive:

White-crowned Sparrow 02-20141010

Immature White-crowned Sparrows may retain a brownish crown for a couple of years:

White-crowned Sparrow 06-20141010

The White-throated Sparrow usually has yellow in front of its eyes in addition to its distinctive throat:

White-throated Sparrow 3-20141009

The reddish cap and a black line that goes all the way through the eye identifies a Chipping Sparrow in its summer plumage:

Chipping Sparrow 20120509

The demure Field Sparrow has a long tail, pink bill and bland face. Its song often gives away its location:

Field Sparrow 20110707

The American Tree Sparrow is a northern species that visits Illinois in the winter. It has a reddish brown cap and line behind its eye as well as a central dark breast spot: 

American Tree Sparrows 4-20130110

The otherwise plain face of the Clay-colored Sparrow has a contrasting brown cheek patch with a dark border, and light gray extends up the back of its neck:

Clay-colored Sparrow2 2-20130513

Grasshopper Sparrow is a small and short-tailed bird of the prairie with a big bill, white eye-rings, and looks flat-headed. :

Grasshopper Sparrow 20110201

The rare and secretive Henslow's Sparrow is also small and has a greenish cast to its head:

Henslows Sparrow 6-20090618

The reclusive Nelson's Sparrow sports lively shades of orange on its face and breast:

Nelson's Sparrow 08-20140929

A resident of the southwest, the Black-throated Sparrow exhibits a unique face pattern. I took this photo in the eastern foothills of Albuquerque, New Mexico:

Black-throated Sparrow 3-20111114

The Lark Sparrow has a quail-like face pattern. Before I acquired a DSLR I took this photo with a 2 megapixel pocket camera through a spotting scope from inside our New Mexico living room:

Lark Sparrow

I photographed this Rufous-crowned Sparrow in the Grand Canyon. Its features include its large size, ground-dwelling habits and prominent white eye ring:

Rufous-crowned Sparrow 4-20111114

The Black-chinned Sparrow is another bird I found in the Grand Canyon. Its plain gray head makes it look somewhat like a junco:

Black-chinned Sparrow 2-20130620

Juncos are considered part of the sparrow clan. Adults lack the streaking so typical of other sparrows.

The Dark-eyed (Slate-colored) Junco is a common winter bird in the northern central and eastern states. It is commonly called "snowbird.":

Dark-eyed Junco 2-20101025

Juncos exhibit several other color patterns, including these Dark-eyed (Pink-sided and Gray-headed) Juncos, which I photographed in New Mexico:

Pink-sided and Gray-headed Juncos 20111114

The introduced old-world House Sparrow deserves mention here:

House Sparrow 20110512