17 December 2015

Western NY

Not a ton has happened since we've returned from Ecuador (besides driving halfway across the country, flying halfway across the country, etc).  One of the main reasons for the lack of posts here on SYAS is, well, the lack of birding.

I've been hanging out mostly in Allegany County, New York.  If you're not familiar with it, you're not alone; Allegany must be one of the least birded counties in the state.  It sits in the western part of the state where Pennsylvania borders its southern edge, it's a couple of hours from Lake Erie and slightly less to Lake Ontario.  Buffalo is to the NW and Rochester to the N.  Here's the outline of where it is:
It's a somewhat tough county to bird, in my experience, mostly because of a rather homogeneous landscape (or you could just say it *kinda* lacks in habitat diversity).  The hilly terrain dominates this part of the state and the hillsides are wooded, the hilltops can sometimes be open farmland/fields, and the valleys have streams.  However, the more time I spend getting to know these spots, the more potential I've been seeing.

A perk to birding this county is that just about anything you eBird will fill a hole.  I've always thought that birding is much more rewarding when you get to explore and find your own birds (and hotspots) instead of following people to mega-spots that are saturated with birders (although there are benefits to that too).  And besides, just getting out and birding a lot almost always delivers some surprises, it doesn't matter where you are!

One such surprise came when Ashley and I were birding some hilltops around Wellsville, the town in which I was born.  We spotted a very high hawk circling and photos revealed it was an adult NORTHERN GOSHAWK.  Very cool!  My photos, on the other hand, are crap:

Later that day, we drove around the Wellsville airport perimeter to look for Snowy Owls (although they've never been seen there as far as I know).   It had some nice habitat though and I thought it would be worth returning at dusk to look for owls.  We did just that... we swung by at dusk and immediately found a SHORT-EARED OWL!  Here's a super-grainy photo showing it perched on the ground:
This is the first time this species has been eBirded in Allegany County but I suspect they occur more frequently.  After all, this is a species that one has to target during the right time of day, in the right season, in the right habitat.  It's no wonder that the relative lack of coverage around here hasn't yielded SEOWs before.  Oh, and the sunset from the airport was a colorful one too!
Ashley and I have been trying to explore some of the backroads around here which involves a lot of checklists of BCCH, DEJU, BLJA, and AMCR.  However, we found a nice field or two that was hosting this dark-morph ROUGH-LEGGED HAWK, only my third in the county:
Although I'm sure there are a few around in Allegany County, I certainly wouldn't call it a common species.  This NORTHERN HARRIER also wafted by while we were in the same area:
It might surprise you that this NOHA was the first December eBird record for Allegany County!

Ok, by now in this post you might have noticed a theme... all the birds have talons. Talons. You know... like..
But not all of the highlights have been owls and hawks (or chickens) though.  Probably the best example is this CHIPPING SPARROW that Ashley and I found and photographed just to the south of Wellsville:
Although they breed here during the summer months, they should be well to the south by now and having one in this area is very uncommon.  In fact, here's a screen-capture showing how many December records there are for CHSP so far this month (hint: ours is the only one so far):
I find Allegany County interesting for its water... or lack thereof.  There's a very limited number of large bodies of water in this county.  But, perhaps, the ones that do exist would act a bit as migrant traps?  Just to east of Wellsville is a pond I grew up calling Browns Pond.  Turns out, the birding there can be productive if you time it right.  Although things were quiet on the balmy evening we visited it, the scene wasn't too bland:
However, the main attraction in Allegany County is probably Cuba Lake.  It sits right on the western edge of the county (and so is a 40 min drive from here) but it's probably the best spot in the county to check for rare birds.  The pin marks the spot:
It's not a huge lake, it's about 445 acres or about 0.8 square miles (compare that to Lake Red Rock in Iowa that is 109 square miles!).  Despite the small size, it has an interesting history.  This man-made lake was completed in 1858 and, get this, it was the largest man-made lake in the world at that time!  Who knew?

Here's a panoramic view from the it's-really-not-THAT-impressive dam:
Fair warning though, it can be frustrating to look for access points to bird this lake.  There are a couple of spots though including this one:
Despite the gray skies, you can see a good chunk of the lake from here (which is along the north shore).  You also can see a lot of mud in this photo which is a result of the lake management draining the lake 6-8 feet every winter (it's easier on docks and things when it freezes up completely).

We've seen about 65 species here at the lake which consists mostly of waterfowl.  During our 10 visits to the lake, we've seen things like:

Tundra Swan
Common Loon
Horned & Pied-billed grebes
All 3 merganser species including some day totals of ~200 Hoodeds
5 gull species so far (including Iceland, Lesser Black-backed, Bonaparte's, etc)
5 species of Aythya ducks (LESC, GRSC, RNDU, REDH, and CANV)

In looking at past records on eBird, the lake has had other goodies such as Red Phalarope, all 3 scoters, 9 gull species including Franklin's, Northern Shrike, etc.

In truth, I haven't been taking many photos of the birds there.  Of the few, here's a RED-BREASTED MERGANSER I digiscoped with my phone/scope one day:
I'll end the post with a venture away from Allegany County.  One such visit was to the town of Canandaigua which sits at the northern tip of Canandaigua Lake (the 4th largest of the Finger Lakes).   The name is actually derived from Seneca (which I'm an enrolled member of) meaning "the chosen spot".  I didn't see a ton, honestly, besides some GREAT BLACK-BACKED GULLS and 4 continuing SNOW GEESE:
As an FYI tidbit, did you know that Kristen Wiig was born in Canandaigua?!  That's right, one of my favorite actresses came "all the way from the Finger Lakes".  Remind you of anything?

25 November 2015

Ecuador - Part 3 (misc.)

I figure I may as well throw another post together, this one covering some of the miscellaneous things we saw while visiting the Tandayapa Bird Lodge in Ecuador.  And by miscellaneous, I mean things that AREN'T birds.  Yes yes, I'll slip slightly into the world of insects, mammals, and scenery.

Straightaway, we noticed a LOT of butterflies.  Some families were familiar to us, like this satyr...
Although it's probably a different species from the ones we see here in North America, it didn't exactly blow my mind.  Oh, and no, I don't actually know the species names of these things.... I'm lacking in any book for identifying Ecuadorian bugs!

This guy was pretty vibrant... but I'm still not sure of the family.  Maybe a metalmark or something similar?
I didn't see many skippers but the one I did see was ENORMOUS.  I don't know the species but it rivaled the giant-skippers we have here in the US... at least in size:
This butterfly was also pretty distinctive.  Maybe it's related to the blues or hairstreaks?  These would swarm the moist mud in the road just below the lodge:
In terms of butterflies, nothing there (that I saw) rivaled the number or sheer coolness of the clearwings.  Yes, these butterflies have wings you can see through!
I'm not sure if they're seasonal or what but when we were there, there were hundreds or maybe thousands of these just about everywhere.  Anyone know the species?
On one of the hikes, I saw a couple of damselflies (again, I'm nowhere close to being able to identify these):
 This particular one looks like some kind of rubyspot (at least that's what we call them up here):
Some insects were straight-up pretty large (and identifying them is beyond me):
Not all of the creatures we saw were winged though.  Ashley and I stumbled on this moving lump of leaves... just to realize it wasn't a lump of leaves!
It is, of course, some kind of porcupine! Although I'm not sure if it's an Andean Porcupine (Coendou quichua), a Bicolored Spine Porcupine (Coendou bicolor), or some other species... either way, it was a big deal; all the lodge staff said that this was the first porcupine ever seen on the Tandayapa Lodge grounds. Cool stuff.

I really enjoyed the scenery even though it was dominated by a blanket of green. It started right there from the back patio where you could see through the trees into an expansive valley surrounded by tall, tree-covered mountains:
The lodge sits at about 5700 feet which is higher than the "mile-high" city of Denver.  Even still, the incredibly steep mountains rose above the lodge with an enormous presence.  Often they would "end" where the clouds began:
Sometimes I would just point my camera at a tree on a distant ridge... this one is about to be engulfed by the clouds behind it:
A walk down to the Lower Deck gave another vantage point:
Although I never saw much from this location during our short stay, I'm sure a feeding flock would liven it up immensely:
I found it interesting that Quito, the capital city of Ecuador, sits at 9350 feet in elevation which makes it the highest official capital city in the world.  So confusing as it was, traveling from the city to the lodge was actually all downhill!  After we made the return trip to the airport (all uphill), I snapped a quick picture from the airport entrance.  It was a scenic farewell evening despite the nauseating exhaust pollution:
So that's a wrap.  My next update will be in regards to birding western NY a tad... and I'm guessing it'll have less tropical greens in it!

22 November 2015

Ecuador - Part 2 (non-hummingbirds)

Although our visit was brief, the Tandayapa Bird Lodge had a lot of other interesting birds lurking about that WEREN'T hummingbirds. This post is devoted to those.

I'd be remiss not to start with the barbets. Yes, we heard the Choco endemic TOUCAN BARBETS on a daily basis and although RED-HEADED BARBET is somewhat widespread through the tropics, I hadn't seen one before. The male is freakishly attractive:
The female, rather colorful in her own way, has blue on the cheek (kinda random, right?):
Although they're an incredibly sharp-looking species, I'm not sure if I was happier to see one or to HEAR one. Just as a warning, I'm completely enamored with what these barbets sound like... here's a recording of one from Ecuador (NOT by me, though):
And who doesn't love a toucan? None of you... that's what I thought. I was eager to see the diminutive CRIMSON-MANTLED TOUCANET, a common but slinky bird around the lodge. Although we did see them regularly, including stalking and hunting hummingbirds at the feeders, I apparently didn't spend much time photographing them! Here's the only photo I have... and it's one looking away:
In terms of woodpeckers and woodcreepers, we luckily saw a couple around the lodge. For example, here's a GOLDEN-OLIVE WOODPECKER, actually a rather uncommon bird around there:
Along the same lines, easily one of the highlights for me came one morning when I was birding from the lodge patio. I caught movement that looked like a woodpecker... but this one didn't have a greenish back, it was red!
Sure enough, it was the very colorful CRIMSON-MANTLED WOODPECKER. Although they're more expected at the lodge than the previous Golden-olive Woodpecker, I was more excited to see this one. Here's the best I managed of it:
Woodcreepers are often one of the more difficult families to sort through in the tropics. Lucky for us, the vast majority of woodcreepers we saw were the abundant MONTANE WOODCREEPER. This species, which is limited to northern South America, was readily findable just from the patio:

While we're in that part of the book, I may as well throw this bird into the mix. It's a bit of a mystery to us. Although we saw STREAK-CAPPED TREEHUNTERS around the lodge, I'm not certain that this was one of them. To us, we thought it looked smaller than the treehunters... we thought maybe it was a barbtail... but not sure the tail looks right... any ideas out there???
It came as a complete surprise when the lodge manager was showing us around, we turned a corner, and she pointed to a female ANDEAN COCK-OF-THE-ROCK nesting on a windowsill! I was assuming we'd eventually see this fascinating South American species but not so easily! We'd walk by just inches away from this bird and she stayed put:
Moving on to flycatchers, we honestly weren't that overloaded when we were there. Sure, we heard the mournful call notes of DUSKY-CAPPED FLYCATCHERS, saw a dapper ORNATE FLYCATCHER, heard the distinctive call notes of SMOKE-COLORED PEWEES... but the most common were the GOLDEN-CROWNED FLYCATCHERS. These squeaky-sounding relatives of Sulphur-bellied Flycatchers were abundant and weren't hard to see or hear around the lodge:
It's a horrible photo (through windows and at a distance) but this was the only look I had at an ECUADORIAN THRUSH:
Oh the tanagers. You gotta talk about the tanagers! The tropics, and Ecuador in particular, have an astounding diversity of this often colorful and vibrant family of birds. Although we didn't see many species during our short stay, we still saw a couple of that were quite nice. If you're looking for yellow ones, try these GOLDEN TANAGERS:
Or maybe you prefer blue tanagers? Here's the widespread and common BLUE-GRAY TANAGER:
But if you want a mix of both, a tanager with bright yellows AND blues, look no further than the BLUE-WINGED MOUNTAIN-TANAGER:
This was one of my most-wanted species so imagine my satisfaction when a flock of 3-4 came in and fed right in front of us! Truly vibrant:
The brush-finches we saw around the lodge weren't bad either and I was very pleased to see several different species during our short stay. First up, we have the TRICOLORED BRUSH-FINCH, a species limited to the Andes of Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru:
Another attractive species was the WHITE-WINGED BRUSH-FINCH. This species has a fairly limited range and is found mostly in Ecuador with a few in northern Peru:
Moving on, there were plenty of tropical warblers around the lodge as well. Probably the most common was the SLATE-THROATED REDSTART (known as Slate-throated Whitestart to some). Although the ones we're used to that show up in the US have reddish underparts, the species shows a high degree of geographic variation and the birds down in Ecuador are completely yellow below:
Besides the redstarts, there were often flocks of Basileuterus warblers foraging around the lodge and along the trails. The THREE-STRIPED WARBLERS were quite abundant and lots of fun to study (I hadn't seen them before). There were also RUSSET-CROWNED WARBLERS around although they seemed slightly less common. Sadly, the only photo I managed of either was this dark and grainy photo of a RUSSET-CROWNED:
We were around only long enough to see two species of euphonias; ORANGE-BELLIED (the expected species at that elevation) and this female THICK-BILLED (uncommon at the lodge):
Because so many species here from North America migrate to the tropics to spend their winters, some of the birds we saw around the lodge weren't unfamiliar to us at all. For example, we saw at least one CANADA WARBLER just about every day:
Similarly, we were surrounded by SWAINSON'S THRUSHES, another abundant migrant that we're familiar with here in North America. Because of that, I guess I didn't try too hard for decent photos...
Yet another such migrant was the SUMMER TANAGER. Hearing the familiar "picky-tucky-tuck" call note made me feel like I was in Missouri! Here's one of them that visited the fruit feeders from time to time:
If you really want to see more of what we saw, you can see some of our checklists via eBird:

I'll do one more post of various Ecuadorian bugs and things but after that, we'll be back to our regularly-scheduled boring posts from the US...