Friday, December 31, 2010

Mexico and Birds!

Happy New Year's Eve day!

Sunset from the boat returning from the nature preserve, Isla Contoy, Mexico; 12/21/10.
 Wow! Wow! Wow! Val and I were in Cancun, Mexico, for the week leading up to Christmas, and  I made a point to try to seek out as many birds in the area as I could with my time. And did I ever score!  Other than in Cancun where we stayed, we visited five other sites and between them all, I easily took over a thousand photos - many of them birds - and many birds that I have never seen before, much less even heard of before. I am one happy birder. As usual, by the time I sifted through all my frames, I deleted about 75% of them as they were either repeats of other photos or of such poor quality that they were not worth saving.

View of the Caribbean Sea from the deck of our room in Cancun, Mexico: 12/19/10.

I'll divide my birding exploits into five areas and then spend the next several weekends showing some of the better photographs. Also everywhere we went, there were sure to be some iguanas hanging about (Below).

An iguana showing off on Isla Mujeres, Mexico; 12/20/10.
As expected, being located just off the Caribbean Sea coast, many of the birds that I saw in Mexico were shore or water birds, but I am happy to report that I also saw lots of land birds new to me.

 * Denotes a new species of bird for me to add to my Life List.

1. Birds that I identified just around Cancun where we stayed: Brown Pelican*, Magnificent Frigate bird, Double-crested Cormorant, Great Egret, White Ibis*,  Osprey, Great Kiskadee*, Tropical Mockingbird*, Great-tailed Grackle*, Tropical Kingbird*, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker*, Bat Falcon*, Sandwich Tern*, Laughing Gull*, American Golden Plover*, Yellow Warbler, and Ruddy Ground Dove*; there were a couple of species of Orioles that I am still trying to make a positive ID, and several hummingbirds that eluded my camera and my ID skills.

The northeastern coast of Isla Mujeres, Mexico; 12/20/10.
2. Birds that I identified while visiting Isla Mujeres ("Island of Women," Above), a small island about a 1/2 hour ferry boat ride north of Cancun: Magnificent Frigatebirds, Brown Pelicans, Double-crested Cormorants, Great Egret, Great-tailed Grackles, Tropical Mockingbird, Laughing Gulls, Sanderling*, Ruddy Turnstone*, Least Sandpiper*.

3. Isla Contoy (Below top) is a fantastic island that is entirely preserved as a sanctuary for wildlife. We took a boat tour (about 90 minutes one way) to Isla Contoy which is the prime habitat for the Magnificent Frigatebird (Below bottom), but also is home for many other birds at various seasons of the year. Birds that I identified on Isla Contoy: Brown Pelican, Great-tailed Grackle, Double-crested Cormorant, Roseate Spoonbill*, Reddish Egret*, Great Blue Heron, Osprey, Ruddy Turnstone, Yellow Warbler, Palm Warbler, Great Egret, Tropical Mockingbird, as well as much marine life: jellyfish, manta ray, a school of sardines, sand shark, needlefish, and many hemit crabs and iguanas.

A view of Isla Contoy from the tower at the Preserve's headquarters, Mexico; 12/21/10.

Magnificent Frigatebirds swarmed the sky over Isla Contoy, Mexico; 12/21/10.

4. Birds I identified while visiting the famous Mayan city ruins, Chichen Itza [which is home to the great Kukulkan Pyramid (Below), one of the Modern Seven Wonders of the World] and the surrounding area: Great-tailed Grackle, Yellow-faced Grassquit*, Ovenbird*, and several hawks that I was unable to ID.

One of the "Modern Seven Wonders of the World," the Kukulkan Pyramid in the center of the ancient Mayan city of Chichen Itza, Mexico; 12/22/10.

5. Val and I took a fantastic tour into the Yucatan jungle and marsh (near Puerto Morelos) for the sole purpose of photographing birds (Below). We had a fantastic guide named Luis Ku who is an expert on the birds that live in the Yucatan Peninsuala, whether they are endemic to the area or spend their winters there. In a matter of just a couple of hours, Luis identified over 50 species of birds. Of these, 26 were new to me to add to my Life List. The birds that he identified were as follows: Green Jay#, Wilsons Warbler#, Yellow-tailed Oriole#, Yucatan Flycatcher*, Summer Tanager#,  Clay-colored Robin*, Anhinga*, Tri-colored Heron*, Green Heron, Great Blue Heron, Little Blue Heron*, Glossy Ibis(I saw this one, Luis didn't see it)*, American Coot, Northern Jacana*, Black-necked Stilt, Belted Kingfisher, Double-crested Cormorant, Plain Chachalaca*, Yellow-headed Vulture*, Bat Falcon, Ferruginous Pygmy Owl*, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Buff-breasted Hummingbird#, Black-headed Trogon*, Painted Bunting*, Black-throated Green Warbler, Yucatan Woodpecker*, Golden-fronted Woodpecker#, Rose-throated Becard*, White-eyed Vireo, Barn Swallow, Gray Catbird, Black Catbird*, American Redstart, Yellow-faced Grassquit, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Blue Bunting*, Melodious Blackbird*, Green-backed Sparrow*, Great-tailed Grackle, Northern Parula, Brown Jay*, Tropical Mockingbird, Great Kiskadee, Killdeer, Northern Waterthrush*, Cavinet Emerald hummingbird*, Yellow-throated Euphonia*, Least Sandpiper, Olive-throated Parakeet*, Turquois-browed Motmot*, Greenish Elaenia*, and Crouch's Kingbird*. Whew!

# Denotes birds Luis saw and identified, but I did not see or cannot identify on my photographs.

In one photograph I captured a Double-crested Cormorant (flying towrds me),  in the background was a Tri-colored Heron (back right), a Green Heron (back center) and a juvenile Northern Jacana (behind the Green Heron), Puerto Morelos, Mexico; 12/24/10.

Did I mention that there were crocodiles present in the many areas we visited? This one was waiting in the shallow water beneath the deck of a restaurant where we were having dinner in Cancun. Presumably, it wanted dinner also; 12/23/10.
I am looking forward to posting picures of birds from Mexico, starting tomorrow...hope you can visit.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Chloe Wigeon and American Wigeon

A pair of Chloe Wigeons, Regents Park, London, UK; 4/10/10.

Another water bird we saw at Regents Park in London was the Chloe Wigeon (Above). It is one of three species of wigeons, which are considered dabbling ducks, not diving ducks (such as the Tufted Duck in my 12/19 post.) Unlike other Wigeons, the genders are similar (though the male is often slightly brighter) and pairs are monogamous. This bird has a metallic greenish or blueish [depending how the light hits it (below)] head, and a gray bill with a black tip. Its breast is barred black and white and its sides are orangish brown. It has white cheeks and a white forehead and also white on its wings.
This duck is found in South America, on freshwater lakes, marshes, lagoons and slow flowing rivers. It breeds on the Falkland Islands, Argentina, Uruguay, and Chile. It migrates to southeastern Brazil for the winters. I am assuming that this pair we saw in Regents Park are either escapees from a private zoo or are permanent residents that the Park owns and cares for.

The same pair of Chloe Wigeons, but as the light hits it from a slightly different angle, the feathers on its head appears blueish; Regents Park, London, UK; 4/10/10.

A male American Wigeon in flight, Phoenix, AZ; 12/29/09.
The Chloe Wigeons from South America are very similar to the American Wigeons (Male, Above), which are common throughout Canada and the upper north west of the U.S. in summers and migrates down to the southern half of the U.S. and into Mexico during the winters.  I saw my fist American Wigeons a year ago while staying in Phoenix, AZ. There was quite a large flock (Below) of these birds hanging around a local park.

A flock of American Wigeons take to the safety of a lake in a Phoenix park, AZ; 12/25/09.

Female American Wigeon, Phoenix, AZ; 12/29/10.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Ross's Goose

Ross's Goose at Regents Park, London, Uk; 4/10/10.
We saw some pure white geese in Regents Park, which I at first dismissed as some domestic breed, but then at a closer look, I thought they could be a Snow Goose. When I zoomed in on my photos and looked at the beak of this bird, I realized it was a Ross's Goose (Above). The Ross's is smaller than a Snow Goose, has a rounder head, and its bill is smaller (in proportion) and doesn't have the Snow Goose trademark "grin." Its bill has a bluish hue at the base and the border where the bill meets the face is straight (Below).
A close up of the Ross's Goose bill showing the bluish hue at its base, Regents Park, London, UK; 4/10/10.
There is an interesting background of how the Ross's Goose acquired its name. The goose is named after Bernard Ross, who was the chief trader for the Hudson Bay Company in northwest Canada during the 1860's. In that position he was able to lend help to Robert Kennicott in his explorations of the area. In 1861, he sent a specimen of this small white goose taken at the Great Slave Lake, Canada, to Mr. Cassin for identification. Mr. John Cassin -- at that time the Curator of Birds at the Academy of Natural Sciences - honored Mr. Ross by naming this goose after him.
This species breeds in northern Canada and winters in the southern United States (primarily central California). Smaller numbers can also be found from Colorado to central Mexico and on the Texas coast. Scattered populations also exist along the East Coast. I never expected to see a Ross's Goose in London. But records show that it is a rare vagrant to Western Europe and individuals or small groups have turned up in Holland and Britain which have seemed to be of natural origin. It is known that the Ross's Goose is commonly kept in wildfowl collections, and so the true frequency of Ross's Geese being naturally wild in Britain is hard to calculate.
A couple of Ross's geese sunning themselves at Regents Park, London, UK; 4/10/10.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Red-breasted Goose & Egyptian Goose

The beautifully marked Red-breasted Goose, St. James Park, London, UK; 4/8/10.

The Red-breasted Goose (Above) is a beautiful goose that we saw both at St. James Park and at Regents Park (Below). While researching this bird, it seems that it is endangered ( ). The Red-breasted Goose breeds in Arctic Europe, often close to nests of large birds of prey. This helps to protect this small goose from land predators such as fox. It winters in south eastern Europe. It is a rare visitor to western European areas, including Great Britain. There has been a few sightings of these birds that do straggle into western Europe during the winter particularly into England and the Netherlands, but in these areas there is also the possibility that a sighted bird is an escapee from a wildfowl collection. We are assuming that the Red-breasted Geese we saw in London were of this category.

Red-breasted Goose, Regents Park, London, UK; 4/8/10.

Another goose that had interesting markings that we saw in several places in London was the Egyptian Goose (Below), which is abundant in Africa. Their name is derived because they were raised in Egypt as domestics for food. They are found mostly in the Nile Valley and south of the Sahara. It has also been introduced in Europe, particularly in Great Britain, Netherlands and Germany where they have self-sustaining wild populations. The British population dates back to the 18th century, though only formally added to the British bird list in 1971. There have been regular sightings of a wild flock of Egyptians in Norfolk, England, (and even a lone vagrant that has been visiting a lake in Pennsylvania, U.S. for the past three years. This one was hanging around a flock of Graylags. Their staple diet consists of grass and herbs, but during the dry season, when their natural food becomes less attractive, they often visit cultivated areas and can cause considerable damage to crops. Egyptian Geese are very aggressive, especially during breeding season. They are intolerant of other birds including individuals of their own kind and are among the most vicious of all waterfowl. In Great Britain they are considered to be a pest.

Egyptian Goose and chick, St. James Park, London, UK; 4/4/10.

Egyptian Geese at Hampton Court, London, UK; 4/6/10.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Bar-headed Goose

This is the start of the British Goose weekend. I'll start with the Bar-headed Goose (Below) which we saw in St. James Park. The Audubon Society tabs the Bar-headed Goose as a "Super Bird" because it is known as the world's highest altitude migrant. Each spring they migrate over Mt. Everest from their winter feeding grounds in the lowlands of India over the Himalayan range on their way to their nesting grounds in Tibet.

The "Super" Bar-headed Goose, St. James Park, London, UK; 4/8/10.

Because of its beauty and exotic qualities, the Bar-headed Goose is often kept in captivity and breeds readily in captivity. Sightings in Britain are frequent, and are considered to be of escapees - however, the species has bred on several occasions in recent years and around five pairs were recorded in 2002 (info obtained from and the Rare Birds Breeding Panel). Experts feel that the species may be gradually becoming more established in the UK. It is a very sociable bird and doesn't seem to cause problems for native birds. However, worldwide the wild population is believed to be declining due to loss of habitat and over-hunting.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Tufted Duck

A Tufted Duck at Hampton Court, London, UK; 4/6/10
We saw lots of Tufted Ducks (Above and Below) in several places while visiting London last spring. Tufted Ducks are a medium-sized diving duck with long black crest and dull black back, tail, head neck and breast (with a slight purple sheen in the light). In contrast its underparts and sides are bright white.Their eyes are yellow and legs and feet are gray. TheTufted Duck breeds across Eurasia from Iceland and the British Isles and east across Russia and Siberia.  Breeding has not been reported in North America, but they are casual visitors on northern eastern coasts of the U.S. and Canada (several reports in Newfoundland) and in the west chiefly along coasts in Alaska, California. Most often seen near urban areas which suggest these birds found in North America are considered to be escaped captives birds.

Another Tufted Duck, St. James Park, London, UK; 4/8/10.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Common Shelduck and Ruddy Shelduck

A male Common Shelduck in Regents park, London, UK; 4/10/10.
A very unique looking duck found at London's Regents Park was the Shelduck (Above). Both sexes are very much the same with white bodies and dark green necks and heads with some chestnut colorings on the wingtips, underside of the tail, and sides of the breast. The female's (Below) bill is not as bright red and doesn't possess the large swollen knob at its base. In some of my research, I found that some experts feel that this bird is a cross between a goose and duck. Female shelducks are prone to quack much like the more familiar Mallard, while males offer honks or whistles like a goose.

A female Common Shelduck, Regents Park, UK; 4/10/10.
Common Shelducks are common in British Isles, northern France, the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, and Eurasia; mainly breeding in temperate and wintering in subtropical regions; in winter, it can also be found in North Africa.

A rare Ruddy Shelduck in Regents Park, London, UK; 4/10/10.
Another species of Shelduck we observed in Regents Park was the Ruddy Shelduck. It took me some time to identify this guy since it wasn't labelled as a common bird found in the park. Ruddy Shelducks, with their almost orange-coloured bodies fading to almost white on their heads, look completely different from all other European wildfowl. Although I didn't witness this, I read that while in flight they have a startlingly black and white wing pattern. Ruddy Shelducks breed and spend winters beside coastal lakes and deltas and also on inland lakes, rivers and marshes on high-altitude plateaus. The main population of the area, which breeds in the extreme south-east of Europe and Turkey, migrate south during September - then return to nest in the Spring. They have also been recorded in England, Ireland Scotland and Wales with over a 100 records since 1950 but breeding has only occurred in England with 1 or 2 pairs breeding in some years. However, there has been several recordings of the Ruddy Shelduck in and around the London area in 2010.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Fulvous Whistling or Tree Duck and Black-bellied Tree Duck

A Fulvulous Tree or Whistling Duck, St. James Park, UK; 4/8/10.
I love the name of the Fulvous Tree Duck, which according to several sites are also called Fulvous Whistling Ducks. The Fulvous (which means tawny) Ducks are natives of tropical or semi-tropical countries. Two species are found in the United States, the bird photographed (above) and the Black-bellied Tree-duck (Below). The range of the fulvous species extends from the southern border of the United States, and in Arizona, Nevada and California, along the Gulf Coast (Florida, Lousiana, and Texas) and southward through Mexico, and reappears in the southern portion of Brazil and in the Argentine Republic. It has also been reported as a visitor to the states of North Carolina and Missouri. These ducks are also common in India and Africa, as well as parts of western Europe. As you can see, this species has a most unusual world distribution and, remarkably, without variety in appearance.

Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, Aviary at the Sonoran Desert Museum, Tuscon, AZ; 12/27/09.
While we were in Tucson, visiting the Sonoran Desert Museum, we saw some Black-bellied Whistling Ducks in the Aviary, which only house birds of the Arizona Desert.  Like the Fulvous Whistling duck, it has a very high upright stance which lends it a sense of elegance, if not arrogance. The Black-bellies range into the U.S. extends a little farther than the Fulvous Whistling Ducks. They can be found in the same areas as the Fulvous, but also can be found throughout Florida.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Rosy-billed Pochard

Rosybill Pochard, Regents Park, London, UK; 4/10/10
Another duck of the Pochard family is the Rosybill (Above), that we saw in one of the many ponds at Regents Park in London. The male gender of this diving duck has a very distictive bill that curls up like a shield between its eyes, although it is described more as a fleshy knob. The female is more of a drab brown all over and does not sport the bright red bill. Its bill is grayish and without the "fleshy knob." Though classified as a diving duck, this pochard feeds more like a dabbling duck. Rosybills are native to Southern Brazil south into Argentina and Chile. They breed well in captivity and are on exhibit in many zoos around the world. The one we saw at Regents Park is more than likely a permanent resident there and probably not wild.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Red-crested Pochard

Red-crested Pochard; St. James Park, London, UK; 4/8/10.
Red-crested Pochards (Above) are considered exotic in North America, but in Europe they are wild with their breeding habitat being lowland marshes and lakes in southern Europe and southern and central Asia. They are somewhat migratory, and northern birds winter further south and into north Africa.  But in the UK there is confusion due to the fact that there have been many escapees and deliberate releases over the years, as well as natural visitors from the European continent. However, it is most likely that they are escapees that are now breeding wild and have built up a wild population.

Red-crested Pochard with its crest puffed up; St. James Park, London, UK; 4/8/10.

A pair of Red-crested Pochards; St. James Park, London, UK; 4/8/10.

The red bill and red eyes are very identifying features of the male, whereas the female (Above and below) lacks both and looks very much like the North American Ruddy Duck.

What I thought was a female red-crested Pochard is actually a female Smew (Above) - as pointed out by Juan (see comments below), St. James Park, London, UK; 4/8/10. Thank you Juan.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Common Pochard

Common Pochard, St. James Park, London, 4/8/10.
While exploring St. James Park in London last April, we saw many ducks that I initially thought were Canvasbacks (Below), but later learned that they are Common Pochards (Above), fairly common in Europe, and related to Northern America's Canvasbacks and Redheads. As you can see in the photos how similar they are to eachother.
A Canvasback; Phoenix, Arizona; 12/29/09.
The Common Pochrd's breeding habitat is marshes and lakes that are a yard or more deep. Pochards breed in much of temperate and northern Europe into Asia. They are migratory, and winter in the southern and west of Europe.These are very social birds and form large flocks in winter, often mixed with other diving ducks, such as Tufted Ducks (future post 12/19), which they are known to hybridise with.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

First Snowfall of the Season; Winter Birds

Snow covers our backyard birdfeeders, Rockford, IL, 12/4/10.

The first Rockford Snow of the season blankets trees in our backyard; 12/4/10.
We had our first snowfall of the season in Rockford, IL, Saturday night and woke up with this beautiful scene.  Probably about 4-5 inches accumulated during the day.  As I imagined they would, the local birds flocked to our feeders. I counted Black-capped Chickadees, House Finches, American Goldfinches, Northern Cardinals, White-breasted Nuthatches, Red-breasted Nuthatches, House Sparrows, Downey Woodpeckers, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Mourning Doves, and Dark-eyed Slate-colored Juncoes all looking for food around our backyard and front yard feeders. Here are some of the photos I took during the day.

Northern Cardinal; 12/4/10.

American Goldfinch; 12/4/10.

"There is a seed in here somewhere," wonders this female Dark-eyed Junco; 12/4/10
Female Downey woodpecker; 12/4/10
Downey woodpecker; 12/4/10
House Finch; 12/4/10
"Got snow?" House Finch; 12/4/10

Black-capped Chickadee; 12/4/10.

Red-bellied Woodpecker; 12/4/10.

House Finches Feast; 12/4/10.
A Red-bellied Woodpecker wonders "What's all the fuss about?"
"Hey, where'd everyone go?"
"Okay, I'll eat it myself."
Don't you just love birds?