Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween!

Friday, October 31, 2008
It's once more that most ghoulish day of the year!

No, not election day or tax day, my pretties! It's Halloween!

In the spirit (gasp!) of the moment, here are a few images from trick-or-treat night last Saturday (when folks 'round here celebrate Halloween, I guess to get it out of the way so they can start decorating for Thanksgiving).

The kids and I went to the elementary school Halloween party, then into town for trick-or-treating. It's pretty cool and nostalgic to take my kids to many of the same houses I rang the doorbells on nearly four (!) decades ago.

Many things are exactly the same now as they were back in the early 1970s on the streets of Marietta on Halloween night. The excited shouts of packs of kids trying to find the most lucrative candy stops. The crunching of fall leaves underfoot. The dog crap that someone inevitably steps in and tracks up the front steps. The smell of cigarettes from parents smoking beyond the pool of porchlight, watching their kids rake in the sweets.

(If THAT house gave you a Snickers Brittany-Jo, your mamaw's gonna need a bite! And that ain't optional!")

But then some things are different today...

The candy is better and seemingly more abundant. The costumes are better, too, but fewer of them are home-made these days. A few other differences I noticed: when I was a trick-or-treater there was always a foot of snow on the ground and there were wolves and Indians chasing us. Plus all I had for a costume was an old feed sack. Kids today don't know how easy they've got it!

Here's some eye candy of my OWN candy grubbers.

Liam at the school party as Batman in his store-boughten costume. For more on the costume decisions, see Zick's blog.

Phoebe as a blue-haired goth harpy. Liam as grave desecrator.

Campesino Man.

Julie's costume this year was ossum!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Thinking About Palms

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Dusk falling rosy
Bedtime for parrots, monkeys
wind rattles palm fronds.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Fiery-throated Hummingbird

Tuesday, October 28, 2008
The male fiery-throated hummingbird on his favorite perch.

I've focused the last few BOTB posts on the first days of my recent Panama trip. During those initial field trips in Panama (a new entry on my Countries I've Birded In list) the best bird we saw (for me anyway) was the fiery-throated hummingbird. There was a very cooperative male fiery-throated coming to the feeders at the upper cabin owned by Los Quetzales Lodge and Spa in Volcán Barú National Park near Guadalupe in the province of Chiriqui. This was one of the stops on our birding tour of Panama, courtesy of Panama La Verde Birding Circuits.

There were dozens and dozens of other hummers there at the Los Quetzales cabins—and perhaps 10 or more different hummingbird species. But it was the fiery-throated hummingbird male that captured the attention of the avid photographers on this field trip. The challenge of course was getting a good photograph. In the low light conditions of the cloud forest, under not only a thick canopy of trees, but also under a sheltering roof, there were two choices: use a flash unit or open your camera way up and hope that a tripod offered enough stability to compensate for the slow shutter speeds. I opted for the latter strategy, sans flash.

Now I know just enough about the finer details of digital camera settings to fill a thimble halfway. And I try not to think about all the great photographic opportunities I've blown by being such a digital photo doofus. (Note to self: Ask Santa for a photography workshop for Christmas).

Lucky for me this male hummingbird had a penchant for a certain perch when he wasn't visiting the feeders, so I (and my more talented fellow camera-wielders) got ample opportunity to take pictures, check the results (LOVE that about the digital era!), change settings, and shoot some more. As I mentioned before, both Jeffrey A. Gordon and Mike Freiberg gave me some sage advice. Later on, at the David airport, I paid them back by buying them rounds of a Panamanian beer that made Budweiser seem like fine French wine, but I digress...

Everything on the male fiery-throated hummingbird seems to be iridescent.

We took turns stepping into the best spots for photographing the fiery-throated. Then we'd edge closer. Every few minutes the male would fly up to the feeders and we'd head back under the porch roof to await his return. Eventually, just before we had to leave, I got close enough to get some decent, frame-filling images of his fieriness.

In low light, when he faced to the side, the fiery-throated hummer looked like just another small, straight-billed, dark hummingbird.

In low light, facing to the side, only two gorget feathers of the male fiery-throated offer any hint of the colorful plumage.

But when any part of his head, breast, or gorget faced directly at you, a blast of color went right to your eyes.

When he turned slightly toward me, the colors began to appear.

After taking a bunch of images I decided I needed to see the bird better with my eyes, so I got the keys to the Land Rover and ran back down the muddy trail to fetch my spotting scope. Back at the cabin, scope set on the male on his favorite perch, I blissed out (despite my panting from the run down the hill and back) just watching the little guy sit, preen, snooze, and chatter at passing rivals.
Every so often I got lucky and captured a blast of iridescence.

This is one individual bird I am going to remember for a long, long, time.

Fiery-throated seems like an appropriate name for this little dude.

Monday, October 27, 2008

More Panama Cloud Forest Birding

Monday, October 27, 2008
There's a reason they call this the cloud forest.

On the morning of Day 2 in Panama we headed back up the mountain to the distant, off-the-grid cabins operated by Los Quetzales lodge. These cabins are inside the Volcan Baru National Park and are reached via a very rugged and rocky road, winding upward, crossing several streams. Our group loaded into two Range Rovers for the drive to the cabins. I am not sure I've ever been on a less vehicle-friendly road, and yet the Range Rovers got us there—over seemingly impassable rocks and through (literally) rushing streams.

Every stream on the mountain was rushing from the heavy rains.

These cabins are rustic but cozy and are on the Panama itineraries of several birding tour companies. Our very own trip companion Jeffrey A. Gordon had helped to lead groups here several times in the years he was working for Victor Emanuel Nature Tours. Jeff gave us an idea of what to expect.

One of the two cloud forest cabins operated by Los Quetzales in Volcan Baru NP.

The weather continued in its own rainy and cool way—on this day we would not get any sunshine, but the rain, at least, was intermittent. And despite the precipitation we got birds.

After arriving at a pull-off, we hiked up a narrow trail, across a couple more small streams to the cabins. There, our guides Ito and Abel opened up the doors, started a fire in the fireplace and spread out a mid-morning snack for us and some mixed seed for the birds. Within minutes we had slaty finch, large-footed finch, and yellow-thighed finch coming in for the seed. There was a pair of common bush tanagers in the —yes—bushes. And the hummingbirds started visiting the newly refilled feeders.
Large-footed finch.

Aside from a short hike up a nearby road, we'd spend the next several hours watching the hummingbird action at the feeders hung under the porch roofs of the two cabins. Both the birds and the birders were happiest under the sheltering roofs as the rain became heavier. Had the light been better, the photographers among us might have passed out from sheer image exhaustion. The birds were just feet (sometimes inches!) away when at the feeders, and most had favorite perches to which they returned repeatedly. Jeff Gordon, Mike Freiberg, Kees van Berkel, and I took turns at the best photo spots. I also bombarded my fellow shutterbugs with questions about camera settings and adjustments. [I know almost nothing about such things and realize that a photo workshop needs to be in my future.]

The lighting was a challenge for photography.

A couple of times, the rain let up and we'd organize a short walk down the trail. Someone would yell that they had a good bird, and we'd all hurry to get there in time. Among the other cool birds we found at the Los Quetzales cabins were prong-billed barbet (freaky!), and a warbler-meets-wren-meets-thrush-like bird called a zeledonia (sometimes also called wrenthrush).

The group scans the canopy for a long-tailed silky-flycatcher.

Birding was good right near the cabins.

We also had other birds, many of which I could rattle off here, but, frankly, I mostly remember the hummingbirds.
Male white-throated mountain-gem.

All the hummers we saw at the cabins were fabulous, but one was more fabulouser than the others: the fiery-throated hummingbird. I got lots of photographs of white-throated mountain gem, and a few of green-crowned brilliant, stripe-tailed hummingbird, and violet-crowned woodnymph. But my attentions were primarily focused on the fiery-throated and, thanks to good photo advice from Jeff and Mike, I actually got a few keeper images of this bird which is the very definition of iridescence. I will share those images with you in tomorrow's post.

I'll close out today's post with a few of my favorite non-fiery-throated shots.

Green-crowned brilliant, one of the many hummingbirds visiting the feeders at the cabins.

A closer look at the green-crowned brilliant's head.

Female white-throated mountain-gem—I like her reflected colors in the rainwater.

I took hundreds of bad shots of this male white-throated mountain-gem. Better flash gear needed.

He flew right at me (really at the feeder near me) looking slightly satanic.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Chiriqui Cloud Forest

Friday, October 24, 2008
Gardens at Los Quetzales in Guadalupe, Panama.

After an early morning flight to the David airport in the western highlands of Panama, our group had breakfast at Los Quetzales lodge and spa in Guadalupe. This hotel, well-known to tropical birding tour companies, is located in a small village near the cloud forest of Volcan Baru National Park. It being the "green" (or rainy) season in Panama, it felt like we were already IN the cloud forest. The temperature at this altitude (about 7,000 feet above sea level) was much cooler than in Panama City and a misty rain was falling.

Around the table at Los Quetzales.

Carlos, the owner of Los Quetzales, was a delightful host during our stay. His hotel, as its name suggest, is decorated with a quetzal/cloud forest theme, which only made me MORE anxious about seeing a resplendent quetzal.

Cloud forest in Volcan Baru National Park in the province of Chiriqui in Panama.

At Los Quetzales, while waiting to leave for our first field trip, some of us had slaty flower piercers and green violet-eared hummingbirds in the gardens. Rufous-collared sparrows hung around like house sparrows, as common as dirt.

Soon we took a bus to a nearby road into the park and began birding in earnest. The day remained mostly gray and rain came in fits and starts—not enough to disrupt our birding, but enough to have to wipe our binoc lenses dry every few minutes. I was glad I'd brought my Muck Boots, even though they'd garnered me some ridicule from my fellow travelers. Was it the fact that I wore them on the plane ride to David? Or was it the boots' distinctive hunter-orange linings?
My ossumly orange muck boots in the David Airport. Sneaky photo by Jeffrey A. Gordon.

Anyway, back to the rainy cloud forest. . . which is redundant, I realize.

The birds did not seem to mind the temperature or the rain. Among the first species we all got good looks at were mountain thrush, black-billed nightingale-thrush, and ruddy treerunner (which looked like a 'roided-up brown creeper).

The group on the cloud forest trail. Far right is our guide, Ito, from Los Quetzales.

We had a smattering of "our" birds, too, including Wilson's and a black-and-white warblers.
I tried taking a few photos, but the rain was a bit daunting and the light was dim. We all donned our raincoats, ponchos, and hats. Some of us improvised, creating umbrellas from whatever was at hand.

Mike Frieberg with his jungle umbrella.

Lisa White sheltering from the storm.

Jeffrey A. Gordon trying to keep camera and head dry.

The road we were walking on seemed suitable only for foot or perhaps donkey traffic. We were shocked, however, to hear the rumble of an engine coming down the mountain. A few minutes later, a rickety farm truck pulled around the bend, belching exhaust, with a load of home-grown lettuce for the local market. Much of Panama's agriculture happens in this part of the country, blessed as it is with rich volcanic soil and ample water.

The Lechuga Express passing Jeff Gordon. Only really good drivers pass Jeff Gordon.

After about an hour on the trail, and while we were sorting through a small feeding flock of tanagers, thrushes, and warblers, I saw a large greenish bird swoop into a tree far above me. Its red belly meant it could only be one thing: a female resplendent quetzal! The looks were not great, but we all got to see her and one or two other younger birds. This would prove to be our only looks at this spectacular species. It was nice, but, who wouldn't want more?

Still, Los Quetzales had lived up to its name.

The rain started coming down harder. We tried another spot or two, then decided that we'd go back to the hotel to wait for the weather to break a bit.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Panama Birding Day 1

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

My most recent trip was to the isthmus of land that connects Central and South America: the country of Panama. I was the guest, along with seven other birders, of an organization called Panama La Verde Birding Circuits. The Panama La Verde group is trying to develop ecotourism (especially birding) routes connecting (mostly) rural hotels and lodges in places that have not been traditional stops for most tourists visiting Panama. Our familiarization trip was aimed at helping to spread the word about Panama. I plan to write a feature article in Bird Watcher's Digest in the future, so I shouldn't share everything here at Bill of the Birds.

But I do want to give you a flavor of birding in Panama, so we'll be visiting that fine tropical land over the next several days.

I arrived in Panama City late last Monday night on a Delta flight from Atlanta with Jeffrey A. Gordon (BWD field editor, regular tour leader and Leica birding rep) and Mike Freiberg (Nikon's full-time Pro Birder dude) also on board. All we had time to do was schlep from the Panama City airport to our hotel, The Albrook Inn.

Before we went to our rooms for the night, Jeff heard and then squeaked up a tropical screech-owl in the garden of the Albrook Inn. The trip's first good bird (nocturnal great-tailed grackles don't really count)!

The next morning we'd get up at 5 am to go BACK to the airport for a commuter flight to the western highlands of Panama, a region known as Chiriqui. Within 36 hours, I'd go from doing The Big Sit in my birding tower on my southeast Ohio farm to standing in the cloud forest of remote western Panama.

I. Could. Not. Wait.

From left: Cristina Cervantes, Yenia Mendoza of Panama La Verde (obscured), Lisa White, Jeffrey A. Gordon, Kees van Berkel, and Liz Payne.

My fellow travelers on the Panama La Verde trip were: the aforementioned Jeff Gordon and Mike Freiberg, plus Lisa A. White of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Arizona birder and travel facilitator Liz Payne, birder/blogger/businessman John Ruitta, Cristina Cervantes general manager of birding tour company Tropical Birding, and Dutch birding tour leader Kees van Berkel.

¡Algo mas mañana mis amigos!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Dawn, Cerro Azul

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

From the overlook, dawn breaking like soft rain
the humid, warming earth heaves skyward its misty breath.
Smaller hills like sleeping bodies peek above the blanketing white.
Squeak-buzz of hummingbirds, tinamou whistles, toucan croaks
and this forest of rain—this jewel-filled jungle—launches itself unquietly into another day.

—from the garden at Birder's View, Cerro Azul, Panama

Monday, October 20, 2008

For the OOS

Monday, October 20, 2008

Here's a shout-out to my homeys in the Ohio Ornithological Society. I'm wearing my OOS hat during several days birding in the cloud forests of Panama. This mural was in a small cafe in the western highlands.

Below, a friendly resplendent quetzal tries on my blue OOS hat.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Bird of the Trip Thus Far

Saturday, October 18, 2008
We spotted a white hawk on a distant forest mountainside while birding in the El Valle region. I took this digiscoped image of it through the rain and mist. Quite a beautiful bird.

More soon, when time and access allows. Right now we're getting on a bus bound for Cerro Azul.

Giant Things of Panama City


Wherever you go in the world, it's comforting to know that there are Giant Things to see and admire. This guy lives in front of the Shrine Building in the Albrook region of Panama City. I really dig his fez and his white shoes.

This was on my first morning in Panama. There was a tropical screech-owl calling nearby.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Far Gone, But Where?

Friday, October 17, 2008
Sorry for the gap in the posts here at BOTB. I have been traveling.

After the enjoyable but taxing 24 hours of The Big Sit I was quite tired. So I'm not really sure where I am.

One thing I DO know is the birds are weird here. We're not in Whipple anymore, Toto!
Here's a "chickadee" I saw today in the hedge near a feeder.

Dude, where am I?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

No Birds, Just Clouds

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

During The Big Sit, the cloud formations were strange and amazing. We watched them from the tower, turning some into creatures, some into famous people. Others we simply admired.

I liked this one of two contrails heading for an unseen convergence. What would have made iteven more wonderful would have been a peregrine falcon jetting through the blue in theforeground. That would have been #70.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Big Sit 2008: Final Report

Monday, October 13, 2008
The view from the tower on Big Sit day 2008.

Well we ended up the 2008 Big Sit at Indigo Hill at 69 species. That's a new record by four species (the old record was 65).

It was a fine fall day: cool early and late, but pretty warm in the middle. As always we missed a few birds that showed up the day before and the day after: house sparrow and killdeer to name two. But we didn't really have any major misses, which was nice.
Late in the day on the Big Sit.

Thanks to all the birding pals who made the scene. This is my kind of birding event.


Bill of the Birds

For some reason, Blogger/Blogspot is not letting me post images. I'll come back and add them in later I guess. Sorry!
We're still hoping for that beer company sponsorship. Hey how about Newcastle?

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Big Sit 2008. Post #12

Sunday, October 12, 2008
Most of the 2008 Big Sit crew at Indigo Hill in the birding tower.

The sun is setting at 6:59 PM (the Blogger/Blogspot server clock is on weird time Pacific I think).

We broke the record!

Let me say that again:


Moments after I posted at noon, a small flock of GRACKLES flew over. Can you believe we broke then record with common grackle?

We tied the record with a red-headed woodpecker spotted by Ethan Kistler. Then the grackles. After common grackle, we got broad-winged hawk (spotted by me and ID'd by me and Jim McCormac) , then tree swallow (spotted by me and ID'd by several), and, finally (so far) scarlet tanager (spotted by Dick Esker and ID'd by me).

But we're still trying for #70....our new goal.

Thanks to all who wished us well. Hope your sit went swimmingly, too.

Big Sit 2008. Post #11


We are all tied up at noon. 65 species—tied for the record.
Many eyes make light birding.
We have 12 hours to find one more species the break the record.
No one wants to leave the tower until we do.
And I won't post here until we do.
So if you don't see another post today, save us a bit of sympathy.