Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Radius Rarities, Glaucous Glory, Springing

Hey, an uncropped photo! Mourning Dove with a rainbow for a backdrop...MODOBOW. Photographed at the legendary and singular Rancho de Bastardos.

Aside from Belize, the vast majority of the birding I've done this year has been in the 5MR. My sweet, sweet radius, the radius that shelters me. Nourishes me. Asserts its dominance on me...after all, I am but the learner now, not the radial master. I've been checking out new spots, hitting up places I typically neglect, getting a better idea of where to go at the very edges of the radius ("the outer rim"), and of course looking for both new and 5MR year birds for the 5MR Challenge. As with birding in general, there have been ups, like getting my first self found rarity of the year, and downs, like actually exerting effort to find Brewer's Blackbirds...and failing. My radius is neither glorious, nor does it suck...I actually get a fair amount of habitat diversity that I'm pretty stoked about. I also benefit from a moderate amount of coverage from other birders...

Prior to going to Belize, I had dipped a couple of different times on a wintering Summer Tanager that I had seen before the new year...and when I came back, someone had found a new Summer Tanager somewhere else! It was a particularly confiding one too. Photographed at Vasona Lake County Park.

In January, I got three sapscucker species in the radius, Red-breasted, Red-naped and this Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, which has been present since last fall and is probably still present as of this writing. There can't be many other radii out there with triple sapsuckers on the year (none outside California?). Photographed at the Santa Clara Water District.

Clark's Grebe was a new radius bird, one of only a handful so far in 2019. Aechmophorus grebes are plenty common in the county, but noteworthy birds here in my zone. Photographed at Almaden Lake.

Almaden Lake has also hosted some American White Pelicans recently (first these two, now up to four), which are also rare in the area and not something I thought I would see in the radius this year...I was prescient enough to be out checking for grebes, but these illustrious fishlords took me by surprise.

Shorebirds are extremely hard in my 5MR, but at least I have gulls! A great many gulls. Shitloads of gulls on good days, about 98% of which are California, Herring, Glaucous-winged, Herring X Glaucous-winged and Iceland. Like last winter, I've spent a lot of time combing through flocks in the hopes of finding a proper rarity. Photographed at Almaden Lake...again...which is turning out to be more interesting than I thought it was.

Perseverance (agony?) finally rewarded me with a Glaucous Gull. It's been a great many years since I found one of these on my own, I was due, and after so much local gulling I am chuffed that it was here in my radius. It was a really nice looking one, slightly darker than the average first cycle but with heaps of white on the wings and some very delicate covert patterning. Photographed at Almaden Lake.

This is definitely my favorite 5MR bird of the year so far. The gull window will be closing soon, but after seeing this pasty wonder I am sated.

It is odd to have seen a Glaucous Gull down the street this year, but not a Mew or a Western. Yes, I live in a county with salt water and can get find flocks of thousands of gulls in my radius, but Western Gulls are somehow elusive....what gives? Why are Brewer's Blackbirds and Western Gulls so hard to find? Is the fast food in our mall parking lots not savory enough? I don't get it. I've also failed to find an Allen's Hummingbird at all, which is confounding. But it's all part of the still-nascent 5MR experience, you get a better sense of what is found here regularly, and a better sense of what birds are actually as difficult as you think they are. For example, I have recently come to the conclusion that there are no easily accessible native conifers accessible in my radius, which is pretty crushing and has dire implications.

I'm lucky enough to have some grasslands in my 5MR, which isn't exactly a common habitat in most of California. I was recently turned on to an extensive secret-not-secret piece of private property that contains a lot of grassland and could provide some great radius birding and potentially produce some species I've yet to record here, as this Western Meadowlark can attest to. Photographed at secret-not-secret spot.

So where do I stand? This time last year, I was at 114 species. Right now I'm at 119. Not a big difference considering I have 5MR tunnel vision in 2019, and not an increase that fills my heart with hubris and joy...but not bad either since I lost a lot of potential radius time to Belize (which, not gonna lie, was way way better) and bad weather. I've missed a number of winter birds that I mostly won't have a chance again with until next fall, which vary from radius rare (American Bittern, Ferruginous Hawk, Prairie Falcon) to readily findable with minimal effort (American Wigeon). What is also apparent is that this fall/winter was very poor locally for irruptive species like Red-breasted Nuthatch, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Varied Thrush and Pine Siskin, so I'll have to hope that next fall and winter is better for them. The window is closing now for a lot of species, but opening for others.

So here we are in March...March. Most years, unless I have a trip to the desert planned, its not a month that is super exciting. The chance of finding rarities plummets in most places and, here in the bay area, until the last week the number of northbound migrants is a slow trickle compared to the big April push that is going to be featuring all the FOY birds you got in March plus a whole lot more.

But this year is different. This is the year of the 5MR, and there is work to be done. Not only are there radius year birds to track down, there are a whole bunch of potentially new species I should be looking for this spring. To wit:

Allen's Hummingbird - I'm holding out for one to show up in my yard...I do have a geri birding situation in effect, after all. According to eBird data, ALHU are very uncommon in my 5MR but March is a great time to pick one up. Looking at the region on a larger scale, they are more abundant in every other bay area county....what gives?

Western Screech-Owl - Probably fairly common in the southern part of my radius, just need to go owling. This month should be as good of a time as any to get one.

Olive-sided Flycatcher - Decent chance of getting one in the mountainish part of my radius later in the spring.

Western Kingbird - You show me grass and I will show you a Western Kingbird. I have grass. They may start arriving/passing through any day now.

Swainson's Thrush - These are surprisingly uncommon in Santa Clara County but my 5MR has the riparian to lure in some migrants.

Nashville, Hermit, and MacGillivray's Warblers - All are uncommon in the county, but at the same time I think they are most likely all annual migrants in my radius...MacGillivray's could be easier in fall than spring though?

Other potentially new 5MR birds I'll be keeping an eye out for in the next couple months, in no particular order, are Hammond's Flycatcher, Bank Swallow, Purple Martin, Lawrence's Goldfinch, and Swainson's Hawk. I don't expect any of those, but I am the Global Birder Ranking System's #7 birder in the country, so it's not like I am exactly incapable of finding them either.

Of course, since I am a raging nerd, I suffer from pretty crazy pollen allergies, and March marks the first month of suffering those, which lasts into summer. It's total bullshit...not pleased about being allergic to my own radius. How embarrassing right? Well I may be in for allergies but March also means wildflowers finally. Since my radius is more than just bleak agricultural hellscape or urban climax dystopia, I am lucky enough to get some cool native plants in the spring. I think this is white fairy lantern, Calochortus albus, photographed last year along Hicks Road.

The Rancho de Bastardos 5MR is not going to win any awards for wren diversity, but at least we have an abundance of Bewick's Wrens throughout the year. I don't see anyone singing their praises (or just saying praises normally), but living here has increased my fondness for them, as there is a pair that lives in the yard and I can actually see one on the suet feeder - maybe the same one on this picture - as I type this. They are very curious and confiding, bordering on friendly. Familiarity does not always breed contempt.

Yeah, yeah, making fun of ICP is so ten years ago...BUT...apparently there is at least one juggalo or juggalette in my radius?!! I was shocked to find this conclusive evidence of juggalism, I haven't even seen "genuine, dee-licious" Faygo in stores here. We are not within core ninja range here...a remarkable find.

That sums up recent events in the 5MR. For those of you who have been toiling in your radius these past few months in colder climes, new birds are on their way! The myopathic birding atmosphere that can be early March will soon melt away, and least in your radius...may never be the same.

p.s. have any of you tried Faygo?

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Belize! Part IV: Crooked Tree to The Tropical Education Center

By our last day at Crooked Tree, I already considered our visit there Great Success, and if and when I go back to Belize, I would absolutely be down to go back...especially in February or March, when the lagoon is seething with birds and Agami Herons are more dependable. As railer as it was to leave Agamiless, Hooded Warblers were a heartening sight, and brought me comfort on most days during the trip. Come to think of it, I'm almost always having a good time when there are Hooded Warblers around.

This American Redstart was exceptional, pivoting back and forth at this one spot, keeping its attention on me and tail fanned the entire time. Maybe it was trying to tell me something, like "You will never see an Agami Heron" or "Oh hey we met at Point Reyes a few years ago" or "Nikon sucks go Canon".

Yucatan Woodpecker was a prized lifer, one of *nine* I was able to squeeze out of the Crooked Tree area. A marvelous mini-Melanerpes...perhaps belonging in its own genus, Mellownerpes.

Eventually it was time to leave Crooked Tree and see a new part of the country. We got Bird's Eye View Lodge to drive us back to the airport, where we were dropped off at Hertz. After a few minutes we got into our sweet new diesel Isuzu (I didn't know they still made Isuzus, let alone diesels) and were off to the Belize Zoo Jungle Lodge, aka the Tropical Education Center, aka the TEC. I chose to stay two nights at the TEC for four reasons: 1) its proximity to the Belize Zoo, which we figured would be fun for Annie to visit 2) since it was on the way to Black Rock Lodge, it eliminated a long driving day, which is ideal when you are driving around with a toddler 3) it isn't expensi and 4) it gives good access to pine savanna, and the chance to clean up on any specialties of that habitat we missed at Crooked Tree.

The drive from Belize City was easy and uneventful. We ate lunch at Cheers, which is just past the TEC/Belize Zoo on the George Price Highway, and also an eBird hotspot. The food was deec but I suspect something I ate there didn't treat my stomach well later that was brutal, actually...but it was the only place where we saw Tennessee Warblers and Giant Cowbird for the trip.

Eventually we got checked in to the TEC and did a little exploring before sunset. The TEC itself provides good birding opportunities and an extensive, well-marked trail system. One of the highlights of our time there was the evening parrot flight. The number of parrots flying over, commuting to evening roost sites, was really impressive...not massive flocks mind you, but a constant, dispersed stream of birds.

The vast majority were Red-lored, which seems by far the most abundant parrot species in much of Belize. Thankfully their calls are easy to learn, so most birds could be identified by ear before they were close enough to see well.

They were all in pairs. Many of them flew quite low, giving good looks, which is not something to take for granted when it comes to parrots in flight.

Great birds they are.

Besides all the Red-loreds going over, we also had a single adult Yellow-lored Parrot squawking in a nearby tree. It was nice to see a brightly marked individual after seeing Drabby McDrabberson at Crooked Tree earlier in the day.

While looking at the Yellow-lored Parrot, I heard a distinctly new parrot noise, more screechy and raucous than anything I heard before. With jaw clenched, hands trembling, lip quivering, I raised my binoculars with sky high hopes...YELLOW-HEADED PARROTS!!! They were flying low and right towards us.

In fact, they came a little too close for crushing purposes, but that's not something I will complain about. This was a great LIFE BIRD, one I had been really hoping to see. While they have declined greatly and disappeared from parts of their historic range due to habitat loss and the parrot trade, they are still readily findable in much of lowland Belize.

Not an ideal photo, but it is an ideal lifer. This was the only pair we saw on the trip.

The TEC is in a huge swath of pine savanna, good Yellow-headed Parrot habitat. It's also where Black-throated Bobwhites make their bobhomes, and I spent quite a bit of time and energy looking for them, but that pursuit ended in bobfailure. Luckily, wandering around in this habitat did at least connect me with a lifer Plain-breasted Ground-Dove (I'll spare you the awful picture), which also ended up being the only one of the trip.

A handful of Yellow-crowned Night-Herons lurked at the pond. I also heard Boat-billed Herons both nights we were there, but couldn't locate their day roosts.

In retrospect, the TEC was not quite as birdy as it maybe is at other looked great, but birds were simply not as abundant as I thought they would be. That said, one of the commonest birds in the area was, of all things, Thick-billed Seed-Finch. Frankly, I was unprepared for their sheer abundance and sweet, casual songs...I won't make that mistake again.

I did have one mixed flock at the TEC that left me glassy-eyed and wasn't massive, but it contained several Yellow-backed Orioles (life bird!), another target I had been drooling over. I don't really associate orioles with conifers, so it was interesting to see these big facemelters take their time foraging in the pines. The flock also contained Yucatan Woodpeckers, Green Jays, a Hepatic Tanager, a Golden-olive Woodpecker, and a surprise Gray-collared Becard, which I've only seen once before and are fairly rare in Belize. It wasn't exactly an "it's happening" flock but it was fully gripping, and in retrospect included an impressive three species I didn't see on any other occasion on the trip.

After the flock oozed away from the trail, I then pished up my lifer Green-backed Sparrows...everything was coming up Steve!

Elaenia. Have any of you considered naming your first/next daughter "Elaenia"? I think it's legit. First of all, no one else is going to have that fucking name, so 10/10 for originality, and it isn't nearly as bracing/esoteric/wince-inducing as "Apple" or "Blanket" or some shit, nor is at as trendy as "Wren" or as common as "Phoebe". It basically sounds like an established name with a nice exotic-but-modest flourish at the end. For real, you can use it, go ahead, just give credit where credit is due.

Granted, elaenias aren't extravagantly beautiful, or talented singers, or really anybody's absolute favorite birds, but they are perfectly fine birds...and in the end, isn't that all we can hope for from our children? That they turn out to be perfectly fine beings? This is a Yellow-bellied Elaenia, a great example of a perfectly fine bird.

The TEC has a range of lodging options that are pretty reasonably priced; we stayed in one of the two houses overlooking the pond, which was pretty sweet and no, the mosquitoes were not that bad. Annie and Billy weren't so into the rain and falling tropical fruits banging on the metal roof at night, but I thought it added character.


TEC has a lot of confiding agoutis, which are like mini capybaras. They don't get hunted around there so they are pretty nonchalant, as are the Russet-naped Woodrails. A gray fox there early one morning was another nice sighting on mammal front.

I was hoping to have some more amphibian encounters but they were relatively few...and yes, it was for a lack of trying. Having a toddler with you in the tropics is not conducive to night hikes or night anything really. I saw a rad reddish toad (raddish toad) here at TEC but didn't have anything on me at the time to photograph it all I have to share is this very humble frog. Brian Freiermuth suggests it is a juvenile Leptodactylus. Having no idea how to identify any frogs found in Belize, or almost anywhere else frogs exist, I am not one to argue.

The fungus scene in Belize was good, there were a lot of mushrooms out, not that I could say anything intelligent about them. This smurf thing was one of the best ones.

Oh yeah, I doubt they will read this, but my boys Juan Carlos and Gilbert really helped us out and went above and beyond their duties when we had to deal with some medical stuff (I ate the smurf thing). Thanks TEC!

JK I didn't eat the mushroom but we did have to semi-urgently take care of some stuff.

We spent a morning at the mostly-great Belize Zoo, where Annie got to see things like tapirs ("mountain cows"), real Jabirus, this wooden Jabiru, and Harpy Eagles, which she oddly did not have much interest in but the big female had a great deal of interest in her. I had seen one or two Harpy Eagles at a zoo before but it was a privilege to be in the presence of this one, who had chosen to sit on a perch very close to us. I felt like I should bow or about a spellbinding animal, I can only hope I see a wild one someday. That is some bucket list shit right there...

Right, the zoo. The zoo was good. Great for kids, unless your kids hate animals. All wildlife native to Belize. They've got everything from Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl to jaguars. Anyhow, I didn't see any unusual free-flying birds at the zoo but I don't doubt that good stuff is possible there. BTW I've read in a couple places that in the past the zoo has been really aggressive about making photographers with vaguely professional looking gear pay $$$ to have their cameras out there, but I got a copy of their current photo policy and that shouldn't be a problem any longer.

After leaving the Belize Zoo/TEC area, we took a detour down the Monkey Bay Sanctuary access road on our way to Black Rock Lodge. On that road, destiny had a cruel twist of fate planned for six month old (and apparent piece of shit) Nikon D7200 died after I took a single exposure of a Crane Hawk. Crane Hawks are magical beings, it is known, but I suspect Nikon is to blame this time. Life was mostly pain on the photography front after that, just as the birding really picked up again.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Gilded Palace of Sin

As all of our esteemed and malignant readers are well aware, this month marks the 50th anniversary of The Flying Burrito Brothers' classic first record, The Gilded Palace of Sin. Some people would call this album country music. These same people probably fold their underwear. Sweet as yucca honey, strange as sunstroke and sadder than a sapsucker slurping on a sheet of sandpaper, this record is pure, uncut Cosmic American and we offer the following words as tribute to this group of weirdos and a record they made.

Awake, face down in the sand. Lips parched and where am I. Song of the cactus wren whirwhirwhirling somewhere nearby. Ah yes….Joshua Tree, land of The Flintstones, town of Bedrock, climbing bums and Hollywood’s doomed attempts at tox and detox. We awake in the darkness, the world rimmed in embers, to the sound of sea lions jockeying for position on a rocky headland. Sea lions...impossible here in the desert. A few seconds more and the sounds reveal themselves to be the labored coupling of humans, their moans and exertions subsiding after a few minutes of scumbag glory.

Shards of memory from the day before coalesce out of the dark abyss that, until recently, housed my brain. A black-throated sparrow in the talons of a shrike as the two floated down into a cottonwood draw, presumably to have dinner together. Seagull Steve miraculously conjuring up a Varied Thrush with some eerie harmonica playing. Watching it hop about in the palm fronds instead of the mid-canopy in an ancient coniferous forest, furthering my discombobulation and growing sense of  existential freefall. Taking a piss behind a gas station just outside the park and having a barn owl flutter by, a one-handed life bird for one of us in the group and thus creating the phenomenon now known as Meat Lifering.

In addition to birding and copulating with one another, we are here, sort of, to pay respect to Gram Parsons, the Grievous Angel, psychedelic country bard, Godfather of Cosmic Americana, whose body was burned at the base of one of these giant granitic boulders, where now a shine to his music and meteoric life is built every year. When the petroglyphs, doobies, beer bottles, photos, poems and piles of dead roses become visible from the tour buses, the altar is dismantled by park service stooges who are most likely listening to the Dave Matthews Band while doing so. The shrine is rebuilt again by the next pilgrim and her meager offerings.  

This site was the final destination in one of the more beautiful and bizarre episodes of rock n’ roll’s sordid history. After Gram died of a morphine overdose in Room 8 of the Joshua Tree hotel, his step father (whom Gram apparently despised) arranged for his body to flown back to Louisiana. Gram’s friend and manager, Phil Kaufman, had a better idea. He hijacked the corpse from the Los Angeles airport and drove it out in a borrowed hearse to this desert, stopped once for booze and a piggyback of gas, and came to a halt beneath a boulder named Cap Rock. He then dragged the body out of the car, poured gasoline into the casket and lit the singer his final cigarette.

A couple of years after the birth of Meat Lifering in Joshua Tree, I rode a bus through the night to Palm Springs, borrowed my aunt's car and drove up to the Motel to attend the 35th anniversary of GP's death. I walked into the courtyard around back, where a band of burnouts stumbled beautifully through a Flying Burrito Brothers tune. Some folks were huddled over an Ouija board, stones and talismans stacked around them. Light flooding out from the cracked door of Room 8. An older woman stopped me, ‘Can I help you?’, her demeanor that of a neighborhood watch lieutenant. ‘I’m here for Gram,’ I replied. She smiled warmly and wrapped her arms around me. ‘Grab a hot dog, sweetie. There’s beers in the cooler.’

I don’t remember much from that night, apparently a common occurrence upon visiting this region. Sitting on the edge of the bed that Gram died in, sipping a beer and staring in the mirror for too long. Later, trying my hand at the Ouija with the help of a stranger with multiple rings on each of her fingers.  Slumped on stage and hacking my way through ‘My Kind of Town,’ Gram's anti-war/draft dodging anthem, to scattered applause from my new friends. Eventually ending up under a cactus, looking up at the night sky, the constellations cut into musical notation by the power lines overhead, thinking I must transcribe the cosmos...

And where am I. Bottle of bourbon glowing in the sand beside my head. The whirwhirwhirling of the cactus wren there in the morning, the same song that accompanied the black sidewinder of smoke that rose out of the casket so long ago. Awkward extraction from my sleeping bag and never mind finding my shoes, there is an urgency in finding this bird backlit against the morning sun, in having its song wash over me. A proper soul wringing, blood sacrifice born of cholla spines in bare feet. Parched and bleeding in the Mojave.

Reborn in The Gilded Palace of Sin.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Belize! Part III: Crooked Tree Lagoon by Boat

Birding on foot at Crooked Tree can be very good, but no visiting birder comes here without taking a boat trip on Crooked Tree Lagoon and heading up Spanish Creek...I think that is what they usually do anyway. One morning Billy and Annabelle and I all got on a boat with a Euro family who also had a toddler, which sounds like a potential birding disaster but remarkably worked out pretty well. Also, with that many people on board, the whole thing only cost $35 US per adult...what value! Such savings! Bird's Eye View Lodge organizes these trips and have their boats docked right outside - they also do boat trips to Lamanai, which from what I understand can be very good and potentially offer a chance to see a lot of the same specialty birds (plus Yucatan Nightjar sometimes?), and you get to bird the Lamanai ruins.

We were at Crooked Tree before the thousands of water birds crammed into the area (the level of the lagoon was too high), but the birding was still ace, Leonard was a very solid guide and I recommend it highly.

Let's start with a Snail Kite snailing it up. I never knew I would ever be someplace where Snail Kite was one of the most common birds, but I have now been to such a place. The density of Snail Kites here is really impressive...there aren't ungodly hordes of them, but there are hella. Of course, the reason for this is the abundance of apple snails.

Most of the individuals we saw were immatures or females, but we did see a couple crispy male Snail Kites...or, if you prefer, snale mail kites.

Incredibly, Snail Kite is not the only molluscivorous kite in Belize...Hook-billed Kites specialize on tree snails, though they are known to consume nonmolluscs as well. The notable fact that we have both mollsuc-loving kites here in the U.S. is lost on far too many, for our obtuse, mollusc-blind culture does not place enough value on molluscs, let alone hardcore molluscivores.

Limpkins, on the other hand, place a premium on molluscs. They live here in staggering abundance. There really are ungodly hordes of them...their numbers were a revelation. They are so common that it makes you wonder how there can be places in the world that don't have Limpkins, or how one would actually need to expend energy to find them. At times you can hear them calling constantly from the lodge, but it is much easier to actually see them by boat.

Of course, the Limpkins are here for the same reason as the kites...they love apple snails. This Limpkin was caught in the act, snailing it up.

Some juicy apple snail eggs for your edification. Apple snails crawl out of the water at night to lay their eggs on emergent vegetation above the waterline, then apparently try to beat it back below the waterline before they get eaten by Limpkins and Snail Kites in the morning.

Ringed Kingfisher was another surprisingly common bird here, THANK THE MAKER. Of the 4 species of kingfishers I saw at Crooked Tree, Ringed was the most abundant, followed closely by Belted.

True to form, the Belted Kingfishers at Crooked Tree are just as adverse to being photographed as they are everywhere else. Why a common bird that is so happy sitting out in the open yet is so consistently uncomfortable being around people is one of the great avian mysteries of the world.

Luckily, we did not go to Belize to look at Belted Kingfishers, and I was really happy with getting lots of quality looks at their giant cousins instead.

We also saw a number of Green Kingfishers from the boat as well. This is a female - males have the rufous breast band, which is the opposite color scheme that Belted Kingfishers use.

I can appreciate a good Little Blue Heron (this one was good) and there are no shortage of them here for you to appreciate at will. At close range, I've found that gazing at the mellowing blues and purples of this bird can lead to interminable pondering of color, perception, the universe, and why certain bird names are hyphenated and other equitable birds are not. I don't mean Red-breasted Merganser, that is actually a pretty standard format, more like Northern Pygmy-Owl (why the hyphen?) or Great Black Hawk, which until recently was Great Black-Hawk. Speaking of which...

Another species I was hoping to connect with on this trip was Great Black Hawk, which I had only seen once before. This really confiding bird was the first adult I've ever seen. Up close, it has quite a different look to it than a Common Black-Hawk, though at the same time I'm not sure I can put my finger on it...there's more majesty there. Cool to see the fine white barring on the thigh so easily.

In Belize, sorting Common from Great Black Hawks is relatively easy, as Common Black Hawks largely stick to coastal areas, with Great Black Hawks dominating everywhere else. We did not find any birds of either species that deviated from this pattern.

If this bird looks familiar to you, you've either birded in the Neotropics before or you've seen too many pictures of the Maine Great Black Hawk (rest in peace) on Facebook. This immature can be easily told from Common Black Hawk by the lack of a malar stripe.

The last time I saw one of these, it was still called a Gray-necked Wood-Rail. Now, it's a Russet-naped Wood-Rail - it's new sister species, Gray-cowled Wood-Rail, only comes as far north as Costa Rica. You don't need to go on a boat to see these, but these flashy things are hard to ignore.

A species I knew we could see from the boat, but I did not expect to see, was SUNGREBE. If there is a bird with an air of mystery about them, it is the Sungrebe. Don't believe me? Well, they are the only member of the tiny and bizarre Finfoot family in the New World and - apparently - the males allegedly have pouches under their wings where they can carry chicks...while flying.


This boggles the mind. I had seen Sungrebe before, but this was news to me. If your mind is not boggled by this fact, even if you already know it, then you are clearly operating with some kind of defect and I suggest you seek help. I found a recent blog post on this exact subject if you care to learn turns out to be something ripe for further investigation.

As I said, this is a bird of mystery. It was invigorating to get to see these bizarre river lurkers again after almost a decade. Oh, apparently they have crazy striped feet too, which I have yet to see IRL but I think it adds to their weird goodness/good weirdness.

The Crooked Tree boat trips are legendary for consistently finding Jabiru, and we did find one at the very end of the trip. My photos won't go down in the long and storied history of Jabiru crushes, but it doesn't matter...Jabiru Jabiru Jabiru Jabiru Jabiru yeeeeeeeeeahhhhhhhhooowwwwwwwwww what a good bird.

Things haven't quite been the same since seeing Jabirus. I think I am now in the post-Jabiru era of my life. In these times that seem so constantly filled with fear and loathing, it's comforting to know that there are massive Jabirus out there doing fascinating Jabiru things.

Here's another photo of a bird I mentioned lifering in a previous post, a Black-collared Hawk. These range from eastern Mexico down into South America, but are very patchily distributed in Central America. There are so many species of raptors to be found in Central America, but this is one of the most unique! It is the only member of its genus, Busarellus, it eats fish, and it is shaped like a Black-Hawk but is mostly rufous with a white head. Brilliant.

Of course, Crooked Tree isn't someplace a more familiar fish-eating raptor would pass up and we saw a handful of Ospreys.

Everyone loves Boat-billed Herons. Those who don't have simply never seen one...or have no soul, one or the other. Boat-billed Herons are not uncommon and are pretty widespread in the Neotropics, but are usually much easier to see by boat than on foot due to their preferences for roosting sites. I'd really like to see that boat/giant black oil sunflower seed of a bill in action someday. We saw a few Boat-billeds and I gather they are very reliable on Crooked Tree boat trips, I only regret not telling Leonard to get closer for crushing purposes.

And just when you might think that Northern Jacana is a reasonable, unremarkable bird....

...out come the LONG TOES and the charade is over. Unbelievable. And don't get me started about the weird nub-spurs on their wings.

Phew, I think these photos cover the boat trip pretty well, but should also mention that the passerine birding isn't half bad either. Crucially, this boat can deliver Agami Heron, one of my most wanted birds, but through that day none had been seen the entire, the first Agami Heron of the year was found on a boat that went out the next day. Fuck! Fuck! Need to see that bird something fierce, I don't understand why it isn't talked about more. Can someone tell me what it is like to see an Agami Heron? Do they make you a cry a lot? Pretty sure that's what I would do.

Even without Agami, birding the lagoon by boat was extravagantly good. Do it if you get the chance!