27 November 2020

Why wag?

Three years ago I was guiding on the west coast of the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico.  Among the 200+ species we enjoyed on that tour was this distinctive silhouette of a Turquoise-browed Motmot:

Both male and female motmots habitually wag their racket-shaped tails back and forth like a pendulum.  Do you know why?  

It's been shown that males do this more during the breeding season (which suggests it's a sexual selection trait) but also, and perhaps more interestingly, both sexes do this year-round in the presence of a predator.

This latter reason, a predator-elicited display, is thought to function as a pursuit-deterrent signal.  Basically, the bird is telling a potential predator "I see you already, and so it's a waste of your time to try to ambush me."

21 November 2020

Quiet November

Truth be told, I haven't done much in the way of birding lately.  I did venture up to Lovers Leap, which is a bluff overlooking Hannibal and the Mississippi River, to check things out.  Among a few expected things was this nice NORTHERN HARRIER that flew over:

The view was still nice, with the blues of the river and sky, even though the formerly green trees have shifted into brown skeletal mode with the change of the season:

16 November 2020

On this day...

This COMMON REDPOLL, drenched in late-day winter light, posed for me at Whitefish Point in northern Michigan on this day, a whopping 13 years ago:

13 November 2020

Year ago

A year ago this month, I was exploring forests in Jamaica.  I have to say, I do miss spending time with these little sprites, the Jamaican Tody:

30 October 2020

Another sparrow

This handsome guy is a WHITE-CROWNED SPARROW that was along a field edge near here earlier this month:

We have a short window to enjoy these locally though, I usually only see them during spring and fall migration.  With November almost upon us, winter is on the move as well.

25 October 2020


As you can see, I haven't actually posted on this blog since... February.  😶

Maybe posting something, anything, might be the catalyst I need to revive this?  It's worth a shot.

Anyway, here's a LECONTE'S SPARROW from the other day.  This is a little and secretive denizen of thick grass and marshes.  It's also one of my favorite fall migrants here in the Midwest.

21 February 2020

The Edges of Costa Rica -- Deep South

Last fall, my back-to-back Jamaica tours were my last of the year.  I had a quiet December that transitioned into 2020 and a busy start of the year for me.  Next destination?  Costa Rica!

The "Birding the Edges" tours that we run there take birders to less-traveled parts of the country.  Of course, as always, you can find a lot more info about the tour here.

After arriving and looking out from the room balcony, it was hard not to contrast where I just came from with what I was seeing:

Further exploration of the back gardens yielded a few gaudy avian prizes like this LESSON'S MOTMOT:

One of the main targets in central Costa Rica is the now-endemic CABANIS'S GROUND-SPARROW which I found nicely near the hotel:

The Edges Part 1 tour was quite good for hummingbirds and we tallied about 30 different species.  Included was this WHITE-THROATED MOUNTAIN-GEM:


This is a MANGROVE HUMMINGBIRD and it's another species that's only found in Costa Rica.  As you can see, we saw it quite nicely!

This charming hummingbird is a CHARMING HUMMINGBIRD at Esquinas Rainforest Lodge:

As is typical with much of the Neotropics, one can expect a fun variety of tanagers and included in that list was the aptly-named SILVER-THROATED TANAGER:

And although this stunner is called a GREEN HONEYCREEPER, it's also a tanager:

Nearly endemic to Costa Rica, one of the tougher species to find in the country is the COSTA RICAN BRUSHFINCH.  We were sweating it until, finally, we found a couple!

A lot of birders really like the trogons.  This is a COLLARED TROGON:

And who doesn't like a GREEN HERON when they pose so nicely?

Anyway, Edges Part I was a success and I think we all enjoyed our time exploring the southern reaches of the country.  I'll leave you with this view to help melt your frozen winter blues:

16 February 2020


I have to admit, I was really excited about going to Jamaica and leading a couple of tours there last fall.  It was a country I hadn't been to before (and I'm all about seeing new places) and the small Caribbean nation hosts a number of endemics, species that aren't found anywhere else.

Over the course of 2-3 weeks, I got to know the birds pretty quickly, tallied ~120 species, and got to meet some really nice folks.  In fact, I'll be headed back there in 2021.

Anyway, here are some photos.

BLUE MOUNTAIN VIREO, found only in Jamaica:

"Golden" subspecies of YELLOW WARBLER:

JAMAICAN BLACKBIRD, endemic to Jamaica:

STREAMERTAIL, endemic to Jamaica:

JAMAICAN SPINDALIS, found only in Jamaica:


JAMAICAN OWL, a tough-to-see Jamaican endemic:

WHITE-EYED THRUSH, one of my favorite Jamaican endemics:

JAMAICAN TODY, another endemic and a colorful little ball of energy:

ORANGEQUIT, found only in Jamaica:

Roadside birding:

Some of the morning views along the coast were quite tranquil:

Our lodge has this old Spanish-built stone tower on the grounds; it was really neat to explore!

Sunrise from our lodge.  Such a hardship, I know.

As always, you can read more about the tours by looking at the triplists I put together including this one from the first tour and this one from the second.

13 February 2020

Cajun Country

Last fall, after returning from Australia, we had a short break and then it was off to Cajun Country for our Yellow Rails tour in Louisiana.

Although this is a very short tour, only 3 days of birding, we amassed 150+ species of birds.  This is due to the very different habitats we visit: flooded rice fields, upland pine forests, and coastal marshes and shorelines.

In the pine forests we tracked down a couple of key species like RED-COCKADED WOODPECKERS.  Here are three in one tree:

Another target in the pine forests was this BACHMAN'S SPARROW:

One of the major surprises from this tour was when a NORTHERN WHEATEAR showed up at a nearby airport.  We swung through to check out this major rarity:

I was thinking, this tour might be the only one I do where the default chickadee is the CAROLINA CHICKADEE:

But of course, the main draw on this tour is to see YELLOW RAILS.  We get to ride around on the rice combine and watch as these hard-to-see rails flush from in front and fly to safety.  On this tour, I ended up seeing 50!  It's a wild ride!

You can see the full triplist online here.

All for now...

07 February 2020

Australia in October

I was one of the guides that led our Australia (Part 1) tour last fall.  Being my first time on that particular part, my eyes were wide open while finally exploring some new corners of one of my favorite birding destinations (you can learn more about this particular tour here).

Because it was a long tour (I was in Australia for 3-4 weeks), I'll include a few more photos here just for kicks.  For starters, here's the massive Powerful Owl, the largest owl species in Australia:

Some of the pigeons are pretty crazy down there.  The Crested Pigeon is surely one of the more distinct ones:

It was on this tour that I saw my 2nd ever species of penguin.  Little Penguins can be found after dark in Melbourne:

Yellow-tailed Black-Cockatoos are always stunners:

Australia has a ton of honeyeaters (the most diverse family of songbirds there).  One of them, the Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater, is actually a pretty sharp-looking bird:

And of course you have Emus walking around some places.  Nothing to see here, just a 80-90 lb flightless bird:

The Pink Cockatoo was definitely a highlight; what a stunning bird:

Personally, I really enjoyed finally seeing the Rock Parrot, a coastal specialty of southwestern Australia:

What IS this creature???  An owl?  Nightjar? 
This is an Australian Owlet-nightjar and it was the best look I've ever had, hands down.  Bizarre critter.

Australia is huge.  It has such a wide range of regions, habitats, and environments.  From lush rainforests to some of the driest, most-desolate desert I've ever seen.  Here's the view of a moonscape as we approached Alice Springs:

Anyway, Australia is an epic place and it feels kind of foolish to only put 10 photos in here.  But hey, I gotta catch up!

All for now.