Archive for animals

The Panama Hawk Migration

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Panama City from atop the Canopy Tower.  It reminded me of the Emerald City of Oz.

We traveled to Panama in early October mainly for the hawk migration, but there were many other fascinating sights such as the Three-toed Tree Sloths munching on the Cecropia leaves outside our window.

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We stayed at Canopy Tower an old converted US Military radar installation.  The food was excellent with menus prepared by the owner’s Mother (?) who was a well known chef.  We came back from one day’s outing to find the remnants of that cuisine being sampled by seven juvenile Coatis.  They didn’t mind in the least if we watched them and they were relatively respectful of each other, unlike their cousins the Raccoons..

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It was a thoroughly enjoyable trip bird-wise as well with my eBird total of 195 species.  There were beautiful insects with Blue Morpho butterflies fluttering everywhere.  I also encountered a creature completely new to me, a Helicopter Damselfly (Megaloprepus caerulatus).  It was lovely at rest but absolutely mesmerizing in flight, twirling delicately down the path (click on the name for a link to a short video)

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Here is the Helicopter Damselfly at rest.  It is huge, about 7″ long and with a similar wingspan.  (Photo courtesy of Christine Howe, all rights reserved)

But of course the hawk migration was the primary reason for our visit.  We drove to Ancon Hill where the official Panama hawk watch is held.  We were told that almost no hawks had come through on the previous day but they had heard from Veracruz, Mexico that they should expect large influx were due this day.  We saw very few at first but then they started rising from the canopy and flying in from the west.  They gathered and rose swirling (kettling) until they reached the top of the thermal and then slid off to the east.  We were told that in one half-hour period we had seen approximately 18,000 hawks, mostly Swainson’s Hawks and that every Swainson’s Hawk in North America passes over the Panama Canal on its way to its wintering grounds in Argentina.  I found the experience very calming, watching them floating in, up and on their way, hundreds at a time.

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There are a few Turkey Vultures  and Broadwings but most of these birds are Swainson’s Hawks, a tiny fraction of the spectacle.

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Svalbard 4: Views from the Boat

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The bow was the favored location for the hardy but many of us watched from the comfort of the lounge.

Life aboard ship was very comfortable.  Even with 24 hour daylight there was almost always lots of action, birds flying by or on the water, walrus, polar bears, the occasional seal and whales.  My most exciting whale sighting was a Bowhead whale, an arctic species I have never seen before.  I didn’t get a picture of any of the whales but I was able to see the unique Bowhead mouth shape in a friend’s picture.

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We passed large icebergs when we were  in the bay where the Monaco Glaciers were calving.

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These photos show the bird cliffs at Alkefjellet.  We had hoped for zodiac rides to get closer but the sea was too rough (hence the blurry photo) and we had to settle for views from the ship.  It was impossible to count them but we were told there were over 100,000 birds nesting there, mostly Brunnich’s Guillemots (a/k/a Thick-billed Murres).  There were many opportunistic Glaucous Gulls hoping to find unattended eggs.

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Among the Polar Bears we saw were this threesome: mother, yearling cub and a male in pursuit.  She seemed to just want to get away with her cub but he followed them for quite a distance before she finally eluded him.  We saw Ivory Gulls where the bears had made a kill, six or seven at a time.  It was a thrill to see these elegant pure white gulls.

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This is as far north as our journey took us, according to the dashboard in the ship’s library.

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I’m looking due north at the beginnings of the ice surrounding the North Pole.  We turned around shortly after this picture was taken.  The ice would get thicker and finally we would not be able to go further.  We traveled 1031 nautical miles. (photo Frank Mantlik)                             For a detailed description of our trip check out the TRIP LOG.

 

 

 

 

 

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Svalbard 2: Adventdalen

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Our first views from the air revealed a spectacular landscape of black, glacier capped mountains.  We landed in the main “city” Longyearbyen (pop. 2,900+), an old whaling port and until recently a center for mining high quality coal, although that output has been reduced due to the low price of coal.  We linked up with our friend, got the car, unloaded at our hotel and the three of us set off on the main road along the coast of Adventfjorden, one of the 30 miles of road on the island of Spitsbergen.  We were advised to stay within the “Polar Bear Free Zone” but we went somewhat afield because we had the car for protection.  While the bird list for this area is not a long one, we were rewarded by intimate views large numbers of birds unusual for Connecticut, like these nesting Barnacle Geese.

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Nesting pair of Barnacle Geese.  Svalbard Barnacle Geese are known to winter between Scotland and England.

Common Eider Ducks are an every day sight at our Maine cottage but here hundreds nested around the sled dog pens (safer from Arctic foxes).

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You had to be careful where you parked!

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Not a great place to rest

My life bird for the day was a Rock Ptarmigan, still in winter plumage.  We saw others over the time we were there, all in varying stages of molting.  This was the classic beauty.

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A very cooperative Rock Ptarmigan, and yes, among rocks.

There were also an Ivory Gull, Glaucous Gulls, Red-necked and Red Phalaropes, lots of Pink-footed Geese, a pair of King Eiders, nesting Red-throated Loons and lots of Purple Sandpipers (these apparently the subject of a study as nearly all were banded), Dunlins, Common Ringed Plovers, Black-bellied Plovers,  Black-legged Kittiwakes, Long-tailed Ducks, Arctic Terns, hundreds of Dovekies, Black Guillemots, Parasitic Jaegers, Northern Fulmars, Eurasian Green-winged Teal and the ubiquitous Snow Buntings.  We found it well worth the extra days and expense for the rich birding experience we enjoyed.

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Longyearbyen and the harbor from the hills above Adventfjorden.

 

 

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Big Bend (Yes, Again…!)

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I know I’ve often written about Big Bend NP in Texas but I keep getting pulled back there.  Compelling landscape, good friends and wonderful birds:  what’s not to like?  This visit followed much the same pattern as the others except we had managed to secure coveted Stone Cottage 103.  Cottage 103 comes with a suite of guests; Mexican Jays, White-winged Doves, Green-tailed Towhee, Black-crested Titmice, Canyon Towhees and an extremely friendly Gray Fox.  He/she was obviously looking for a handout, which is against park rules for good reason.  We resisted the temptation to share our happy hour tidbits and the fox did not return, but for a magical hour or so, we had this gorgeous animal as our guest.  It first sat on the porch wall but then went and curled up like a cat beside the porch.  What a treat to be so close as to be able to scrutinize a fox from a distance of a few feet.  I know this ease with humans comes from others disregarding park rules and feeding it.  I can only hope such misplaced generosity doesn’t spell its eventual doom.

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Madagascar 4: The Rain Forest

We went from the Spiny Forest, climbing through terraced rice paddies to reach the rain forest.  This ever dwindling natural resource of dramatically different habitats is brimming with still more unique species like geckos and chameleons.  It took quite a while to pick out this Mossy Leaf-tailed Gecko until he moved.

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Mossy Leaf-tailed Gecko

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Up and about

Much of our exploration was through challenging terrain with long drives in 4 wheel drive vehicles on horrible roads to begin our hikes into the forest.  Those hikes were physically arduous but the rewards were great:

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Like this Collared Nightjar – a bird’s nest in a bird’s nest fern,

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a Giraffe Beetle,

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Jewel-like pill bugs,

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a Madagascar Malachite Swallowtail and

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A Paradise Flycatcher nest with babies.

Plus there were all the frogs, snakes and more birds, not to mention more lemurs like the Indri, with their haunting calls.

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An Indri family group.  You can hear their calls at this link from Wikipedia

Near the end of our trip we had lunch beside this lovely forest pond where we enjoyed watching endemic waterbirds; a family of Madagascar Little Grebes and a pair of Meller’s Ducks.  A day or two later I was finally struck down by Madagascar’s “travelers complaint,” an ailment that had hit the rest of the group earlier.  I was fairly incapacitated after this, getting home on Imodium and finally resorting to Cipro (a must for anyone contemplating this wonderful adventure).  This trip is full of sights everyone needs to see.  Beside the amazing wildlife, there are lessons here on so many levels, especially on the effects of our misuse of natural resources because we put immediate human needs above the future of our environment.  This is a lesson we need to heed right here at home.

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Lunch by the pond

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Madagascar Lemurs

A young Verreaux's Sifaka regards us with no apparent fear at all.

A young Verreaux’s Sifaka regards us with no apparent fear at all.

Let me begin by saying that it is difficult to photograph these fascinating animals, so apologies for my camera work.  They are astoundingly agile and quick as they leap from branch to branch, often with babies clinging to their backs.  First I’ll show you Verreaux’s Sifaka, a lemur of the Spiny Forest which we saw in Zombitse.  An extended family group cavorted in the trees above us in but then a curious youngster climbed down and just stayed, grasping a tree trunk and allowing everyone to get good shots.

Zombitse Sportive Lemur

Zombitse Sportive Lemur

By contrast this nocturnal Zombitse Sportive Lemur we inadvertently woke up seemed frightened.   Our next lemur was the Ring-tailed Lemur, made famous in the movie “Madagascar.”

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Ring-tailed Lemur

We saw the Red-fronted Brown Lemurs in two different locations.

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Red-fronted Brown Lemur

Another lemur of the Spiny Forest was the tiny Mouse Lemur.  My picture even more horrible than these so I am including my Journal entry, just I hope, to give you an idea of how dear they are.

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One final lemur (before you glaze over) is the Indri.  We were awakened by their haunting cries every morning in Perinet which is in the rain forest.  Like most of the other lemurs, these were in a tight family group.  Our guide called them “balls of lemurs” which I thought very apt as they curl up in clusters of three or four to rest.  I did a little video so you could hear these calls which are equivalent to flock contact calls in birds but I can’t figure out how to get it on here.  If I ever do, I’ll add it.

Indri with her baby

Indri with her baby

 

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Madagascar: Trip to Nosy Ve

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We were transported to the boat by Zebu cart.

We took a day away from the Spiny Forest to go out to the island of Nosy Ve which is about a 1.5 hour boat ride from Tulear, on the southwest coast.  The first item of note was the way we got out to the boat as they used Zebu carts.  These carts provide a common method of transportation and now we had a chance to see what it was like.  We were four to a cart and the Zebu did well getting (jolting) us out to the boat.  On the way back it was deeper, rougher water and it seemed that the Zebu were afraid, but at last all were landed with little problem.

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Humblot’s Heron, an endangered endemic.

On the way out to the island passed a large sandbar where there were foraging shorebirds; Bar-tailed Godwits, Common Greenshanks, Curlew Sandpipers and old friends Ruddy Turnstones and Whimbrels.  We then cruised beside a long cliff face where we were rewarded by great views of an endanged Humblot’s Heron.

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Mrs. Red-tailed Tropicbird and her fluffy chick.

We hoped to see the Red-tailed Tropicbird and we were not disappointed.  The island is small and uninhabited, except by the Tropicbirds and a few other species.  There were a number of nests tucked under thorny bushes for shade.  I was delighted to find this one (spoiler alert for those who are on my Christmas card list!) where the tiny chick couldn’t have been more than a few days old.

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The beach at Anakao where we had lunch.

We left the island and rode across a bay to a beachside restaurant for lunch and looks at nesting Littoral Rock-thrushes.  The ride back was very rough but it had been a great day.

 

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