Saturday, September 17, 2011

Strong-billed Woodcreeper at Selva Negra

During a visit to Selva Negra on September 15, 2011, Colorado-based bird photographer Bill Senske spent a couple hours hiking the trails and familiarizing himself with many birds typical of Nicaragua's north-central highlands. One bird, however, stumped even the local guide whom Bill had hired for the morning.  Luckily, Bill was able to get a couple shots of the large, thick-billed creeper, which he later identified as a Strong-billed Woodcreeper (Xiphocolaptes promeropirhynchus) with the aid of his field guides.

Strong-billed Woodcreeper

Bill was also pleased to see and photograph a number of other emblematic species, including Long-billed Hermit (Phaethornis longirostris), Violet Sabrewing (Campylopterus hemileucurus), Blue-Throated Goldentail (Hylocharis eliciae), Three-wattled Bellbird (Procnias tricarunculata), and Bushy-crested Jay (Cyanocorax melanocyaneus).

Harris's Hawk at Chiltepe Peninsula

On Sunday, September 11, 2011, Manfred Bienert paid a visit to the wetlands on the west side of the Chiltepe Peninsula, near Mateare (Managua), in search of migrant shorebirds.  Several local fishermen had cast their nets along the shoreline and the disturbance resulted in much smaller numbers of waders than expected, with only a few Whimbrels (Numenius phaeops) and Spotted Sandpipers (Actitis macularius) in evidence. Working his way north around the peninsula, however, Manfred discovered several early migrants and rare residents.  Among the latter, the most interesting find of the day was a juvenile Harris's Hawk (Parabuteo unicinctus) which flew in from the east and perched in the top of a tree where Manfred was able to see its cinnamon-colored shoulders and thighs, yellow legs and cere, and white tail band.  Manfred also clearly observed the birds white rump as it flew away.

Another highlight of Manfred's outing was finding around 50 Black-crowned Night-Herons (Nycticorax nycticorax) roosting in a windbreak at the eastern edge of a flooded pasture. Manfred notes that around a third of the birds were in adult plumage, half were juveniles, and the remainder appeared to be in transition from juvenile to adult plumage.

Other interesting birds recorded at Chiltepe Peninsula included Black-bellied Whistling-Duck (Dendrocygna autumnalis), Osprey (Pandion haliaetus), Pearl Kite (Gampsonyx swainsonii), Yellow-billed Cuckoo (Coccyzus americanus), Lesser Nighthawk (Chordeiles acutipennis), Eastern Wood-pewee (Contopus virens), Gray-breasted Martin (Progne chalybea), Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica), and Baltimore Oriole (Icterus galbula).

Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks with chicks

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Ladder-backed Redux: Mystery Solved!

Following the identification of the two Ladder-backed Woodpeckers seen at Isla Juan Venado on September 3, 2011, Manfred Bienert revisited some old photos of an unidentified woodpecker, which he had taken during a visit to the same area (albeit slightly to the north, entering the Isla Juan Venado estuary from Las Peñitas) on December 8, 2009. Unable to identify the bird at the time, Manfred filed his pictures in a folder called "OVNI Carpintero" (UFO Woodpecker). Manfred was happy to remove the "unidentified" caption from his photos this week, when he realized nearly two years after-the-fact that the bird in question was in fact a Ladder-backed Woodpecker (Picoides scalaris):

With Manfred's 2009 sighting, there now are three records of this species from the Isla Juan Venado reserve, suggesting the presence of a resident population.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Ladder-backed Woodpecker at Isla Juan Venado

A September 3, 2011, boat trip through the mangrove estuary behind the Isla Juan Venado barrier island (located between Las Peñitas and Salinas Grandes on the Pacific coast of León Department), produced more than 40 bird species for Manfred Bienert, Georges Duriaux, Liliana Chavarria, Lili Nigaglioni and Rob Batchelder.  Although the high water level in the tidal estuary and thick vegetation along secondary channels made it impossible to reach the large heron and spoonbill breeding colonies of the Corcovado lagoon, the birders saw hundreds of egrets, herons, and spoonbills along the waterways they traveled. 

Roseate Spoonbill taking flight

The undisputed highlight of the trip was an encounter with two Ladder-backed Woodpeckers (Picoides scalaris), seen actively foraging in a stand of deciduous trees surrounded by mangroves. After the movement of a Streak-headed Woodcreeper (Lepidocolaptes souleyetii) caught the observers' attention, they scanned the nearby trees and located a small, black-and-white woodpecker with a red crown. Initially believed to be a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, the very active bird showed no white wing patches, and a back that was uniformly barred black-and-white in a pattern similar to Hoffmann's Woodpecker (Melanerpes hoffmannii).  After several minutes, a smaller and darker bird of the same species, but lacking the red crown patch, flew in nearer to the birders' location where, although it moved constantly (frustrating Manfred's attempts to get a photograph) the observers could see its all-black tail with barring underneath.  Like the adult male, this juvenile woodpecker lacked the white wing patches of a sapsucker and showed a uniformly barred back.

According to Thomas R. Howell's Check-list of the Birds of Nicaragua as of 1993, Ladder-backed Woodpecker is a rare visitor and permanent resident in Pacific slope mangroves and lowland Caribbean pine savanna. Howell writes that, "James Silliman noted a pair at the edge of mangrove forest on the Pacific coast at Isla Juan Venado, Depto. de León, on 24 November 1982. His notes stated 'seen quite clearly for 5 min...heard one call...facial stripes, ladderback seen well. Unmistakable.' The species occurs locally in the Pacific lowlands of southwestern Honduras, whence these visitors probably came."

In addition to this unexpected rarity, other highlights of the outing included Boat-billed Heron (Cochlearius cochlearius), Bare-throated Tiger-Heron (Tigrisoma mexicanum), Osprey (Pandion haliaetus), Common ("Mangrove") Black-Hawk (Buteogallus anthracinus), Green-breasted Mango (Anthracothorax prevostii), Pale-billed Woodpecker (Campephilus guatemalensis), Rufous-browed Peppershrike (Cyclarhis gujanensis), Bank Swallow (Riparia riparia), and dozens of singing "Mangrove" Yellow Warblers (Dendroica petechia).

Bare-throated Tiger-Heron
"Mangrove" Yellow Warbler

Short stops at Salinas Grandes before and after the excursion produced a number of additional shorebirds, terns, and other birds, bringing the day's total to 76 species!

Manfred in action!