Sunday, February 3, 2013

New Species for Nicaragua: Lesser Black-backed Gull

On January 19, 2013, Manfred Bienert, Liliana Chavarría, Jessica Mentzer Stuebner, and Georges Duriaux visited Las Peñitas (León) and the Isla Juan Venado estuary searching for the Rufous-necked Wood-Rail (Aramides axilliaris) reported by Manfred in mid-December. The group succeeded in locating two individuals in approximately the same spot as Manfred's earlier sighting. The pair first vocalized in response to a sound recording, then appeared in the open where they were seen well by all four observers.

Other noteworthy birds seen in the Isla Juan Venado mangroves included Ladder-backed Woodpecker (Picoides scalaris), Glossy Ibis (Plegadis falcinellus), and all three resident nocturnal herons: Black-crowned Night-Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax), Yellow-crowned Night-Heron (Nyctanassa violacea), and Boat-billed Heron (Cochlearius cochlearius). The group also observed four kingfisher species, with the migratory Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon) being the most abundant.

Glossy Ibis

At the mouth of the estuary, the birders located a group of at least 500 gulls, terns and skimmers roosting on a sandbar. Two gulls considerably larger than the abundant (and common resident) Laughing Gull (Leucophaeus atricilla) caught the observers' eyes. With the help of Oliver and Nick Komar, Manfred and Liliana were able to identify one of the birds as Lesser Black-backed Gull (Larus fuscus), a new species for Nicaragua and possibly one of the first reports of this species along Central America's Pacific coast.

Lesser Black-backed Gull

Lesser Black-backed Gull (l) with unidentified large gull (r)

Although the second large gull remained unidentified following this visit, Manfred returned to Las Peñitas on January 20 and 25, and was able to get a number of photos of both the Lesser Black-backed and another large gull, which, based on his photos, is a different bird than the mystery gull seen on January 19. Again turning to Oliver and Nick Komar for expert advice, Manfred was able to identify the second gull photographed on January 25 as a Herring Gull (Larus argentatus), a rare visitor to Nicaragua's sea coasts.

Herring Gull

2012 CBC Results

In spite of fewer participants than in past years, and uncooperative count day weather in Jinotega, both the Sierra de Managua and El Jaguar Christmas Bird Counts (CBC) produced impressive totals and a number of new species for both count circles.

The December 28, 2012, Sierra de Managua count tallied a total of 111 species, including six species not previously recorded in past counts.  This year's CBC surveyed three sites, including for the first time the organic coffee farm, Bosques de Gaia, on the outskirts of Diriamba, which produced perhaps the most interesting new species for this year's count, Cape May Warbler (Setophaga tigrina).  Other highlights included Roadside Hawk (Rupornis magnirostris), Mangrove Cuckoo (Coccyzus minor), White-fronted Parrot (Pionus senilis), Dusky Antbird (Cercomacra tyrannina), Long-billed Gnatwren (Ramphocaenus melanurus), Bank Swallow (Riparia riparia), Alder/Willow (aka "Traill's") Flycatcher (Empidonax alnorum/traillii), and Yellow-billed Cacique (Amblycercus holosericeus).

Sierra de Managua CBC participants at Montibelli

Participants in the December 30, 2012, El Jaguar CBC in Jinotega awoke to pouring rain and strong winds that put a damper on bird activity at key sites like the pine-oak forest above San Rafael del Norte.  The day's lousy weather and slow start nothwithstanding, the El Jaguar count ended with an impressive total of 170 species, including 15 new species not registered in the three previous years' counts.  Among the new species was Yellow-rumped Warbler (Setophaga coronata), which, also seen the day before the count at Lago Apanas, became Rob Batchelder's 500th Nicaragua species!

El Jaguar counters at Lago Apanas