Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Jabiru at San Miguelito Wetlands

On the morning of February 16, 2013, Manfred Bienert visited the San Miguelito wetlands, a Ramsar Site on the southeast banks of Lago Cocibolca (Lake Nicaragua). The wetlands are formed by the rivers Las Piedras and Camastros, which empty into Lake Nicaragua approximately 17 kilometers north of the departmental capital of San Carlos (Rio San Juan), and include a marshy area called Llano Grande comprising around 12 km2.

Of the 77 bird species Manfred observed on his visit to San Miguelito, the most surprising discovery was a lone Jabiru (Jabiru mycteria). According to the boatman who took Manfred into the wetlands, this enormous stork is present every year during the dry season, but always in small numbers.

Other noteworthy sightings included seven duck species, with Black-bellied Whistling-Duck (Dendrocygna autumnalis) being the most abundant. Muscovy Duck (Cairina moschata) and Northern Pintail (Anas acuta) were also interesting finds.

Ten species of raptors (birds of prey) were also recorded, including Harris's Hawk (Parabuteo unicinctus), Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture (Cathartes burrovianus), nearly a dozen Osprey (Pandion haliaetus), and a Bat Falcon (Falco rufigularis) dining on a recently-captured Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica).

Bat Falcon eating Barn Swallow

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

NicaBirds Celebrates 40,000 Visitors!

On April 10, 2013, the NicaBirds website received its 40,000th visitor! In honor of this occasion, some additional statistics may be of interest to our regular patrons:
  • Average Monthly Visits:  1,379
  • Highest Monthly Visit Total:  2,528 (September 2012)
  • Number of Posts:  116
  • Most Popular Post:  Snowy Cotinga at Refugio Bartola (3,722 hits)
  • Number of Bird Species Mentioned:  >430
  • Number of Birding Sites Mentioned:  58
  • Top 5 Visitor Countries:  USA, Nicaragua, Russia, China, UK
Thank you for your visit, and for helping to make NicaBirds the most popular online source of information on birds and birding in Nicaragua!

NicaBirders (left to right) Georges Duriaux, Rob Batchelder, Lili Chavarria,
Manfred Bienert, Jack Hruska, Sally Gladstone and Jessica Schugel

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Pacific Golden-Plover at Laguna de Tisma

Pacific Golden-Plover
Unbeknownst to the observer at the time, this bird was actually recorded a year ago. On April 2, 2012, Manfred Bienert located and photographed at Laguna de Tisma (Masaya) a group of seven Golden-Plovers (Pluvialis spp.), including one already in breeding plumage and another that had recently begun to molt. Assuming all of the birds were American Golden-Plover (Pluvialis dominica), a rare passage migrant along Nicaragua's Pacific slope, Manfred submitted his sighting and photos to the ABA's journal North American Birds. After Manfred's photos were published, several alert NAB readers noticed that the bird in breeding plumage was not an American, but rather a Pacific Golden-Plover (Pluvialis fulva). After further study of the published photo and several others, Manfred determined that two of the seven birds were P. fulva.

American Golden-Plover
At the time of his original observation, Manfred didn't consider the possibility of Pacific Golden-Plover occurring in Nicaragua since, according to eBird, the southernmost records of this species in the Americas were from Mexico. Instead, Manfred assumed the bird in question was a member of P. dominica that hadn't yet finished transitioning into full breeding plumage. Without knowing it at the time, Manfred had "killed two birds with one stone" by recording both a rare passage migrant and a species entirely new to Nicaragua's bird checklist. Further research will likely also reveal this to be one of the first records of P. fulva for Central America.

Kelp Gull (Larus dominicanus), a new species for Nicaragua

On March 2, 2013, Manfred Bienert paid a visit to the El Guayabo wetlands near Granada. On the mudflats formed by the low level of Lago Cocibolca (Lake Nicaragua), Manfred found a large number of shorebirds, gulls and terns. Among them were four large gulls which Manfred identified as Herring Gull (Larus argentatus). While three of the birds in question clearly belong to this species, lingering doubts about the identification of the fourth bird led Manfred to consult with gull expert Nick Komar. After careful study of Manfred's photos and description, Nick concluded that the fourth bird was a Kelp Gull (Larus dominicanus), with the following observations:

"This gull is not a Herring Gull. Upperparts too dark. Rump too white. Tail is banded. Shape too barrel-chested. Inner primaries too dark, lacking the typical pale windows of 1st-cycle Herring Gull. So then, what is it? Bill is not large enough for typical Kelp, Great Black-backed, Western or Yellow-footed. Head is not white enough for Yellow-footed. Tail band is too narrow for Western, Yellow-footed, and Slaty-backed. Outer primaries are too dark for Slaty-backed. Size is too large for Lesser Black-backed Gull (also too barrel-chested). The heavy tail molt doesn’t make sense for a northern hemisphere gull, so it suggests Kelp Gull. The smallish head and bill could indicate a female. All the other marks are consistent with Kelp Gull."

Kelp Gull is a southern hemisphere species that only rarely wanders north of eight degrees north latitude in the Americas. Most recent vagrant records are concentrated in the Chesapeake Bay and around the Gulf of Mexico. This is, however, the first known record of this species for Nicaragua.

American White Pelican Invasion

American White Pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) is considered an irregular winter visitor to Nicaragua from North America, with very few reports of this species in the past decade. During the winter of 2012-2013, however, this charismatic giant was observed on several occasions, at times in huge numbers.

On November 17, 2012, Manfred Bienert saw a single white pelican at Salinas Grandes in León. On the Cosigüina Peninsula (Chinandega) in extreme northwest Nicaragua, a group of local birders found small groups of pelicans, numbering between 14 and 24 birds, in late March 2013. According to Orlando Jarquín, who regularly visits the peninsula, groups of hundreds of American White Pelicans had arrived in the area in the preceding weeks.

The majority of recent observations of this species come from Lago Cocibolca (Lake Nicaragua) and adjacent wetlands. On February 16, 2013, David Hille and Francisco ("Chico") Muñoz counted 40 individuals near Puerto Diaz and the following day a visiting group from Audubon Panama encountered a large group in the El Guayabo wetlands. Two weeks later, on March 2, Manfred Bienert, Liliana Chavarría and Georges Duriaux discovered an enormous flock of pelicans in the same location. Based on the photos he took, Manfred determined there were around 1,700 individuals, making this perhaps one of the largest concentrations of wintering American White Pelican in Central America.

At dusk on March 8, 2013, a group of 600 individuals landed at Laguna de Tisma (Masaya), around eight kilometers (five miles) from the El Guayabo wetlands, where, three days later Liliana Chavarría and Georges Duriaux observed a group of similar size. Finally, on April 7, Manfred Bienert observed at least 1,500 white pelicans on Lake Nicaragua near the finca San Ignacio.