Sunday, December 13, 2015

Corn Island Specialties and Rarities

White-crowned Pigeon
For the Thanksgiving holiday, Managua-based birders Cal and Jessie Stuebner took a three-day trip to Corn Island, one of many places in Nicaragua that is highly under-birded. They were seeking out Smooth-billed Anis, Palm Warblers, and White-crowned Pigeons, all of which are difficult to find anywhere else in Nicaragua.

Smooth-billed Ani
Previous eBird reports from the island noted 31 species, mostly shorebirds. Cal and Jessie were able to bring that number up to 42, including several rarities. There were ducks, gallinules, herons, one Peregrine Falcon and one Palm Warbler, and plenty of shorebirds. Besides the anis and the pigeons (both of which were fairly abundant in Barrio Sally Peachie and Quinn Hill), highlights from the trip included a Gray Kingbird (one of the rarities), a Ring-necked Duck (also a rarity), and several Yellow-billed Cuckoos.

Gray Kingbird
Also exciting was a small group of Brown Boobies seen every day through a scope, hanging out on a large, rusty piece of metal reported to be a sunken pirate ship! They were about half way between Little Corn Island and Big Corn Island.

Sanderling with Ruddy Turnstones
This tiny Caribbean island most assuredly still holds some birding surprises. Local islanders were able to point out a number of other species in the book "A Guide to the Birds of Nicaragua" that they've seen over the years that still have not shown up on any eBird lists, including migrating tanagers, periodic owls and hummingbirds, and even a Red-billed Tropicbird! Hopefully, more birders will go back and get official documentation of some of those species some day. If you're interested in visiting the island - be sure to do some snorkling too! And for birds, the best parts of the island are Sally Peachie, Long Bay, and the North End. Mount Pleasant and Quinn Hill offer some great lookouts and views; they are also highly recommended!

Black-bellied Plovers

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Los Farallones Yield Seldom-Seen Seabirds

Magnificent Frigatebird diving for fish
On September 11, 2015, Managua-based birders Cal and Jessie Stuebner joined Chinandega-based birders Orlando Jarquin and Milton Salazar, and Leon-based birders Gordon and Peggy Tans, for a trip to Reserva Volcan Cosiguina with the ultimate goal of visiting the islands of Los Farallones. We were all very excited to see some pelagics, and energy was high in the van when we arrived at the reserve. As we crossed through some farmlands on our way to the little beach town of Potosi, suddenly there were cries of “What is that?! Stop the car!” At about the same time, several of us spotted a bird of prey on a nearby fence post. It turned out to be a Barn Owl, in the clear light of early evening – great for taking photos! Just a minute or so down the road, we were yelling to stop the car again, this time for what turned out to be a pair of White-tailed Kites hunting above a field. There were also some Double-striped Thick-knees and a variety of other smaller birds getting their last meal before going to roost for the night. We hadn't even been at the Cosiguina reserve for more than 20 minutes yet, and already the trip felt like a success!

Barn Owl
After spending the night in Potosi, we headed out early to meet our boat pilot and guide. On the beach were the usual egrets, herons, and vultures. In the distance, you could see the mountainous shores of both Honduras and El Salvador. The boat ride was definitely wet and a bit rough. We were all trying to keep cameras and binoculars dry as we bounced along away from the shore. Not too far out, we began to see Black Terns and Black Storm-Petrels scattered all around us. The petrels had been reported in the area several times the last month and a half, mostly by birders from the Honduran shore; but they were new to all of us on board – very exciting!

When we arrived at the little islands, we were only allowed to stay for 20 minutes due to a new, nearby naval post. They're not very welcoming of visitors, and we didn't want to get a fine or cause trouble for our guide. Still, it was plenty of time to take some great pictures of Blue-footed Boobies, Brown BoobiesMagnificent Frigatebirds, and Brown Pelicans. There were also a few Bridled Terns.
Blue-footed Boobies
On the way back to Potosi, we passed closer to the sandy shores around Punta San Jose. There were a variety of terns and other shore birds to be seen, including Willets and Whimbrels, and Sandwich Terns and Royal Terns, and much more. The highlight of that part of the trip was a Common Black-Hawk on the edge of the shore eating from a fresh kill.

Brown Booby
Finally, as we were heading back home, we stopped again on the road through the farms of Cosiguina, where we had seen the Barn Owl the day before. It was earlier in the day this time, and there were much more birds active. The pair of White-tailed kites was replaced this time by a pair of Pearl Kites; and a group of hundreds of Red-Winged Blackbirds definitely caught our attention! As we watched a Roadside Hawk rest in a nearby tree, we could hear several species of trogons and woodpeckers hiding in the woods nearby. All in all, by the time the trip was over, we had seen 55 different species, including some that you couldn't easily find anywhere else in the country. Then, just for fun, we stopped at Reserva Hato Nuevo for lunch on the way home - but that was a separate adventure!

--Submitted by Jessie Mentzer Stuebner

Hummingbird Heaven

Los Angeles, California-based birders Janelle and Howard Freshman submitted the following report from a recent visit to Nicaragua:

"My husband Howard and I visited El Jaguar Reserve on Aug 3rd and 4th 2015 and had a great time. Georges was a wonderful host and Moises helped us find many birds. The hummingbirds were the highlight of the trip. We saw a female Black-crested Coquette and what George believed was a young male. We saw a female or young male Plain-capped Starthroat close to the lodge. In total we saw 7 species of hummingbirds (Black-crested Coquette, Plain-capped Starthroat, Green-breasted Mountain-Gem, Violet Sabrewing, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Sparkling-tailed Hummingbird, and Long-billed Hermit). We also heard two male Three-wattled Bellbirds singing but unfortunately could not see them (although Moises tried his best!).
Green-breasted Mountain-Gem
"Thank you to George for loaning Howard his lens- Howard's lens was not working. George saved the day! We thoroughly enjoyed our visit and hope to return to El Jaguar soon!"

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Lifers Galore at El Jaguar!

Florida-based birder Bill Boeringer submits the following report from a recent visit to Nicaragua:

Sparkling-tailed Hummingbird
On June 30-July 2, 2015, I birded El Jaguar with Moisés Siles. Although I’ve been to Nicaragua on family trips several times (my wife is Nicaraguan), it was my first opportunity to bird the Central Highlands. The weather was beautiful the first day, but deteriorated the next two. Nonetheless, I ended up with a very good list, including 38 life birds! Highlights were the hummingbirds: 12 species, including both male & female Sparkling-tailed Hummingbird (Tilmatura dupontii), Black-crested Coquette (Lophornis helenae), plus area specialties Emerald-chinned Hummingbird (Abeillia abeillei) and Green-breasted Mountain-Gem (Lampornis sybillae). We had great, open looks at both Highland Guan (Penelopina nigra) and Gray-necked Wood-Rail (Aramides cajaneus), and surprisingly good looks at Black-faced Antthrush (Formicarius analis) and Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrush (Catharus aurantiirostris). We heard close Black-headed Nightingale-Thrush (Catharus mexicanus), but they would never get into the open for looks. We also had good looks at Collared Trogon (Trogon collaris) and Blue-crowned Chlorophonia (Chlorophonia occipitalis), and a decent look at White-breasted Wood-Wren (Henicorhina leucosticte).

Blue-tailed Hummingbird
Both oropendola species were nesting next to the common area, and we saw them at every meal, along with Giant Cowbird (Molothrus oryzivorus). Tanagers were well-represented, with Crimson-collared (Ramphocelus sanguinolentus), Passerini’s (Ramphocelus passerinii), Blue-gray (Thraupis episcopus), Yellow-winged (Thraupis abbas), Golden-hooded (Tangara larvata), Rufous-winged (Tangara lavinia), and Common Chlorospingus (aka Common Bush-Tanager, Chlorospingus flavopectus) seen.

My “goal” bird was Keel-billed Toucan (Ramphastos sulfuratus), and we saw about a dozen over the last two days, along with Emerald Toucanets (Aulacorhynchus prasinus) and Collared Aracari (Pteroglossus torquatus), the latter two seen in and out of nest holes.

Moises heard but did not see one bird which I did see, a Slate-colored Solitaire (Myadestes unicolor). However, he got a quick glimpse of a Scaled Antpitta (Grallaria guatimalensis) which disappeared (and could not be coaxed out) before I could get on it!

For some reason, flycatchers were scarce, except for Dusky-capped (Myiarchus tuberculifer). Aside from that, we had only a couple of Social Flycatchers (Myiozetetes similis), and single Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher (Myiodynastes luteiventris) and Masked Tityra (Tityra semifasciata).

I recommend El Jaguar to anyone traveling to Nicaragua--just bring mosquito repellant for the forest! Moises was an excellent guide, and Georges and Lili could not have been any nicer.

Green-breasted Mountain-gem

Thursday, June 4, 2015

"Off-season" Visit to Selva Negra Yields Interesting Species

Managua birder Howard Youth visited Selva Negra May 20 and 21, followed by Managua birders Cal and Jessie Stuebner on May 30. Having seen a recent eBird report of Chestnut-headed Oropendola (Psarocolius wagleri) at Selva Negra, Youth was on the lookout for this bird. It turns out, the oropendola was hard to miss. Six long pendulous nests hung from a tree next to the lakeside pagoda. The birds called their low "bo-a-co" calls and flew back and forth between forest and nests, often transiting over the lake. One of the guides said he believed this the first time Chestnut-headed Oropendolas nested at this site. He thought the prolonged warm, dry spell enticed them there.

Chestnut-headed Oropendola

A tree next to the oropendola colony and by the "Karen" cabin must have been fruiting, or held fruiting epiphytes such as mistletoe. Youth saw 20 species in the two trees alone, including Emerald Toucanet (Aulacorhynchus prasinus), Rufous-winged Tanager (Tangara lavinia), and, on both days, Yellow-crowned Euphonia (Euphonia luteicapilla), a lowland bird that is scarce in the central highlands. More typical of higher elevations in the north, a male Elegant Euphonia (Euphonia elegantissima) sang in trees near the restaurant. The Stuebners heard, then saw, a Black-and-white Owl (Ciccaba nigrolineata). An abundance of flowers meant regular hummingbird sightings, with Green-breasted Mountain-gem (Lampornis sybillae), a species found only in Honduras and north-central Nicaragua, among the more common species seen.

Green-breasted Mountain-gem

--submitted by Howard Youth

Friday, May 1, 2015

Nicaragua "Global Big Day" / "Gran Dia Global"

                                                                                        
NicaBirders Sally Gladstone and Liliana Chavarria-Duriaux, under the auspices of ALAS (Alianza para Las Areas Silvestres), are coordinating Nicaragua-wide activities for the first annual eBird "Global Big Day" on May 9.  In addition to raising money for bird conservation initiatives, the eBird Global Big Day is an opportunity for birders all around the world to help generate wider interest in birds, nature, and conservation, while contributing to "citizen science" by sharing their observations in eBird.  If you plan to participate in Nicaragua, please email Sally Gladstone at smgladstone@hotmail.com to join the ALAS-coordinated effort.

ALAS esta coordinando el esfuerzo en Nicaragua para contribuir, junto con todos los paises del mundo al “Gran Dia Global” de observacion de aves liderado por el Laboratorio de Ornitologia de la Universidad de Cornell (EEUU). El evento se realizara el dia 9 de mayo.

El proposito del “Gran Dia”, ademas de recaudar fondos para la conservacion de las aves, es de mostrar al público las oportunidades de ver aves en cada pais mediante el envio de los datos de observacion a e-Bird.

El concepto es sencillo, como observador/a experimentado/a de aves, usted escoja su lugar favorito para observar, nos comunica sobre el sitio y quienes irían. Al finalizar su jornada de observacion de aves como se acostumbra hacer, mande sus datos a e-Bird. Nosotros nos encargamos de juntar la informacion sobre participacion y cobertura del pais y sus diferentes ecosistemas, y mandaremos a los medios sociales de e-Bird un resumen.

Esperamos que puedan participar para mostrar al mundo las maravillas de aves en Nicaragua! Favor de escribir a Sally Gladstone (smgladstone@hotmail.com) si piensa participar.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

New Field Guide Now On Sale in U.S.

A Guide to the Birds of Nicaragua - Una Guia de Aves is now available for purchase in the United States and Canada from Buteo Books | ABA Sales.  Click here to order your copy today!


Sunday, April 5, 2015

White Hawk & Other Goodies Along RSJ

Janelle Freshman submits the following report and photos from a recent trip to southeastern Nicaragua, which included a close encounter with a soaring White Hawk (Pseudastur albicollis) near the town of Buena Vista:

White Hawk

My husband Howard and I were in the Sabalos area of Rio San Juan Feb 15-25, 2015. We saw a male Cerulean Warbler (Setophaga cerulea) at Sabalos Lodge. That was the highlight of the trip!

Cerulean Warbler

We also saw a Rufous-tailed Hummingbird (Amazilia tzacatl) feeding her fledgling outside a house in the town of Sabalos.

Rufous-tailed Hummingbirds

Other birds seen on the grounds of Sabalos Lodge: Wood Thrush (Hylocichla mustelina), Bay Wren (Cantorchilus nigricapillus), Summer Tanager (Piranga rubra), Chestnut-sided Warbler (Setophaga pensylvanica), White-collared Manakin (Manacus candei), Lineated Woodpecker (Dryocopus lineatus), Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularius), Buff-throated Saltator (Saltator maximus), Black-striped Sparrow (Arremonops conirostris), Cinnamon Becard (Pachyramphus cinnamomeus), and Golden-hooded Tanager (Tangara larvata).

Cinnamon Becard

Lineated Woodpecker

Bay Wren














Golden-hooded Tanager

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Happy Days at Cerro Alegre

Birders continue to tick interesting species at the Cerro Cumalco-Cerro Alegre Natural Reserve. This little-visited park, just outside the town of San Jose de los Remates, sits at a crossroad between Nicaragua's dry forest Pacific west and its cloud-forest-dotted Central Highlands. This special location means you can find a rich assortment of birds. On a February 21, 2015, visit, Managua birders Cal and Jessie Stuebner logged Fan-tailed Warbler (Basileuterus lachrymosus) attending an ant swarm with other species. They also saw Golden-Winged (Vermivora chrysoptera) and Kentucky Warblers (Geothlypis formosa). On a March 7, 2015, visit, the couple and Managua birder Howard Youth saw a Prothonotary Warbler (Protonotaria citrea), Philadelphia Vireo (Vireo philadelphicus), Indigo Bunting (Passerina cyanea), and other migrants.

Philadelphia Vireo

Prothonotary Warbler

Raptors also frequent the reserve. On the February 21 visit, Jessie Stuebner photographed a soaring Black Hawk-Eagle (Spizaetus tyrannus). Likely the same bird was seen again March 7. Other raptors seen that day: Sharp-shinned (Accipiter striatus), Broad-winged (Buteo platypterus), and Short-tailed Hawks (B. brachyurus) and Swallow-tailed Kites (Elanoides forficatus). White-collared Swifts (Streptoprocne zonaris) and Keel-billed Toucans (Ramphastos sulfuratus) were very much in evidence during both visits, and Violet Sabrewing (Campylopterus hemileucurus) was noted along a forest stream on March 7.

Black Hawk-Eagle

Cerro Cumalco-Cerro Alegre Natural Reserve can be reached via the town of San Jose de los Remates, where a local guide can be hired to show birders the reserve.  (For guide contact information you can email Jessie Stuebner at libertyjm@yahoo.com.)

San Jose de los Remates is located one hour north of the turnoff at Teustepe from the main highway linking Boaco and Managua.

--submitted by Howard Youth

Cave Swallows and Southern Lapwings a Sweet Valentine's Day Surprise at Tisma

Managua birders Cal and Jessie Stuebner and Howard Youth visited Laguna de Tisma on February 14, 2015. While working the wetland's shoreline, they found a small, mixed swallow flock and identified two Cave Swallows (Petrochelidon fulva). Jessie Stuebner photographed the individuals alongside Barn (Hirundo rustica) and Mangrove Swallows (Tachycineta albilinea).


This is one of only a few Nicaraguan records, although this species should be watched for and will likely turn up again.

Also at the wetland that day was a pair of Southern Lapwings (Vanellus chilensis), a species apparently on the march northward. Stuebner captured this pair in perfect light, highlighting the many colors worn by this species.


--submitted by Howard Youth

Record-Breaking Sierras de Managua Christmas Count

Sally Gladstone reports that this year's Sierras de Managua Christmas Bird Count (CBC), conducted on January 2, 2015, broke previous records for both participation and the total number of species tallied during the 24-hour census.  31 experienced birders took part in the 9th annual Sierras CBC, which included several new sites within the count circle that had not previously been covered.  By day's end, the count teams had tallied an impressive total of 139 species, breaking the prior record (set just last year) of 116 species.

Concepcion de Maria count team members Jessie & Cal Stuebner, Howard Youth and Luis Diaz
Some of the biggest surprises from this year's count included Red-legged Honeycreeper (Cyanerpes cyaneus) and White-lored Gnatcatcher (Polioptila albiloris) found at middle elevations at Concepción de María and La Mariposa, and Golden-Olive Woodpecker (Piculus rubiginosus) at Las Delicias at more than 800 meters above sea level. Several migratory species of special conservation concern were also observed, including Wilson’s Warbler (Cardellina pusilla), Common Nighthawk (Chordeiles minor), Olive-sided Flycatcher (Contopus cooperi), Golden-winged Warbler (Vermivora chrysoptera) and Wood Thrush (Hylocichla mustelina).

This region once again proved itself to be an important refuge for overwintering warblers, tanagers and flycatchers, as evidenced by the more than 100 Tennessee Warblers (Oreothlypis peregrina) found at Gaia Estate and the five female Golden-winged Warblers (Vermivora chrysoptera) seen at Concepción de María and La Mariposa.
 
Broad-winged Hawk at Concepción de María
Other highlights from this year's CBC were Yellowish Flycatcher (Empidonax flavescens) at El Nisperal, Ivory-billed Woodcreeper (Xiphorhynchus flavigaster) at El Pozo, Elegant Trogon (Trogon elegans) at Montibelli, and Crimson-fronted Parakeet (Psittacara finschi).
 
The parrot family was well-represented with more than 112 individuals of six different species, including an impressive 24 White-crowned Parrots (Pionus senilis) at Utila.
 
Northern Potoo at Montibelli
Sally thanks all of this year's participants and notes that all of these unusual sightings emphasize the importance of preserving intact forested areas from the growing threats of urbanization and incompatible agricultural practices that dominate in the region.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

ALAS Book Launch, March 11: A Guide to the Birds of Nicaragua

ALAS, the "Alianza para las Areas Silvestres," will officially launch its long-anticipated A Guide to the Birds of Nicaragua on Wednesday, March 11, 2015, at 3:00 p.m. at the Seminole Hotel in Managua.  The event is open to the public and all birders, naturalists, and others with an interest in Nicaragua's natural heritage are welcome to attend!

A Guide to the Birds of Nicaragua is the first comprehensive, illustrated field guide to Nicaragua's 750+ bird species.  It is the product of years of work by some of Nicaragua's foremost naturalists and artists.  Its beautiful and detailed illustrations lend themselves to accurate field identification, while the accompanying texts (in both English and Spanish) reflect the latest data on Nicaraguan bird status and distribution, painstakingly compiled by the authors over many years.

Don't miss your chance to be there at the launch and be among the first to own a copy of this long-awaited treasure!

Note on purchasing the new field guide: While A Guide to the Birds of Nicaragua is not yet available on Amazon.com as of 9 March 2015, it is already available from Amazon's UK (amazon.uk) and Germany (amazon.de) sites. Interested buyers in North America can order through these websites (though international shipping charges may apply), or pre-order the book from U.S.-based Buteo Books which expects to have it in stock by 20 March 2015.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Zen Birding at Chocoyero-El Brujo Reserve

On January 13, Managua-based birder Howard Youth visited Chocoyero-El Brujo Reserve for the first time. The reserve protects an intact dry forest less than 30 kilometers from Managua. Thanks to a well-marked trail system, a visit here allows you to guide yourself through the forest without fear of getting lost.

The reserve is best known for its nesting Pacific Parakeets but for birders, there is far more to see. Hiking within the forest rather than along its edges challenges you to bird like a ninja--listening for rustles and chips, anticipating motion and tracking shadows with your binoculars until you see your birds. Youth hiked along the Congo Trail and back on the main trail from about 8:15 a.m. to noon. Bird activity was constant the entire time. This might have been thanks to the weather, with patchy overcast and cool breezes that prolonged foraging of mixed bands of birds in the interior.

On his visit, Youth saw many wintering songbirds, including two Worm-eating Warblers, several Black-and-white Warblers, three Kentucky Warblers, a few Ovenbirds, an American Redstart, a few Yellow-bellied Flycatchers, and a Swainson's Thrush. Ant activity seemed to draw a gang of mostly resident birds to the same patch of forest floor--Red-throated Ant-Tanager, Gray-headed Tanagers, an Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrush, a Barred Antshrike, and a large Blue-crowned Motmot were briefly joined by a Wood Thrush. Dusky Antbird, Streak-headed Woodcreeper, Greenish Elaenia, and Yellow-billed Cacique were among the forest interior birds seen in other areas.

Chocoyero is a well-known birding site, but for the first-time visitor, arriving there can be a challenge. In rainy season you'll likely need four wheel drive. In dry months, high clearance vehicles will have a much easier time, though they're not usually necessary, as evidenced by the caponeras that ply the road.

Don't be afraid to ask for directions once you turn off the highway. This will get you started: First, head south on Carretera Masaya. Turn right at the Ticuantepe traffic circle (a tree of life is there) and continue to the first traffic light (in Ticuantepe), where you turn right onto the Ticuantepe-La Concha highway. Watch for km markers. The turnoff to the reserve is on the right at 21.5 KM and is marked with a reserve sign. As you turn right off the highway, you will need to take a sharp U or hairpin turn that takes you down a hill.

Once off the highway, you have about seven more unpaved KM to reach the reserve parking lot. The track starts with pavers then quickly surrenders to dirt. There are a number of reserve signs pointing the way and a number of cross roads where there's simply no signs at all. When you find no signs, try to keep to the widest track. At one point there's an unmarked T junction where you need to turn left. After pineapple, banana, and pitaya groves, you enter coffee plantations for the last KM or so. You are getting close when you see a huge boulder on the left side amid the coffee. The reserve parking lot is at the end of the road.

Without detours, you can reach Chocoyero-El Brujo Reserve in a bit under an hour from Altos de Santo Domingo. Proceed to the headquarters building next to the parking area. For residents, admission is 40 cords. For another fee, you can hire a guide as well.

--Submitted by Howard Youth
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