Monday, November 16, 2009

A backyard bird feeder in Panama

On the road to Gamboa

Plain-colored Tanager

Blue-gray Tanager

This backyard feeder in Gamboa attracted dozens of Orange-chinned Parakeets and Blue-gray Tanagers. We also saw Red-legged Honeycreeper, Green Honeycreeper, Palm Tanager, Plain-colored Tanager, Flame-rumped Tanager, Blue Dacnis, Tropical Mockingbird, Ruddy Ground-Dove, Blue-crowned Motmot (and several Agoutis).

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

more Panama

People often ask if we see snakes while birding in the tropics. Here is an image of the only snake we found on this trip, a tiny centipede snake (Tantilla sp.) found at Cerro Azul by Karen Cedar. It wasn't much different in size from the only snake we saw in Ecuador last February. Centipede (blackhead) snakes are mostly nocturnal and feed mostly on invertebrates.

Here is a clip of Swainson's Hawks with a few Broad-winged Hawks starting to lift up over the hills on the morning we were up Cerro Azul. The observation deck was a great place to watch hawks and vultures streaming by at eye level.

Individual Broad-winged Hawks were seen on most of our walks.

The most abundant insect encountered in Panama was the leafcutter ant. The ants bring freshly cut plant material back to their underground chambers were they cultivate a particular fungus that provides the ants with food. An ant colony can contain up to several million ants!

Just to show everyone that it does rain in the rainforest. November is the wettest month of the year and yet we were rain free for the morning hours each day with only occasional rain in the afternoons.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Birding in Panama

I spent October 27 to November 4 in Panama with a group organized by Tom Hince. Visit Tom's blog for other images from this trip. Here is the view of capital, Panama City, from Cerro Azul. If you look very closely you can see a flock of migrant raptors over the city. We saw tens of thousands of Turkey Vultures, Broad-winged Hawks and Swainson's Hawks migrating through the canal zone during our visit.


Broad-billed Motmot photographed at the Rainforest Discovery Center on Pipeline Road.

Most sloths seen on the trip were curled up asleep but this Brown-throated Three-toed Sloth was having a mid-day snack of cecropia leaves.

While birding took precedence we also took advantage of any possibility to see other wildlife such as these Mantled Howler Monkeys. One place we stayed had Geoffrey's Tamarins that visited the bird feeders every day.

This lizard was seen from the top deck of the Canopy Tower. It is called a False Chameleon or Canopy Lizard, Polychrus gutturosus. This arboreal lizard was basking on the highest branches of a tall tree near the tower.

Panama seemed to be a great location to see trogons as we generally saw several every day . This is a White-tailed Trogon, one of the less frequently seen species on the trip.

On our last full day of the trip along Pipeline Road we came across a large group of Amy Ants and their attendant bird flock. Bicolored Antbirds (image above) were most numerous but we also saw Spotted Antbirds, Ocellated Antbirds, Black-throated Antthrushes, Gray-headed Tanagers, several woodcreepers and a White-whiskered Puffbird. A very impressive mix of birds.

Long-tailed Hermit at Rainforest Discovery Center

Friday, October 23, 2009


Jupiter's Great Red Spot has eluded me in the past so I made a special effort to look for it on October 18. A day on Jupiter is slightly less than 10 Earth hours and the spot is in a good position for viewing for only 100 minutes. Sky and Telescope ( publishes the times when the Great Red Spot will be visible. I was fortunate to have a clear sky during the transit and I was able to see the spot clearly in both telescopes at the observatory. I was also lucky to capture an image with the A111 telescope that showed the GRS in the lower left of the above image. The spot's colour has faded in recent decades but it was still impressive.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Rare birds

Back on August 30th I was lucky and got to see and photograph the Black-throated Sparrow at Port Burwell. This was a new species for my Canada list and a bird I had hoped to see for a long time. On Monday a Black-tailed Gull was discovered at Port Burwell but I was not fortunate to see it. Such is the way of birding.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Dumbbell Nebula

With nightfall arriving earlier at this time of year it is possible to spend some time observing the night sky and still get to bed at a reasonable time. As a bonus the weather is typically mild and the sky often clear.

This image of the Dumbbell Nebula was taken at the Hallam Observatory using my Canon 5D Mark II and the 14 inch telescope on September 12. I used an autoguider for the first time which enabled me to use 8 minute exposures for the nebula.

The Dumbbell is a "planetary nebula", a shell of gas and plasma formed by a dying star. It is high overhead at this time of year and can be seen with binoculars. It is near the tip of Sagitta, the arrow.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Manitoulin Island

We have just returned from vacation which included a bit of camping on Manitoulin Island. I include a photo of Sandhill Cranes as these birds seemed to be present in hay fields throughout the island. It was hard not to be within sight or sound of cranes while traveling on the island.

On August 24 we camped in the dark sky site at Gordon's Park and had the good fortune to have the entire site to ourselves. As the sky darkened we heard Sandhill Cranes calling in the distance, followed by the appearance of several Common Nighthawks. A displaying American Woodcock was unexpected so late in the summer as well as a singing Whip-poor-will. Late into the night we heard Barred Owls and a variety chip notes from migrating song birds.

It was a beautiful dark sky once the moon set. The image below shows our tent against the northern portion of the Milky Way. If you look closely you can see the bright smudge of the Andromeda Galaxy and the "W" of Cassiopeia.

Looking south towards the centre of the Milky Way was just incredible. From my urban backyard in Windsor I can't even see a hint of the Milky Way due to the huge amount of light pollution from Windsor and Detroit. The bright object in the left edge of the image is Jupiter.

The above images were taken with a 20 mm lens on a Canon 5D MII (two minute exposures at ISO 1600 with the camera on an AstroTrac tracking mount).

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Eastern Foxsnakes

Ring-billed Gull over the Detroit River

I was out boating on the Detroit River with friends on June 18 and we were lucky to see some courtship behaviour of Eastern Foxsnakes. These two large adults were at the shoreline and apparently undisturbed by the passage of the boat. The male had a firm grip on the head of the female during our observation.

These snakes can take large prey items. Last year we watched a foxsnake consume an entire clutch of Mallard eggs. This is quite a mouthful as Mallard eggs average about 42 mm in diameter! These snakes likely also prey on Ring-billed Gull nests as their eggs are about the same diameter.

Eastern Foxsnake eating duck eggs, Ojibway Park, June 2008

Friday, June 19, 2009

Cypress Hills

Conglomerate Cliffs in the Cypress Hills of Saskatchewan

Tufted Milk Vetch. Astragalus spatulatus, was one of many small ground hugging wildflowers seen clinging to wind swept ridge tops.

I was surprised to see Pasque Flower, Anemone patens, still in bloom (but there was snow just a few feet away from these flowers). Other spring wildflowers such as Mountain Shooting Star were abundant in the Cypress Hills.

Mountain Bluebirds were commonly seen in the Cypress Hills.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Saskatchewan & Alberta

A trip to Saskatchewan and Alberta May 25 to June 5 with Tom Hince was a nice break from the strike back in Windsor. Originally we planned to spend most of our time in Saskatchewan but the drought conditions this spring encouraged us to move west into Alberta for most of the trip.

Although this was a birding trip it was hard to ignore all the other wildlife such as Elk, White-tailed Deer, Mule Deer and Pronghorns. This very young Pronghorn was found on May 29 and the little Porcupine was waddling down the Luck Lake dyke at dusk on May 28.

This adult California Gull was easy to approach at the edge of a mall parking lot in Cold Lake Alberta.

American White Pelicans were common on most larger lakes and rivers. They are impressive with their 9-foot wing spans and huge bills. Both male and female birds have a distinctive protruding knob on the upper bill during the breeding season. This one was coming in for a landing at Pakowki Lake at dusk.

Our "Big Day" on June 2 ended with a beautiful sunset at Pakowki Lake, some 1100 km after our midnight start in northeastern Alberta at Cold Lake. The last birds of the day were Burrowing Owl, White-faced Ibis and Black-crowned Night-Heron which gave us 207 species for the day.

Sparrows are ever present along back roads through the prairies. While we may hope for a Grasshopper or Baird's Sparrow to be sitting by the roadside it is usually something more common such as this Vesper Sparrow.

I spent some time down near Wildhorse looking for Mountain Plovers. While none were found we did spot a badger den. I was lucky to have this badger pause long enough for a photo before it slid down its burrow.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Thinking about Saskatchewan

I'm looking forward to my next birding trip where I'll be visiting Saskatchewan again with my friend Tom Hince.   Here are a few images from a trip we took last year to the western portion of the province, from Turtle Lake south to the Cypress Hills and Grasslands National Park. 

 Sunrise near Turtle Lake

American Avocet

Family of Richardson's Ground Squirrels

a Nuttall's Cottontail relaxing in Grasslands National Park

vista from Jone's Peak

 Pronghorns were commonly seen during the trip. 

I've never seen a Pronghorn  jump over a  fence.

Alkali flat south of the Cypress Hills

Marbled Godwit

Northern Harrier with vole nest

Yellow-headed Blackbird

outhouse, south of Cypress Hills

Prairie Rattlesnake

Friday, May 15, 2009

Ojibway Park feeders

male Red-bellied Woodpecker (if you look hard you can even see a hint of red on the belly!)

The nature centre where I work has been closed since the middle of April due to the current strike by city workers but the park and trails are still open. The feeders behind the nature centre are a favourite spot for birders and nature photographers.  The regular winter feeder visitors such as Black-capped Chickadees, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, American Goldfinches and Tufted Titmice have been joined by Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Baltimore Orioles, White-crowned Sparrows and Ruby-throated Hummingbirds.  In addition to birds the feeders also attract Eastern Chipmunk, Woodchuck, Eastern Gray Squirrel (abundant) and the occasional White-tailed Deer.