Archive for the 'Travel' Category

Jan 28 2017

A Falcon That Eats Bats

Published by under Birds of Prey,Travel

Bat falcon (photo by Joao Quental via Wikimedia Commons)

Bat falcon (photo by Joao Quental via Wikimedia Commons)

On a birding trip in Costa Rica:

There are more members of the Falcon family here in Costa Rica than in North America (*). Though some species are the same I expect to see at least three Life Bird Falconidae while I’m here: the yellow-headed caracara, the laughing falcon, and the bat falcon.

Like other members of the family, bat falcons (Falco rufigularis) capture birds and flying insects in mid air but they also capture bats. This earned them their name even though bats make up only 14% of their diet.

About the size of merlins, bat falcons live in open woodlands and tropical forests from Mexico to Brazil.  Because they hunt for bats they’re often seen at dawn and dusk perching high on conspicuous snags and bobbing their heads as they look for prey. Their flight is so fast and direct that they focus on eating the fastest birds:  swifts, swallows and hummingbirds (oh my!).

During the breeding season bat falcons are very vocal and sound almost like kestrels.  Hear their calls in these videos at the Handbook of Birds of the World.

So in the days ahead I’ll be checking all the bare treetops for a charcoal gray falcon with a dark face, white neck, and strikingly reddish belly, legs and undertail coverts.

Bat falcon in Columbia (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Bat falcon in Columbia (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

I’ll be extremely lucky if I see one catch a bat.

 

(*)
12 members of Falconidae in Costa Rica: 3 Forest-falcons (barred, slaty-backed, collared), 3 Caracaras (red-throated, crested, yellow-headed), 1 Laughing falcon, 5 Falcos (American kestrel, merlin, aplomado falcon, bat falcon, peregrine).

7 members of Falconidae in North America: 1 Caracara (crested), 6 Falcos (American kestrel, merlin, aplomado falcon, peregrine, prairie falcon, gryfalcon).

 

(photos from Wikimedia Commons; click on the images to see the originals)

Day 2: Tárcoles River birding

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Jan 27 2017

Gone Birding In Costa Rica

Published by under Travel

Clay-colored thrush, the National Bird of Costa Rica, in Garita, Alajuela, Costa Rica (photo by Greg Gilbert via Wikimedia Commons)

Clay-colored thrush, the National Bird of Costa Rica (photo by Greg Gilbert via Wikimedia Commons)

This morning I’m on my way to a 10-day Road Scholar birding trip in Costa Rica.  I’m sure to see many Life Birds as well as the National Bird, the clay-colored thrush.

I’ve never been to Costa Rica but I’ve heard great things about it.  Located in Central America directly south of Ohio, Costa Rica is about the size of West Virginia with a population of 4.8 million people. It’s an eco-tourism destination famous for friendly people, good food, and its many national parks and nature preserves.

Map of Central America (image from Wikimedia Commons)

Map of Central America with arrow highlighting Costa Rica (image from Wikimedia Commons)

Costa Rica has a lot of birds!  My Costa Rican field guide lists 903 species including 54 hummingbirds and 79 flycatchers. Some are endemic to the tropics while others, like the ruby-throated hummingbird, only spend the winter there.

The large number of birds is directly related to the country’s diverse habitats.  From the mountains to the sea, an elevation change of over 12,000 feet provides a wide range of climate zones.  There are temperate dry uplands and tropical rainforests where the national flower, the Guaria Morada orchid (Guarianthe skinneri), grows.

Guaria morada, orchid, the National Flower of Costa Rica (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Guaria morada, orchid, the National Flower of Costa Rica (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

If you’ve been to Costa Rica you’ll be curious about my route so I’ve drawn it in green on the map below.  We’ll be traveling counterclockwise from San Jose to sea level at the Pacific, then over the mountains to the 7,000-ft home of the quetzal.

Road Scholar tour route in Costa Rica (image from Wikimedia Commons, altered to show route in green)

Road Scholar tour route in Costa Rica, Jan-Feb 2017 (image from Wikimedia Commons, altered to show route in green)

I know that Internet access will be unpredictable so I’ve written all 10 days of blog posts in advance.  My husband Rick (who’s too near-sighted to go birding) is holding down the fort at home while my friend Donna Memon posts the blogs to Facebook and Twitter, moderates your comments, and responds to questions.

For now, I’m (mostly) off the grid.   I’ll “see” you when I return to my computer on Tuesday morning, February 7.

 

(photo and maps from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the images to see the originals.)

Day 1: Fly to San José, transfer to Alajuela

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Oct 11 2016

Similar Sapsuckers

Published by under Songbirds,Travel

Yellow-bellied sapsucker (photo by Cris Hamilton)

Yellow-bellied sapsucker (photo by Cris Hamilton)

Now that yellow-bellied sapsuckers (Sphyrapicus varius) are migrating through western Pennsylvania I’m reminded of three sapsucker species we’ll never see unless we travel west.

 

The red-naped sapsucker (Sphyrapicus nuchalis) resembles a yellow-bellied except that his nape (the back of his head) is red.  He lives among trees in the Mountain Time zone all the way to the Sierras and Cascades.  Amazingly, his range only overlaps the much larger range of the yellow-bellied sapsucker at a few sites in Canada — so you can identify him by location in the U.S.

Red-naped sapsucker (photo by J. Maughn, Creative Commons license via Flickr)

Red-naped sapsucker (photo by J. Maughn, Creative Commons license via Flickr)

 

The red-breasted sapsucker (Sphyrapicus ruber), native to far western North America, looks as if he’s been dipped in tomato juice. His range sometimes overlaps the western edges of yellow-bellied and red-naped sapsuckers with whom he sometimes interbreeds.  The hybrids look like sapsuckers partially dipped in tomato juice. 😉

Red-breasted sapsucker (photo by Jacob McGinnis, Creative Commons license via Flickr)

Red-breasted sapsucker (photo by Jacob McGinnis, Creative Commons license via Flickr)

And finally, male Williamson’s sapsuckers (Sphyrapicus thyroideus) can’t be mistaken for any other bird.  Sporting a black head and chest and a bright yellow belly, these sapsuckers live in middle to high elevation western mountains.  I’ve never seen one.

Williamson's sapsucker (photo by Ken Schneider, Creative Commons license via Flicker)

Williamson’s sapsucker (photo by Ken Schneider, Creative Commons license via Flicker)

 

Watch for yellow-bellied sapsuckers passing through western Pennsylvania on their way south.  In eastern Pennsylvania, they stay all winter.

 

(photo credits:  Yellow-bellied sapsucker by Cris Hamilton. Red-naped sapsucker by J. Maughn, Creative Commons license via Flickr. Red-breasted sapsucker by  Jacob McGinnis, Creative Commons license via Flickr. Williamson’s sapsucker by Ken Schneider, Creative Commons license via Flicker)

 

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Oct 08 2016

A Visit to Elk Country

Published by under Mammals,Travel

Bull elk grazing in a front yard in Elk County, 4 Oct 2016 (photo by Kate St.John)

Bull elk grazing in a front yard in Elk County, Pennsylvania, 4 Oct 2016 (photo by Kate St.John)

Last Tuesday Geralyn Pundzak, Kathy Miller and I made a one day trip to see the elk near Benezette, PA.  During the rut, September-October, the males pursue the ladies, spar with other males and “sing” a bugling love song.

Our first two stops came up empty and we began to worry that we’d miss them.  Geralyn, who drove us there, said she wouldn’t leave until she saw an elk. The pressure was on!

At Woodring Farm we heard an elk bugling on the hill above us.  He soon crossed the gravel road only 100 yards away, then stopped to bugle among the trees.  I was so excited I forgot to take pictures.

On our way to Dents Run we saw an elk lying down, almost on a front porch. Was he a statue?  No, his head moved!  We returned to an elk traffic jam and took these photos.

Bull elk in Elk Country, 4 Oct 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

Bull elk in Elk Country, 4 Oct 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

Bull elk grazing in a front yard, 4 Oct 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

Bull elk grazing in a front yard, 4 Oct 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

Bull elk in Elk Country, Pennsylvania, 4Oct 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

Bull elk in Elk Country, Pennsylvania, 4 Oct 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

In addition to the elk we enjoyed birding, scenic overlooks and the Field of Flowers at Woodring Farm.

A view of Elk County from Woodring Farm overlook (photo by Kate St. John)

Elk County view from Woodring Farm overlook (photo by Kate St. John)

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At the Field of Flowers, Woodring Farm, Elk County, PA, 4 Oct 2016 (photo by Kate St.John)

At the Field of Flowers, Woodring Farm, Elk County, PA, 4 Oct 2016 (photo by Kate St.John)

Visit Elk Country now while the elk are bugling and the leaves are changing.

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

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Sep 18 2016

Scenes From Acadia

Published by under Travel

Jordan Pond, September 2016 (photo by Kate St.John)

Jordan Pond, September 2016 (photo by Kate St.John)

Though my husband and I have visited Acadia National Park every September since 1983 (including this month) I see that I’ve never shared my photos at Outside My Window.  Here’s a selection from the last two years showing the park’s stunning beauty.

Founded in 1916, Acadia National Park now includes land on several islands and one peninsula.  These photos were taken during hikes and walks on Mount Desert Island, the largest land mass of the park.

The area was carved by glaciers and contains many lakes.  Jordan Pond, above, is the size of a lake and extremely photogenic.

Eagle Lake from the south shore, September 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

Eagle Lake from the south shore, September 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

 

The Bubbles at Jordan Pond, September 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

The Bubbles at Jordan Pond, September 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

 

There are scenic views from the mountaintop hiking trails but humidity usually dampens my photos.

Somes Sound from Flying Mountain, September 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

Somes Sound from Flying Mountain, September 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

 

Looking southeast from Cadillac Mountain south trail, September 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

Looking southeast from Cadillac Mountain south trail, September 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

 

Northeast Harbor (the town we stay in) is tucked between two mountains.  It was named for its safe anchorage during Nor’easter storms.

Northeast Harbor, tucked in a nook of the mountains, September 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

Northeast Harbor, tucked in a nook of the mountains, September 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

A short walk from this view is the Asticou Azalea Garden.

At Asticou Azalea Garden, September 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

At Asticou Azalea Garden, September 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

Asticou’s sand garden mimics islands and the sea. The large rocks are islands; the sand ripples are waves. It’s a very peaceful place.

The Sand Garden at Asticou Azalea Garden, September 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

The Sand Garden at Asticou Azalea Garden, September 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

 

Much of Acadia’s Mount Desert acreage was donated by John D. Rockefeller, Jr.  Though he made his money in oil, he did not want cars on the island so he built scenic carriage paths, especially near his home in Seal Harbor.  The bridges along these carriage paths are beautiful in their own right.  This one crosses Jordan Stream on land recently donated by David Rockefeller that’s open to hiking and horses.

Cobblestone bridge carries a carriage path over Jordan Stream, September 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

Cobblestone bridge carries a carriage path over Jordan Stream, September 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

The underside of the cobblestone bridge -- even more cobblestones! (photo by Kate St.John)

The underside of the cobblestone bridge … even more cobblestones. Amazing workmanship! (photo by Kate St.John)

Acadia’s hiking trails are designed for scenic beauty.  Strewn with pine needles, this trail passes between two rock outcrops.

The trail goes to the light, a gap in the rocks, September 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

The trail goes to the light, a gap in the rocks, September 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

 

The Ship Harbor Trail treads pink granite at the coast.

Pink granite coast on the Ship Harbor Trail, September 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

Pink granite coast on the Ship Harbor Trail, September 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

 

French explorer Champlain named the island of barren mountains “Isle des Monts Desert” (Mount Desert Island). Sargent and Cadillac shoulder above the rest, easily visible from the sea.

The deserted mountains of Mount Desert Island: Sargent and Cadillac as seen from Seawall, September 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

The deserted mountains of Mount Desert Island: Sargent and Cadillac as seen from Seawall, September 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

Every year as we leave the island we say to the mountains, “See you next year.”

 

(photos by Kate St.John)

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Sep 11 2016

Unusual Trees

Published by under Travel,Trees

Tree trunk bowed and bare (photo by Kate St. John)

Tree trunk, bowed and bare (photo by Kate St. John)

Last week I found some odd trees in Acadia National Park.

Above, a dead tree is bowed over in a perfect C, probably knocked over in its youth by wind, ice or another tree.

Below, the swirls on this cedar look like drapery.

Pattern of growth on cedar trunk (photo by Kate St. John)

Swirled pattern of growth on cedar trunk (photo by Kate St. John)

 

Evergreens usually lose their lower branches as they grow but the branches on this tree grew stout and curled up.  I can’t even imagine what caused this.

Odd branching on a pine, Mount Desert Island, Maine (photo by Kate St. John)

Odd branches, Mount Desert Island, Maine (photo by Kate St. John)

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

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Jul 09 2016

Montana Flowers And A Tree

Published by under Plants,Travel

Beargrass in bloom, Glacier National Park, June 2016 (photo by Kate St.John)

Beargrass in bloom, Glacier National Park, 29 June 2016 (photo by Kate St.John)

In my final Montana installment, here are some plants seen at Glacier National Park, June 27-30, 2016.

Beargrass grows up to five feet tall with grass-like leaves and a knob of white flowers on top.  As you can see in this poorly lit photo, the beargrass was hard to ignore on the Josephine Lake trail.

Hikers next to beargrass, showing the height of the flower, Glacier National Park, June 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

Hikers next to beargrass showing the height of the flower, Glacier National Park, 29 June 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

At Logan Pass we saw Glacier Lilies that resemble our own Trout Lily.

Glacier lily at Logan Pass, Glacier National Park, June 2016 (photo by Kate St.John)

Glacier lily at Logan Pass, Glacier National Park, June 2016 (photo by Kate St.John)

 

And at woodland edges, Pink Wintergreen (Thank you, Dianne Machesney, for identifying this for me) …

Pink Wintergreen, Glacier National Park, June 2016 (photo by Kate St.John)

Pink Wintergreen, Glacier National Park, June 2016 (photo by Kate St.John)

… plus Sticky Geraniums …

Sticky Geranium, Glacier National Park, June 2016 (photo by Kate St.John)

Sticky Geranium, Glacier National Park, June 2016 (photo by Kate St.John)

… and Sego Lilies, the state flower of Utah.

Sego lily, Glacier National Park, June 2016 (photo by Kate St.John)

Sego lily, Glacier National Park, June 2016 (photo by Kate St.John)

 

The meadows were full of wildflowers.

Paintbrush …

Paintbrush species, Glacier National Park, June 2016 (photo by Kate St.John)

Paintbrush species, Glacier National Park, June 2016 (photo by Kate St.John)

Larkspur …

Larkspur, Glacier National Park, June 2016 (photo by Kate St.John)

Larkspur, Glacier National Park, June 2016 (photo by Kate St.John)

Blanket flower (I think. Please correct me if I’m wrong!)

Blanket Flower Glacier National Park, June 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

Blanket Flower, Glacier National Park, June 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

and the remnants of Camas flowers that had bloomed in mid-June.

Camas flower, McGee Meadow, Glacier National Park, June 2016 (photo by Kate St.John)

Camas flower, McGee Meadow, Glacier National Park, June 2016 (photo by Kate St.John)

 

And finally, I marveled at the huge Western Redcedars on the wet, western side of Glacier National Park. They are so much bigger than our cedars back home.

Western Redcedar, Glacier National Park, 30 June 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

Western Redcedar, Glacier National Park, 30 June 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

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Jul 07 2016

Best Birds in Montana

Published by under Beyond Bounds,Travel

Mountain bluebird (photo by Elaine R. Wilson via Wikimedia Commons)

Mountain bluebird (photo by Elaine R. Wilson via Wikimedia Commons)

When my friend Chuck Tague led an outing he’d ask us at the end, “What was your Best Bird?”  Now that I’m back from Montana I’ve made a list. (The photos are from Wikimedia Commons.)

Best of the Best: Mountain bluebird.  While standing next to a short spruce at Logan Pass, I saw a Life Bird(*) fly in and perch just above me.  This bluest Bird of Happiness completes the trio of bluebird species in North America: eastern, western and mountain.

Two of my Best Birds were named for explorers, Lewis and Clark.

I’d seen a Lewis’s woodpecker fly by the Allegheny Front Hawk Watch on October 20, 2002 (very unusual!) but in Missoula I was hungry to see more.  My friend Keith Kuhn asked a resident if we could walk across her property to the shore of the Bitterroot River where they’d been reported the day before.  She was very accommodating when he said “Lewis’s woodpecker.” The birds come to her suet feeder.    It was a thrill to see three pink-bellied woodpeckers fly-catching over the river.

Lewis's Woodpecker from Crossley ID Guide to Eastern Birds (illustration from Wikimedia Commons)

Lewis’s Woodpecker from Crossley ID Guide to Eastern Birds (illustration from Wikimedia Commons)

 

Clark’s nutcracker resembles a woodpecker but he’s actually a Corvid who stores and eats pine nuts.  We saw a pair of them fly over Logan Pass, calling and chasing each other.

Clark's nutcracker (photo by Simon Wray, Oregon Department of FIsh and Wildlife via Wikimedia Commons)

Clark’s nutcracker (photo by Simon Wray, Oregon Department of FIsh and Wildlife via Wikimedia Commons)

 

I was afraid I wouldn’t see an American dipper but I shouldn’t have worried. Because they were nesting we saw adult dippers gathering food and a fledgling waiting for its next meal at St. Mary’s Falls.  Very good looks! (Click here to see one swim.)

American dipper (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

American dipper (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

 

In only eight days I saw 105 species and 11 Life Birds in western Montana.  It was hard to pick just four of the Best!

 

(photos from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the images to see the originals)

(*) A “Life Bird” is a species you see for the first time in your life.

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Jul 06 2016

Variations On A Warbler Theme

Published by under Songbirds,Travel

Connecticut, Mourning and MacGillivray's warblers (illustration by Louis Aggasiz Fuertes in National Geographic, public domain from Wikimedia Commons)

Connecticut, Mourning and MacGillivray’s Warblers (illustration by Louis Aggasiz Fuertes, public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

When Louis Aggasiz Fuertes drew these birds they were all the same genus, Oporornis.  This made sense because Connecticut, mourning and MacGillivray’s warblers are similar in appearance and habits.  All three breed in northern forests where they are shy, secretive skulkers, nesting and feeding on the ground.

The Connecticut warbler (at top) is the hardest to find, so hard that his nest wasn’t discovered for 70 years after the species was described.  His breeding grounds in the bogs and moist forests of Minnesota, Wisconsin, upper Michigan and central Canada are protected by mosquitoes!   Birds of North America says, “Its secretive behavior and preference for breeding habitat in remote areas with abundant insect life has made it very difficult to study.”  No kidding!

The mourning warbler (middle) has a wider distribution.  He breeds in second growth forests from British Columbia to Newfoundland and into the northern tier of Pennsylvania.  He’s one of the few warblers that benefits from human disturbance, preferring to nest in clearcuts 1 to 10 years old.  I usually see him during spring migration at Magee Marsh, Ohio.

MacGillivray’s Warbler (bottom) prefers second growth too, but he breeds at low to moderate elevations in the Rockies and Sierras.  I saw my first MacGillivray’s warbler (Life Bird!) in Glacier National Park in burned areas that are the dry mountain equivalent of a clearcut.

For many years the Oporornis genus calmly hummed along until two discoveries upset the apple cart.

Everyone thought these species never met on their breeding grounds … and they don’t … except for one spot in the Peace region of British Columbia near Dawson Creek where in 2009 Irwin et al. discovered that mourning and MacGillivray’s warblers hybridize.

Then in 2010 DNA evidence split the Oporornis genus.  Now the Connecticut warbler stands alone, though many websites and field guides have not caught up.

  • Old: Oporornis = [Connecticut, mourning, MacGillivray’s and Kentucky warblers].  Geothlypis = [common yellowthroat]
  • New: Oporornis = [Connecticut].  Geothlypis = [common yellowthroat, mourning, MacGillivray’s and Kentucky warblers]

In appearance and ancestry, these birds are variations on a warbler theme.

 

(illustration by Louis Aggasiz Fuertes in National Geographic, public domain from Wikimedia Commons)

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Jul 03 2016

Big Sky and Mountains

Published by under Travel

Snowy peak, Mount Jackson, Glacier National Park, Montana, 30 June 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

Snowy peak, Mount Jackson, Glacier National Park, Montana, 30 June 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

At Montana’s Glacier National Park, June 27-30, 2016. The sky is big and so are the mountains.

 

Big Sky at Upper Saint Mary Lake, Glacier National Park, 28 June 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

Big sky at Upper Saint Mary Lake, Glacier National Park, 28 June 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

 

This thunderstorm missed us completely.

Thunderstorm coming over the mountains, 28 June 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

Thunderstorm coming over the mountains, Saint Mary, Montana, 28 June 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

 

Clouds and mountains, Glacier National Park, 30 June 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

Clouds and mountains, Glacier National Park, 30 June 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

 

Sky reflected in a pond at Josephine Lake, Glacier National Park, 29 June 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

Sky reflected in a pond at Josephine Lake, Glacier National Park, 29 June 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

 

Sunrise as seen from the Red Eagle Trail, 30 June 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

Sunrise along the Red Eagle Trail, 30 June 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

 

Saint Mary Lake seen from the west, 30 June 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

Saint Mary Lake as seen from the west, Going To The Sun Road, Glacier National Park, 30 June 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

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