Antpittas (family Grallariidae) are forest birds of Central and South America that specialize in eating ants. Though they nest in trees, they spend most of their time on the ground where their brown-rust plumage provides excellent camouflage. They are usually heard, not seen.
The typical antpitta is often described as a “ball on sticks” because most of them are small, plump and nearly tailless with long legs.
The giant antpitta (Grallaria gigantea) is far from typical. He’s the length of an American robin but weighs four times as much. He’s same weight as a pileated woodpecker and triple the weight of other antpittas in his area. Wikipedia explains:
G. gigantea is, as its name suggests, a huge antpitta. Length ranges from 24 to 28 centimetres (9.4 to 11.0 in) and weight is up to 300 grams (10.6 oz), which makes it easily the heaviest of all tracheophone suboscine birds. Its nearest rival, the chestnut-throated huet-huet [native to Chile], is not known to exceed 185 grams (6.5 oz).
Now that we’re based at Séptimo Paraíso Lodge in the Mindo Valley we expect to see this iconic bird several times in the next five days.
Bright and colorful, the toucan barbet (Semnornis ramphastinus) is about the size of a starling though heftier. He uses his short fat beak to eat fruit, squeeze nectar from flowers, and dig nest holes in trees.
Toucan barbets are very social, living year round in a family group of six+ birds that claim 30 – 40 acres of mountain forest. The group consists of the breeding pair plus their offspring from prior years who help raise the young during the February-to-May (or as late as October) breeding season.
The group starts the day with a duet to tell the neighbors: “Good morning! We are here! This territory belongs to us! We will fight you if you come here!” Other groups will sneak onto their land if they think the owners are far away.
The checklist for our tour has 51 hummingbirds on it, 28 of which have been seen every time WINGS makes the trip. The slideshow displays 20 that we’re certain to see. I tried to memorize them in advance but there are just too many!
As you look at the hummingbirds, here’s something to watch for: Nearly every species has a white dot, called a post-ocular spot, or a white stripe of feathers behind the eye. Why do they have this and what is it for? My Google searches cannot find an answer.
Here are the species in slideshow order with links to their eBird descriptions and [photo on Wikimedia Commons].
This is my first trip to Ecuador so everything will be new. Located on the Pacific Coast of South America, it’s about the size of Oregon with a population density similar to Michigan’s. Amazingly, it is directly south of Pennsylvania and presently in the same time zone because PA is on Standard Time right now.
Ecuador is famous for its biodiversity and especially its birds. The country’s checklist of 1,656 species is considerably more than the number in the entire U.S. Our tour in the Northwest Andes won’t need to travel far to see them. Staying within Pichincha Province and 100 miles of Quito, our checklist contains 535 species including 51 hummingbirds and 59 tanagers.
This large number of birds is directly related to the Ecuador’s diverse habitats. Though we will never see the ocean we’ll travel in cloud forest from 5,000 to 12,000 feet. At the higher elevations we may see the Chuquiraga plant (Chuquiraga jussieui), a hummingbird favorite and the national flower of Ecuador.
Though we’ll have WiFi at the lodge I know I’ll be too busy to blog so I’ve written all 10 days of articles in advance. For now, I’m (mostly) off the grid until I my return to Pittsburgh on Monday evening, February 6.
The National Bird of Ecuador is the Andean condor. It is extremely unlikely we’ll see it.
The number of species in the U.S. varies based on what’s included. Wikipedia’s list of 1,125 includes 155 accidental, 101 casual, 55 introduced and 33 extinct. The real wonder is that the U.S. spans a continent and includes arctic Alaska and tropical Hawaii yet it has fewer species than Ecuador, which is only the size of Oregon.
(photo and maps from Wikimedia Commons and WINGS. Click on the captions to see the originals.)
Coyotes (Canis latrans) are highly adaptable and very smart about food and humans because their lives depend upon it. Of course they live where food is plentiful but in places like Pennsylvania, where they’re hunted or trapped without limit all year long, they hide from humans and operate at night. In locations with less human pressure they forage during the day and encounter their familiars — ravens and sometimes crows.
Coyotes and Corvids often meet when it’s time to eat, especially at carcasses in winter. The carcass below attracted ravens and a black-billed magpie along with the coyote.
How do Corvids describe a coyote? Perhaps like this, as described by Doug Anderson.
Hunch in the trees to gossip about God and his inexorable experimenting, about deer guts and fish so stupid you could sell them air and how out in the deserts there’s a dog called coyote with their mind but no wings. …
Earlier this month when I wrote about wind speed maps (How Fast Is The Wind Blowing?) Steve Thomas sent a link to the earth mapping website. I remembered green swirling maps on my own blog, Winds On Water, but seven years ago I didn’t look further than the default surface winds.
The earth website is, in their own words, “a visualization of global weather conditions forecast by supercomputers updated every three hours.” Their action maps include high altitude winds, ocean currents, temperatures, fires and more.
Every autumn humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) migrate past California on their way to spend the winter off the coast of Mexico. They will linger, however, if they find lots of anchovies. Humpback whales love anchovies.
There were still lots of anchovies when the whales showed up this fall. Robin Agarwal took a whale watch out of Monterey Bay in early October and captured these scenes of lunge-feeding humpback whales.
The anchovies crowded close as the predators approached. The whales forced them to the surface where the tiny fish leapt out of the water to escape.
The whales opened their mouths and anchovies fell in.
About ten years into his career as a digital cartographer Robert Szucs decided to experiment with data visualization and learned how to create strikingly beautiful, digitally accurate maps. He calls them “Maps Reimagined” and explains,
While my maps are always scientifically accurate, I think of them first and foremost as works of art.
The U.S. watershed map above is so detailed that you can pinpoint Pittsburgh in the Mississippi watershed at the conjunction of the Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio Rivers.
Szucs has also produced collections of elevation, forest and human population maps.
There came a point when I said I can’t look at another green-brown-white elevation map again. I needed some fun. I needed colours. And for not the first or last time, I needed to create the maps I wanted to see.
A green comet that last passed the sun 50,000 years ago set off a flurry of stargazing on the night of the new moon, 21-22 January. Even though Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) will pass closest to earth on 2 February it is best to see it now before the moon waxes to full on 5 February.
Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) is so faint that it must be viewed in a dark sky and is best seen via binoculars, telescope, or camera with telephoto lens — for instance, birding equipment. The photo above was taken with a 300mm F/4 lens. Click here for information on where to look.
With magnification and a star map all you need is a dark sky, but finding one is increasingly difficult.
Previous studies used satellites to measure earth lights reaching outer space but they missed the effect of ground lights inside our atmosphere. So the problem is worse than we thought. For a video illustration, see the 2016 article below.
Meanwhile in Pittsburgh, we definitely have light pollution but our impossible hurdle is cloud cover. We have lots of clouds in the forecast for the next 10 days.