Friday, July 15, 2016

Whistling in Hamilton

In my last post, I had mentioned that the Blue-Crowned Lesson's Motmot was lifer #435 for Jean and I. I soon became dismayed upon the realization that we had observed only 20 lifers since then. 20 lifers in 3 years and 3 months. Half of which occurred in the remaining months of 2013.
I really shouldn't be lamenting.The twenty lifer ticks have been impressive and unique. But like most birders, I'm always looking for the next addition. A recent attempt at adding Barred Owl to our life list was unsuccessful. Our friend Marcie had made arrangements with a property owner in southern Niagara for a small group of birders to view a family of Barred Owls after she had viewed them a few days earlier. It was the evening of July 3 and also our wedding anniversary but Jean and I brought our hiking/birding clothes with us to change into after our dinner. We did not rush through our excellent meal and made it to the location well before sunset. Shortly after dusk, there were fireworks heard in the distance but no "who cooks for you?" call on the forested property.
Our next opportunity at adding a lifer came Wednesday afternoon earlier this week. Eric Holden had observed Black-bellied Whistling Ducks on the beach at Bayfront Park in Hamilton. During our last visit to the municipal park in January 2012, we dipped on a reported Black-throated Gray Warbler on the Waterfront Trail.
Hamilton is a short drive from St. Catharines. In under an hour we reached the park located on Burlington Bay and as Jean and I walked along the paved path towards the beach, there were a few Pok√©mon Go searchers with their iPhones in hand but no one sporting binoculars. Kenn Kaufmann wrote an interesting article on this newest craze.
We were given some reassurance when Jean and I ran into a birder on his way out and he told us that the ducks were still there. Upon arriving at the reported location, we could see them amongst the small crowd of Ring-billed Gulls on the sandy beach.
Along with a few other birders, we had great views of a species (commonly found on the gulf coast of the United States) that had not been observed in the Hamilton Study Area prior to July 13, 2016. A first! And a lifer added to our ABA, Ontario and Hamilton lists.  

The ducks were disturbed by two guys walking on the beach from the opposite direction. They flew west and landed in the bay approximately one kilometre from our location. Luckily for birders still en route, the ducks returned to the beach after being disturbed by pleasure craft on the water.

The Black-bellied Whistling Ducks were resting on the beach when Jean and I left and shortly after, the ducks vacated Bayfront Park and have not been reported since then. We're glad we chose to go the same day of the report and I can return to working on the Niagara year list feeling more than content with a rare lifer tick.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

A Lesson on Splits

The original plan was to post tales from my 2013 Belize Trip in some reasonable order. First to last would have worked very well but with the recent publication of the American Ornithologists' Union 2016 supplement it seemed appropriate to discuss the last lifer observed by Jean and I during our first birding trip outside of the ABA area.
Revisions to the North American Classification Committee (NACC) Check List for Birds of North and Middle America can be reviewed at the ABA blog. In addition to sequence changes within orders and families, there were a few splits including two that will have an affect on our eBird lists.
It was the last day in Belize for our group and I woke up very early that Sunday morning (A number of times actually.). It was not from the excitement of acquiring a few last minute lifer ticks but the result of eating something rather dodgy in Guatemala a day or two earlier. I did not feel well at all and Jean and I were standing on the deck at duPlooy's Jungle Lodge mulling over our options. A few of our fellow Niagara birders were already out searching for a Blue-crowned Motmot that was heard by the organizer of the trip. Though I was still resting in bed due to my illness, it was assumed that Jean and I were already out searching for the motmot as well.
Standing on the deck with us was Albert, an employee at the lodge. Albert was leaning on the railing of the deck listening to Jean and I decide if we should join the search for the motmot. "Motmot?", asked Albert. Pointing to the forest floor below the deck, he added, "There's one right here."
Not as easy as an arm chair tick but it was one that required little effort. I don't know if I could have walked down the 150 steps to the river below but a few quick steps to the railing was not a problem. Looking down from the deck, we had great views of our lifer Blue-crowned Motmot. The bird that the rest of the group was chasing elsewhere on the property and did not find during their search. Jean and I were more than happy to let them know we found the motmot and luckily for them, it was still hanging around and we helped all of them get on the bird. 
Jumping forward to the present, the first of two splits that will cause a name change on our eBird list is that of the Blue-crowned Motmot. The split is based on morphology and vocalization and for those lucky enough to have observed all of the subspecies found between Veracruz, Mexico and the northwestern region of South America, well they picked up some arm chair ticks.
The bird we observed in Cayo, Belize had a black crown bordered with turquoise blue and is now known as Lesson's Motmot (Momotus lessoni). In northeastern Mexico, the bird has a solid turquoise crown and is now known as Blue-capped Motmot (Momotus coeruliceps). The third species of Momotus ranges from central Panama to the northwestern region of South America. Known as the Whopping Motmot (Momotus subrufescens), this species' song is a single whoop while the song of the Blue-capped and Lesson's are a similar whoop whoop

At the moment, lifer #435 on our eBird list is still noted as Blue-crowned Motmot. When the name changes to Lesson's Motmot, I'll have two questions. Will Jean and I return to the tropics to observe the other Momotus species? And the second, who the heck is Lesson?