Birthday Birding Bliss in San Blas

My wife surprised me with a birthday birding trip during our honeymoon on the west coast of Mexico. Here are the highlights from the trip in one mega-post. Click the images to see them in better detail.

We entered through tunnels cut into the mangroves and headed upstream toward the hills and away from the tidal influence of the sea.

One of the first things we saw was a young Crocodile basking in the increasing heat of the day.

Then this incredible beast, about 6 feet long, and looking for all the world like a log until it slipped into the water.

This Great-tailed Grackle, or Zanate Mayor, was opening a frog's mouth with its bill and pulling out the goodies inside... gross but cool.

Here is a more placid view of this charismatic and boisterous bird.

Green Herons, or las Garza Verde, were everywhere. I'd never seen so many and it felt like we were traveling through their homeland.

Among the most special creatures we encountered were the Boat billed Herons (Garza Cucharón). Beautiful eyes, great poise, distinctive vocalizations. We wandered into a nesting colony and the birds were alert but didn't look too disturbed.

The river was beautiful, if murky and funky due to the rains. There were surprises around every bend.

Sometimes the process of decay can be quite lovely.

The Limpkin, or Carrao, is a strange and wonderful denizen of this riparian habitat.

Tropical Kingbirds, los Tirano Tropical, were also abundant. including the lovely nest below on the lee side of a snag in the river.

Common Potoo, or Nictibio Urataú, sitting in a pose that doesn't make the best use of its camouflage skills, but is still makes it pretty difficult to pick out at 40 yards. 

A Snail Kite floats toward its mate. It was nesting season in coastal Mexico.

Earlier the same kite had delivered a snail to its partner.

We heard a sound that sounded like the grumbling of a nearby cow. Our guide asked if I was making the noise, then realized it was likely a Bare-throated Tiger Heron. Sure enough, around the next bend we found this exquisite bird.

This bird has some ludicrously beautiful plumage.

It wasn't too pleased with the sound of the boat and so it elegantly relocated to some other trees. In the distance we could hear its mate calling.

Overhead, White Ibis, Ibis Blanco, floated by in the bright overcast sky. 

A Green Kingfisher, Martin Pescador-Verde, affirmed my theory that kingfishers need to learn trust. It barely stood still long enough for me to get this image. They are a wary bunch.

Iguanas have never been very interesting to me until I saw one in the wild. In their natural home they are thoroughly badass.

Fish at the local crocodile preserve come in to investigate our shadows.

This Elegant Trogon, Trogon Elegante, was a nice surprise as we turned the boat around at lunchtime. It was a bit shy and this is a long distance shot.

At this point we wandered back into the mangroves and the boat trip came to an end. Below, a Yellow-crowned Night Heron takes a break from eating beetles at the boat dock.

In the distance, a Common Black Hawk, Aguililla Negra Menor (the first I'd ever seen) flew toward the mountains with a freshly caught snake.

I waited for the Egret to get to these power lines in the hope it would make for a nice composition.

Speaking of power lines, these held a Gray Hawk, Aguililla Gris, a bird I'd hoped to see but hadn't had any luck with until the drive home.

It is a gorgeous raptor and I hope to see one a bit better someday, perhaps on a motorcycle trip through Mexico. It seemed like bird watching was done for the day as we dozed in the back seat, exhausted from the day.

We awoke with a start when Vidal, our guide, called out "Pygmy Owl!" as we passed some mango trees at 50 mph. I was a little incredulous but grabbed the camera and stumbled out of the car to find a little brown lump perched deep in a tree in the shade. I'll be damned. It was a fantastic way to close out an extraordinary birthday trip. Thanks to the charming and knowledgable Vidal Prado of sayulitabirdwatching.com for a great day getting to know the birds of San Blas and Nayarit. If you are going to be in the area you should get in touch with Vidal.

These are 27 life birds I saw in 2 days in Sayulita... there were a couple more I'm sure but these are confirmed.

Black-bellied Whistling Duck
Rufous-bellied Chachalaca
Neotropic Cormorant
Anhinga
Magnificent Frigatebird
Little Blue Heron
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
Boat-billed Heron
White Ibis
Common Black Hawk
Gray Hawk
Purple Gallinule
Limpkin
Inca Dove
Orange-fronted Parakeet
Groove-billed Ani
Pygmy Owl
Cinammon Hummingbird
Elegant Trogon
Green Kingfisher
Golden-cheeked Woodpecker
Great Kiskadee
Social Flycatcher
Tropical Kingbird
Sinaloa Crow
Grayish Saltator

 

P.S. the picture of the Pygmy Owl with the mango in the foreground is a blend of 2 images from the same camera position, one focused on the bird, the other on the foreground mango and leaves. I never post collaged images or illustrations without a reason and an explanation. In this case it was to show you how I was seeing the bird in real life, tucked into a mango tree. That's partly why I didn't try to hide the cues that reveal it's a collaged image.

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A Cooper's Hawk Dines in Oakland

I was wondering if the avocado tree in our backyard was ever going to host a raptor, and if I would be home to see it when it happened. Today I got my answer in the form of a healthy adult Cooper's Hawk with a freshly caught Rock Pigeon.

As luck would have it, she landed on a branch outside our second floor window. The stakeout began. For the first 2 minutes I was shooting through a window and a screen (above). For the next 2 hours through just the screen (below). Eventually I cut a hole in the screen so I could get the lens clear, and the difference was stunning. I'll point it out when it happens but I'm guessing you'll notice.

life and death in oak.jpg

She spent nearly 25 minutes just getting comfortable and making sure she'd found a safe place to eat.

Once she relaxed she turned her attention to the pigeon. I like this photo because the blur communicates the ferocity of the moment.

A dead pigeon is a heavy load and round sloping tree branches make for tricky dining tables. There is a lot of repositioning to do.

Eventually she stabilized the meal and removed the head and worked her way to the vertebrae. She wasn't interested in the bones, just removing little strips of meat as she went along.

This avocado tree brings us beautiful shade, dappled light, and a sense of peace. I'm glad its riches include the occasional predator.

wo hours in and I was fed up and used an exacto to cut a hole in the screen. The screen created little atmospheric artifacts and reduced the light by nearly a full stop. If you ever need to photograph a bird in your yard do what you can to shoot without a window or screen in the way. It makes such a dramatic difference.

She got down to the crop of the pigeon and was now picking through the pigeon's last meal. It wasn't to her liking and she tossed most of the contents, likely grain or bread, to the ground.

By now she had been at it for over 2 hours and needed a quick bathroom break.

Feathers on your bill are par for the course when you are a bird hunter. Scratching them off with your enormous talons is effective...

...but a head shake is quicker and lets you keep a firm grip on your prey.

At this point, three and-a-half hours later, this patient raptor was working on the keel. The main parts of a pigeon that are of interest to a Coop are the head and the massive flight muscles attached to the keel.