24 November, 2010

More Belize Dragonflies

Back on October 25th  I posted some Belize dragonfly photos and asked for help with IDs.  Doug Taron of Gossamer Tapestry kindly used his expertise to ID some of them as tropical dashers and a great pondhawk.  Thanks, Doug! 

After that post, I continued to take photos of the incredible dragonfly activity and got a little more experience in sneaking up on them.  Below are some of the later photos.   
Here is the great pondhawk again.  I just love that green.
This one has some pollen on one of its wings.
They seemed to like to perch on the clothesline.
When you enlarge this image, the wing patches seem to be a dark green color.
Is this the same kind as the one that has the pollen its wing?

So many dragonflies in the air almost made me feel that I was suffocating.
This one has a purplish thorax and mauve abdomen.  Never seen one like it before. Randy Emmet has suggested this is a roseate skimmer and after looking at on-line references, I am inclined to agree.  Thanks, Randy!
Additional ones can be seen in my Belize Dragons 2010 Picasa Album. I am hoping for more help from Doug. ;-)

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21 November, 2010

Belize Birds of the Week #13 and #14– Black and White Warbler, Mniotilta varia and Yellow-throated warbler, Dendroica dominica

These appealing little warblers both winter in Central and South America after breeding in North America. I have never had the pleasure of seeing either of them in North America, but I will sure be on the look out for them. The yellow-throated warbler is found mostly in the southeastern US while the black and white warbler is found throughout most of the US and into Canada.

The black and white warbler was a little shy when we sw it in the jungle near our casita at DuPlooy’s Lodge; I got only a couple of pictures.
It is accidental in n. Europe, usually in fall and has even been seen in Iceland (1 record, Chris – another vagrant for you to be on the lookout for!), also in Faeroe I. (1 record, Jul 1984), Britain (9, Sep–Dec, once in Mar), and Ireland (1 record, Cape Clear, Co. Cork, Oct 1978; 1 record, Loughermore Forest, Co. Derry, 30 Sep–2 Oct 1984). (source – Birds of North America, Cornell Bird Lab).

The yellow throated warblers were a little more visible and I took these photos of one foraging on the door to the generator shed at our place in South Englishtown.

So this is very, very cool -- I am posting this using wifi onboard a Delta airlines flight from San Jose California back to Minnesota.  There has been some frustration with losing connection frequently, but not too bad.  I will probably come back and make some edits later because my laptop is almost out of juice.  My first post while airborn!

19 November, 2010

Belize Bird of the Week #12 –Eastern Kingbird, Tyrannus tyrannus: Just Passing Through

The sea grape trees we can see so well from our veranda always seem to be a magnet for bird activity and this past October was no exception. This time of year, however, the birds are attracted to the insects that in turn are attracted to the sea grape flowers. The acrobatics of the Eastern Kingbirds were a joy to watch as they hawked insects in the sea grapes trees. The views were often obscured by the large leaves, but I did get a few shots of the activity.  Below is a series showing some of the moves.  Keep an eye on the bird in the background, too.
Kingbirds aren’t flashy, colorful birds; they are essentially monochromatic with white below, dark grey to black above. White wing bars and a white terminal tail band are about as fancy as they get. Though they aren’t colorful, they are handsome birds.

They reportedly do have smallish crests that show a little red or orange, especially the males, but none of them displayed crests during the hours of time we spent watching them. That may be because they are just passing through on their way from their breeding grounds in North America to their long winter vacation in South America. Their scientific name (Tyrannus tyrannus) denotes their fierce, aggressive behavior that is conspicuous during breeding and rearing. They tend to be isolated as mating pairs; and some pairs are lucky enough to have a helper. Other than that, they don’t tolerate others of the same species or even other species.
When they are migrating they don’t have to attract mates or defend territory and once they arrive in South America they tend to travel and forage in flocks. Another difference in their holiday behavior is that their diet switches from primarily insects to fruit. Just like people, they seem to have a more relaxed, gregarious take on life when on holiday and go for the sweets instead of the protein. :-)

14 November, 2010

Belize Bird of the Week # 11 -- American Redstart, Setophaga ruticilla

As shown below, my first views of the American Redstart were the classic “bird from behind” perspective.

Here you can see the white underparts with the yellow tail feathers characteristic of a female or a 1st year male American Redstart.
 But for the American Redstart, that BFB view is the best way to ID it as it forages for insects.  It leans its head down, puts up its spread tail, and waggles it – all in the space a second or two. 

The darker male has orange instead of yellow.

The spread tail feathers really catch the light.

The wings have yellow or orange bars.

When they shake their tails, they also spread their wings.  And yes, this one is standing on a dog turd to do its dance. 
This little warbler that winters in Central America after breeding in North America feeds on the ground and in low underbrush.  It is so much fun to watch as it prances and dances with quite a shake of its tail feathers.  Knowing full well where you are, it often works it way very close you, especially if you don’t make sudden moves to startle it.

From this perspective you can see that the orange feathers are only on the sides of the tail.

The orange wingbars on the male are dashing.

Here you can see the yellow patches on either side of the chest, just in front of the wings on this female.  The yellow tail looks like band that goes from one side to the other when the tail is not spread.

This next picture should be the next to last one, but somehow it jumped ahead of where I tried to put it.   Can't seem to get it to stay put!
More obvious from here.

Here and below is a female with only half her tail yellow.
Here she is again.
Apparently no worse for it.
When I go back to Belize in February, they may still be around, getting ready fly back north in early spring.

13 November, 2010

Special Post -- Please help the Belize Zoo recover from Hurricane Richard

You may have read about Hurricane Richard hitting Belize while we were there last month.  Our place in the sourthern part of Belize escaped Richard's wrath, but the northern part of Belize was not so fortunate.  The Belize Zoo was hit especially hard.  To those of you  who usually give me a Christmas present, please donate to the zoo instead.  You can do it on a link on the blog site above. 

A little over a year ago, we went on a night tour of the zoo that was wonderful.  You can see my blog account of the visit here.  The Zoo is (was) one of those very special places and I admit I cried when I saw the photos of the devastation.  Dennis and I are giving what we can to help; it would be such a loss to Belize and to the world if this little gem of a zoo doesn't recover.

November Snow

The English House Sparrows think so.

"What is this stuff?"
A very wet female English House Sparrow.
A bird's got to eat.
So do the grey squirrels.
Not only wet, a few patches of fur are missing from this guy's back.
the house finches and the goldfinches
Look how much smaller the gold finch is than the female house finch.
Didn't know the house finch was a wader. ;-)
If you look cloesly, you can see the drops being slung off by the female house finch.
The little goldfinch seems to shed water a bit better than the house finches and sparrows.
and the cardinals.
A little rain doesn't make the female cardinal any less lovely.
Even the American crows agree that it is a cold, wet day.
The crows were a little subdued. This one even looks a little pensive.
The snow is still on the ground with more to come. :-(
But what did we expect, it is November after all.

06 November, 2010

Belize Butterfly of the Week #1 – Stinky Leafwing, aka Cecropia Orion, Historis odius

One of my goals for our October trip to Belize was to get more (and better) photographs of butterflies and moths. I thought they might be attracted to ripe/rotten fruit, so I put some very ripe banana out on a conveniently-situated horizontal trunk of sea grape tree that was visible from our veranda in hopes of attracting moths and butterflies that I could photograph from the veranda with my long(ish) lens. I was almost immediately rewarded with the appearance of this large butterfly called a stinky leafwing. It was a wonderful subject for photography because once it started feeding, it was not easily disturbed, even when I approached within 4 feet of it. 
If you click to enlarge the 2 photos below, you can see an ant crawling along this butterflies proboscis.   In the second photo, it has pulled its proboscis out of the banana as the ant has climbed closer to its mouth.  Right after that photo, it flicked its wings and rolled it proboscis up to dislodge the ant.
The next 2 photos of what seems to be the same individual as above were taken late afternoon the next day.  I was trying to add in a bit of light with the flash, and that seemed to startle the butterlfy.  The second photo looks like a multiple exposure as an unintended consequence of the flash.  It turned out sort of interesting, giving a hint of the orange portion of the upperside of the wings.
Here is little more of the upperside orange showing on a less beddraggled specimen.
 And in a pretty tattered one that is feeding on tree sap.
You can easily see why it is called a leafwing, especially when it is hanging upside-down.  
 Or even on its side.
When the light catches them, the antennae are a distinct burnt orange color and the proboscis is yellow.
My first experiment in luring butterflies with banana was a great success, but I really prefer seeing the butterflies on "an unbaited field" with totally natural behavior.  The good thing about the banana lure was that it allowed me to get my eyes attuned to seeing these butterflies and to know that they were in the area.  Doens't it always seem that spotting the first one is always the hardest, then you see them (whatever "they" happen to to be) everywhere?
These butterflies are also called Cecropian Orions because they lay eggs on the leaves of Cecropia trees on which the caterpillars feed (don't know what the Orion bit is a bout, though). These trees are common throughout Belize and we have quite a few at our place. You can be sure that I will be looking for the eggs, caterpillars, and chrysalises when I return.