Bolivia – Spots still open!!

Red-fronted Macaws. Copyright Paul Jones.

Red-fronted Macaws. Copyright Paul Jones.

We are heading to Bolivia on Oct 7 – 20, with a pre-tour visit to Lake Titicaca on the 6th. There are still spots open for this unique and incredible birding tour. This tour is focused on bringing bird-based tourism to areas that are being set aside for conservation. These are birds and habitats being saved directly due to income by visiting birders. The plan is to visit three different areas of Bolivia. One lodge benefits the Red-fronted Macaw seen above in Paul Jone’s photo; this is a unique and endemic macaw of Bolivia. The other lodge is Sadiri within Madidi National Park. Foothill forest, so cooler than the lowland Tropical Forest, but close enough that one can drive down the road to see lowland birds too. This is a great, spot to see lots and lots of birds, and in comfort! Finally, we visit the Barba Azul Reserve, the only reserve created strictly for the conservation of the extremely rare Blue-throated Macaw (blue beard, or “barba azul”). Here a whole slew of other interesting birds are found from Cock-tailed Tyrants and Streamer-tailed Tyrants, to endemic regional subspecies (future species?), as well as Maned Wolf, Giant Anteaters…wow. But the best thing about this tour is that it is specially created to maximize the dollars going back to conservation projects. As well this is a trip where we stay in few places and try to minimize the travel, although Bolivia is a huge country. Rather than being in a bus all day, we will be at lodges, and venturing out from them to bird. These are awesome areas, with some awesome birds. Join me in Bolivia this October! Download the pdf Bolivia- Itinerary 2015. Send me an email if you are interested.

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HERALD A NEW DAWN

Herald PetrelCrummy pun, but I am just pretentending to be a newspaper headline writer. Aren’t you tired of birding articles where we “flock to….” or are “aflutter ….” In any case, something much more serious happened, today, the AOU Checklist Supplement came out. This is when we find out what new species are added to the North American lists, which have been lumped, which split, and which re-named. The document is available here: http://www.aoucospubs.org/doi/pdf/10.1642/AUK-15-73.1

The separation of the Herald Petrel and the Trindade Petrel is of particular joy to me. Two years ago while working with George Armistead on the ABA’s East Coast Seabirds IFO class, I came up with a plan. Brian Patteson, who runs the definitive birding trips out to the Gulf Stream, in North Carolina, was running the trips for us. I told him, “Brian, if we see a Trindade Petrels, I will write a proposal for the AOU to finally separate this species from the Herald Petrel.” Well, Brian showed me my first Trindade Petrel, a bird that was originally described as a separate (actually more than one) species from the Herald, but which was lumped with it eventually due to outward similarity. As promised, I dug into the literature, put my arguments together and I wrote up the proposal. First I sent it off to the South American AOU (SACC) and eventually it was accepted, pheew. I edited the proposal somewhat, and sent it to the NACC (the North American AOU committee). Today I found out that they accepted the change as well! It seems silly to be happy about what may seem like minor accounting in the bird world, but to anyone interested in biodiversity, the unit of the species is important and when the data suggests that the traditional organization may be under-representing the world’s biodiversity…well, time for action.

I was concerned that this potential taxonomic change may get muddled up with a very complex situation where three taxa of petrels are hybridizing on Round Island in the Indian Ocean. But they were able to see that this was an oddball situation that clarified that various Pterodroma petrels can hybridize when they want to! The taxonomic change clarifies now that the wonderful creature one sees, when lucky, on Brian’s trips is an endemic to the Atlantic Ocean, with spill over into the Indian. It is named for the “Trinity Islands” but in Portuguese, hence it is not Trinidad which is Spanish, but Trindade (pronounce it sort of like Trin-dadje). The Pacific bird is named for a ship, The Herald, that the collectors were on when they found this species. It is widespread in the Tropical Pacific, my photo above is from Easter Island.

There are a great deal of changes taxonomically this time around, it is an exciting AOU supplement to digest. My friend Michael Retter of the ABA has done a wonderful job of summarizing the changes on their blog. Many interesting movements of genera, and re-shifting of the avian family tree. These are exciting times to live in, where we are finally getting a very firm grasp on the real relationships of our birds. The moving around will begin to slow soon, and we can grapple with the details, but we are still in the big swing time where tanagers turn to grosbeaks, and seedeaters become tanagers etc. Good times if you ask me!

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Kelp Gull in California

Kelp Gull1Weirdly enough all of the exceedingly rare (“Megas!”) I have found around Half Moon Bay, CA, have been birds that are common in my second home – Chile. I admit it raises a suspicious eyebrow, but I swear that no birds have ever been put in my bags. The list included White-chinned Petrel, and Salvin’s Albatross, and now a new bird of the ocean showed up – Kelp Gull. This was last Wednesday, May 20th. If accepted by the state committee it will become the first for the state; the other two were also state firsts. What is almost certainly the same bird was seen about a month before, and poorly photographed such that identification was seriously in doubt – I thought it was better for a Yellow-footed Gull. And after my observation the Kelp Gull was found on the Farallon Islands, and obviously now we can be pretty certain these observations are of the same bird. Kelp Gull front Kelp Gull back

People have asked about the identification, and as an adult it is relatively straight forward. Kelp is a black (not gray) backed gull. It also has yellowish, but tending to greenish legs, not bright yellow. It also has restricted white on the primaries. In shape it tends to be bulky and short to mid length on the wings, tall legged, and bulky billed with the thick base and clear angle at the gonys. The similar species are the Great Black-backed, which has a lot of white on the outer primaries, is dull pink on the legs, and much bigger and thicker overall. The fuscus race of the Lesser Black-backed, a form that has never been detected in North America known as the “Baltic Gull” is slimmer, much longer winged, and has nearly no angle on the gonys so looks thin billed. It also has brighter yellow eyes and brighter yellow legs. Here is a link to a paper I co-authored some years ago in Birding World on the identification of Kelp Gull: Jiguet-Jaramillo-and-Sinclair-ID-of-Kelp-Gull

Thanks to Joe Morlan and Matthew Dodder for coming through with a cropped version of the original!

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Cuba 2015 Trip Report

Cuban Tody Cuba 2015AJ

Our Cuba 2015 visit was a smashing success. You can read the details here: Cuba 2015 trip results. We are working with the Caribbean Conservation Trust on an April 2016 departure, please let me (alvaro@alvarosadventures.com) know if you are interested. This is a licensed trip, the CCT being the license holder.

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Chile 2014 trip report

Austral Pygmy-Owl Oct 22 2014 Torres del Paine AJ

Trip report for Chile 2014 now available – download pdf

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Bolivia – Macaws and Conservation Lodges October 2015

Red-fronted Macaws. Copyright Paul Jones.

Red-fronted Macaws. Copyright Paul Jones.

Save the dates – Oct 7 to 20, 2015. Finally it is all coming together. A country that captured my imagination and interest for many years will be part of our offerings. Bolivia! Through help from my friends at Bird Bolivia, as well as the Birdlife Partner Fundacion Armonia this dream of a trip is now on the books. The plan is to visit three different areas of Bolivia, staying at lodges that have been built to accommodate birders and bring in funds that will help in funding local conservation projects. One lodge benefits the Red-fronted Macaw seen above in Paul Jone’s photo; this is a unique and endemic macaw of Bolivia. The other lodge is Sadiri within Madidi National Park. Foothill forest, so cooler than the lowland Tropical Forest, but close enough that one can drive down the road to see lowland birds too. This is a great, spot to see lots and lots of birds, and in comfort! Finally, we visit the Barba Azul Reserve, the only reserve created strictly for the conservation of the uber rare Blue-throated Macaw (blue beard, or “barba azul”). Here a whole slew of other interesting birds are found from Cock-tailed Tyrants and Streamer-tailed Tyrants, to endemic regional subspecies (future species?), as well as Maned Wolf, Giant Anteaters…wow. But the best thing about this tour is that it is specially created to maximize the dollars going back to conservation projects. As well this is a trip where we stay in few places and try to minimize the travel, although Bolivia is a huge country. Rather than being in a bus all day, we will be at lodges, and venturing out from them to bird. These are awesome areas, with some awesome birds. Join me in Bolivia this October! Send me an email alvaro@alvarosadventures.com if you are interested.

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Sedge Wren Shakeup!!

Formerly the Sedge Wren, this is the southernmost species in the complex.

Formerly the Sedge Wren, this is the southernmost species in the complex. Now known as the Austral Wren.

For those who have traveled down south and have seen a “Sedge Wren” in South America, you may have the opinion that those things down there are nothing like the Sedge Wren of the north. Well, you would have been right in your assertion. For some time the name Grass Wren was given to anything that was not the classic North American Sedge Wren, but it turns out to be even more nuanced than that.

A paper by Mark Robbins and Arpad Nyari published December 2014 (The Wilson Journal of Ornithology 126(4):649–662, 2014) clarifies the relationship of the various Sedge Wren forms. They used data from nuclear and mitochondrial DNA to put together a hypothesis for the relationships in the group, in addition they also analyzed vocalizations of the various forms. Their analysis found that the Apolinar’s and Merida wrens of Colombia and Venezuela were part of this complex, and embedded within it. Their data suggest that including these two species there are a whopping 11 species!! Robbins and Nyari make a plea for temperate grassland conservation, stating that many of these species are either very rare and restricted now, or have had massive population drops since large scale grazing and agriculture altered the landscape.

Wrens will be the new tapaculos. Keep your eyes out on House Wren, as there likely be a similar number of suggested splits in the future. It may even be more complex with the House Wrens. Marsh Wren is two species in North America, and it is not impossible that we have more than one Bewick’s Wren in the continent. Watch the wrens in the coming years. Below are the suggested species in the complex.

Cistothorus stellarisSedge Wren. This is the one we find in the United States and Canada.

Cistothorus meridaeMerida Wren. Venezuela.

Cistothorus apolinariApolinar’s Wren. Colombia.

Cistothorus elegansGrass Wren. Highlands of Mexico to Panama.

Cistothorus hornensisAustral Wren. Chile, Patagonia, and the Falklands. This is the bird pictured above, the southernmost in the group, and one that has a relatively short tail.

Cistothorus tucumanusTucuman Wren. Santa Cruz, Bolivia south to Cordoba, Argentina.

Cistothorus platensisPampas Wren. Note that this is the species that will carry the original name, platensis, as it was the first named based on the Rio de la Plata. Lowlands of Bolivia east through Paraguay and S Brazil south through Uruguay to central Argentina.

Cistothorus minimusPuna Wren. Ayacucho Peru to Altiplano of Bolivia.

Cistothorus graminicolaJunin Wren. Highlands of N  Peru, Junin.

Cistothorus aequatorialisParamo Wren. Paramos of Andean Venezuela, Colombia south to N Peru.

Cistothorus alticolaVenezuelan Wren. Tepuis of Venezuela.

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Sept 5 2014 – Monterey Bay Pelagic Trip Report

What a huge number of birds!…. and whales! It is a buffet right now in Monterey Bay, and it is bringing in the masses of inshore shearwaters including many Black-vented and a handful of Manx mixed in with the masses of Sooty Shearwaters. A great trip, with superb weather, and lots of mammals mixed in with the birds. Download the trip report here: 2014 Sept 5 Monterey Bay

Black-vented Shearwater Sept 5 2014 Monterey

One of the many Black-vented Shearwaters today, and I mean many. We saw enough that we were able to spot two leucistic individuals. One nearly all white, the other much more patchy. It turns out that Black-vented has a propensity towards leucism, but it is unclear why?

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Trip report – Sept 6 2014 San Mateo County pelagic

We had a great trip out of Half Moon Bay. Great calm weather and lots of birds. Highlights included a Flesh-footed Shearwater, two Tufted Puffins, three species of storm petrels, all three jaegers and Skua, plus a Laysan Albatross. For a full report, download this: 2014 Sept 6 San Mateo County Pelagic.

Tufted Puffins Half Moon Bay

 

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Salvin’s Albatross – new for California?

Salvin's Albatross CA AJ5

 

 

Our pelagic trip out of Half Moon Bay yesterday (July 26, 14) ended up being amazing. If we did not find the bird of the season, well, it is going to be a heck of a season. The star of the show was a juvenile Salvin’s Albatross, which should be along the Humboldt Current in its non-breeding areas, it breeds in islands SE of New Zealand (Bounty and Snares Islands). The taxonomy and identification of this bird has been in flux during the last ten years or so. The complex is known as the Shy Albatross, and it has three components: White-capped, Salvin’s and Chatham. Most world authorities now separate them into three different species, some have suggested two with Chatham as a subspecies of Salvin’s. The South American Classification Committee has separated them into three, here is a link to the proposal I wrote for the committee.

In California there is a record of Salvin’s Albatross, but recently it has been called to question as a likely Chatham. Once the AOU defines the taxonomy in North America, and the identification of that earlier record, we will know if this is in fact a first for California!! We even made it on the ABA blog!! Thanks to Tom Mattusch of the Huli Cat for making the trip possible, and of course all of the folks who accompanied us out there.

THE PHOTO GALLERY:

Tom Grey’s photos

Ron Wolf’s photos

Malia de Felice’s photos

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