Birder's Eye View

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Long overdue report

I realized today that I haven't actually posted any birding trip reports since January, and it may seem as if I shirked my rightful birding duties these past few months. But do no be fooled, reader, though I do apologize for my failure to keep up this blog regularly. 

This semester I actually managed to get in several good birding days, a few thanks to some new birding acquaintances I made at school. Unfortunately, since I'm so backlogged, I think pictures with short descriptions will have to suffice to recap the last 4 months. 

Ospreys are still nesting all over campus; this one has taken up residence over the baseball field and the garden. Several nests were successful this year, and the chicks should be fledging about now.

About a month or two ago, I got my lifer Red-breasted Merganser on a hike near the beach. There were two of them, floating around in the waves. Very exciting!

Also got my FOY Black-bellied Plover the same day, in the same area.

On another birding trip, I tagged along with a friend to a local suburban park. Although we never found the Virginia Rail we had come to look for, the park was bursting with birds in the early morning.

There were tons of Red-winged Blackbirds. This one wasn't at all afraid of us, but instead rather cantankerous and tried to chase us off the boardwalk.

Got some nice views of Woodstorks as well, foraging in the pond.

Loggerhead Shrike


By far, my favorite bird in the park was the Limpkin. There were 3 residents there at different ponds, which isn't something you see too often around here.

As we were leaving, my friend spotted a raptor up in one of the trees. It was pretty far away, but we managed to ID it as a Cooper's Hawk, another FOY for me.

During a few less-busy days at school, I got out to hike around the preserve areas on campus. Never saw anything out of the ordinary, although I was very excited to see this group of wading birds all foraging together at one of the ponds! I've never seen 3 different species hanging around so closely, but they seemed very content.

So now the school year is over, and I'm back home for about another week and a half before I fly out to my next adventure. Details to come, so stay tuned!

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Friday, May 20, 2011

Final Days in Puerto Rico

Finally finished with school for the semester and wanted to post a few more pictures from my final days in Puerto Rico last month (wow, was it already that long ago?). Didn't see any new birds really in the final 2 days, but I did become very accustomed to the regulars -- scaly-naped pigeons, stripe-headed tanagers, tons of hummingbirds, wrens, and yellow-shouldered blackbirds.

After finishing work on our second-to-last day, we spent the afternoon hiking in the waterfalls. These falls were about a 15 minute trek from the Hacienda into the jungle, and were comprised of a narrow, rocky stream that ran down from the mountain top. I also found out on our last day that this was the source of water we had been drinking for the last week! No filtration or processing, just pure mountain water piped straight to the house. It tasted delicious, and no one got sick from it so I guess it was clean enough!

Climbing down (I'm in the purple hat)
We literally followed the stream for hours, climbing up waterfall after waterfall after waterfall. It was seemingly endless. Some were small and needed only a short step up, and others were taller than I am and required some intense finessing to get up. Coming down again was a whole other ordeal!

On our last day, we packed up again and headed off in the sketchy red van, with more people than there were seats bouncing around as we hurtled down the mountain. It was another gorgeous day, and I couldn't help but feel reflective and somewhat melancholy as we left the pristine jungles for the coastal city.
As if a testament to the urban growth slowly taking over the island, we passed this gigantic overpass that cuts straight through the rainforest from Ponce on the coast to Utuado inland. For a rainforest that  had made me feel so small, insignificant, and very much at the mercy of nature all week long, this bridge turned the tables completely, dwarfing the mountains and throwing nature at the mercy of humankind.

Cool sand sculpture
Once we got into Ponce, we had the whole afternoon and half the night to enjoy the city before heading to the airport at midnight (hooray for budget flights!). We wandered the central street market, browsed the shops, and had dinner at a fancy restaurant for our last meal together.

The city contrasted sharply to the jungles that surround it. Although it's fairly old and retains the classic Latin American style of architecture and layout, it's a very different world from the lives led by those who live in the mountains. 

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed the trip. Like all travel, it was immensely eye-opening to the ways other people live, and a fantastic opportunity to visit one of the few biodiversity hotspots left in the world today. I hope to return to the Caribbean islands and Latin America someday soon and see what else there to see!

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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Ginormous millipede
On Thursday of spring break week, we got a day off from working to take a trip to some local caves. Our faithful guide accompanied us, but before taking us to the caves he wanted to show us a local cultural center. I was skeptical at first, but it turned out to be a really interesting archaeological site.

The Caguana Indigenous Ceremonial Park is an ancient Taino (native Puerto Rican) site dating back to 1200-1500AD, full of petroglyphs and plazas. The plazas were apparently areas used for civic and religious activities, as well as a ball game known as batey. The petroglyphs portray animals and human faces, thought to represent leaders of the tribes. I was really excited to see this, especially since I’m taking an archaeology class right now and got to geek out on some of the concepts I’ve been learning about.

Petroglyphs -- the middle one is one of the most famous images in PR

Bird petroglyphs! 
After spending some time at the site, we drove about another hour or so on windy roads, before parking at a gas station. I was a little confused at first, but it turned out the entrance to a cave we were visiting was accessible by a small, steep trail leading up a densely jungled and rocky mountain behind the gas station.

There were a couple small caves along the way, but our guide assured us that the cave we were looking for was much larger.

 And indeed it was! We followed a set of natural, steep steps down into a large cavern, switching on our headlamps and flashlights as the light from outside quickly diminished. It was clear that the cave was heavily used by people, but it was definitely an “off the beaten path” sort of place — not ropes, railings, lights, signs, or any sort of safety regulations you might find in a cave that size in the States!

More bats
The photos above are deceiving, but even with flashlights, the cave was pitch black once we got away from the opening. You could only vaguely make out the ground a couple feet in front of you. When we shined lights up at the ceiling, we could see bats swooping in and out.

After a few long minutes of picking our way through the darkness, light began showing at the end of a wide tunnel. When we came out to it, I realized we were hundreds of feet above the ground with a sheer drop down, looking out over the misty landscape. It was absolutely breathtaking.

As we sat there taking in the view, a rainstorm swept across the mountains, shrouding everything in fog. It’s impossible to even describe, but it was just beautiful. It was by far one of my favorite days yet, and a good end to a week of service work, fun times, and many new perspectives.

White-winged Dove

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