Wednesday, March 21, 2018

South America, Day 9 - 25 Feb 2018

25 Feb 2018 – Manta, Ecuador

We pulled into port just before 7 am. Two things were obvious: the heat and humidity, and lack of birds.  Skies were mostly clear, but the humidity was high, and temperatures were expected to reach the mid-80’s. As I scanned the port I saw no birds on the water, and none in the air.

adult female
It wasn’t until we began to dock that the first of several Magnificent Frigatebirds floated into view. One bird approached at eye-level, and looked as it it were going to fly right into our room! It was then followed by an adult male, then a juvenile.

adult male
A scan of the piers yielded a couple dozen Laughing Gulls. These birds replaced the now-dwindling Franklin's Gulls seen in earlier ports.

I expected the Isle de Corazon trip to be awesome. It was described as a birder's paradise, so my expectations were high (as was the cost of the tour). We had only 9 people signed up for the tour so our group was small. However, our tour guide had been pulled from one of the City  Tour buses at the last minute, so he had no binoculars or field guide to help with bird ID. That left it to me to be the interim tour guide. I turned out to be more than adequate for the group, since almost every bird seen was known to US birding.

Our 2-hour van trip was warm and stuffy, with no AC. Not horrible, but a bit uncomfortable. Ricardo, our guide, spent much time talking about the city of Manta, Ecuador, and little time on birds. I desperately tried to ID distant birds through the van windows with binoculars and camera, but w/o much luck. Several Yellow-crowned Night Herons were easily ID'd without bins.

Ecuador offered much more lush vegetation than our previous countries of Peru and Chile. It was not until we came upon flooded rice fields that our attention turned to birds.

Northern Jacana

A Limpkin was first mistaken for a Glossy Ibis. We then saw Northern Jacanas foraging in plant-covered ponds. Farther up we stopped for the first of many Black-necked Stilts, Common Gallinules, and Fulvous Whistling-Ducks. I turned my attention to a pair of Croaking Ground Doves, since they were new birds for me (their yellow-based bills and red slash on the forewing helped w/ ID).

Black-necked Stilt

Fulvous Whistling-Duck

Croaking Ground Dove
Tumaco Seedeater?
As we continued along E 315N Ricardo described the Zeibo Trees to us. They look like Baobab trees that swell with water during rainy season (now), then shrink during dry season. I managed to point out Long-tailed Mockingbirds, Glossy Ibis, Great-tailed Grackles, Smooth-billed Anis, and Peruvian Meadowlarks. Two birds were a challenge: one looked like a White-bellied Seedeater, but with a red throat. The closest I could come to was a 1st year male Tumaco Seedeater. The second, a large blackbird, turned out to be a Scrub Blackbird.

Scrub Blackbird?

Tropical Kingbird
We finally arrived at a darling hotel on the coast called the Casa del Ceibo. There, we had a few minutes to bird the grounds on our way to the boat awaiting us. Rosa, our hostess, gave us bird guides and took us outside, where I managed to photograph Long-tailed Mockingbird, Tropical Kingbirds, Croaking Ground Dove, and a pair of Saffron Finches that were mistakenly called Mangrove Warblers. A pair of Yellow-rumped Caciques were calling from the trees nearby, but would not show.

Saffron Finch

Croaking Ground Dove

Long-tailed Mockingbird
While Ricardo introduced us to Alfredo, and spent wayyyy too much time talking about the mangroves, I photographed a flock of Semipalmated Sandpipers and Yellow-crowned Night Herons.

Twelve of us crowded into a small canopy-covered canoe and made our way to a small mangrove island where 200-300 Magnificent Frigatebirds were nesting. Frigatebirds were everywhere!

not a composite!

Cocoi Heron
Photography was tough as I was on the wrong side of the boat and having to focus through other people and the canoe’s railings. But, I managed a few images of the nesting birds that also included Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, White Ibis and Cocoi Herons.  

The Magnificent Frigatebirds were the show, however, so I spent all effort trying to capture them in flight. According to Ricardo the male Magnificent Frigatebirds will inflate their red gular sacks twice a day for about 45 minutes each.

We then motored across the shallow mangrove lake for the next 20 minutes to the actual Isle de Corazon, but stayed only long enough to see a few dozen Neotropic Cormorants, White Ibis, a Little Blue Heron, Green Kingfisher, and a few more frigatebirds. Definitely not worth the boat ride...

By now it was very hot, humid, and the fumes from the diesel engine were getting to us. Still, I managed a few pics of several juvenile frigatebirds as they floated alongside the boat and dipped their beaks into the waters either to drink or pick us sticks.

We returned to the hotel for a lunch of swordfish, rice, plantain chips, and shrimp soup that was delicious. I was exhausted, but forced myself to eat. The swordfish was excellent, and white rice was the ticket. I would spot a hummingbird out in the garden and went to chase it, and all I could come up with was a Long-billed Starthroat based on bill shape (long and upturned). It will have to remain unidentified.

The trip back to the ship was hot and stuffy, and I had to consume two bottles of water to keep from passing out. As it was, I slept most of the evening and didn’t each much for dinner.  We pulled out of port, and the only bird I would see was a pair of Blue-footed Boobies off the front of the ship at dusk.

Tomorrow we are at sea as we cruise from South America toward Costa Rica.

Monday, March 19, 2018

South America, Day 8 - 24 Feb 2018

24 Feb 2018 – At Sea – Day of the Dolphin

This morning we are approaching Ecuador. At 8 am the ship is approximately just north of Isla Lobodos de Tierra and between La Trampa and Bayovar, Peru heading toward La Castia, Peru. Seas are calm and skies are clear. It’ll be a warm day when the sun comes around our side of the ship this afternoon.

The highlights of the morning were dolphins. Large pods were appearing out from the ship. The first large pod consisted of 200-300 dolphins that were porpoising out near the horizon. As I scoped them from the promenade many of the guests walking the ship stopped by to look through the scope.

Sooty Shearwaters (all-dark with dark bills) were moving this morning and flying mostly out in front of the ship.

I began seeing also several all-dark shearwaters with bright yellow bills: White-chinned Petrels! These birds have a yellow bill and an obscure white patch of feathers on the chin that are not easily seen. I managed to grab one image that shows the white patch!

Who says you can't digiscope from a moving boat?

The Peruvian Boobies that I’d been seeing since the beginning of the cruise have now been replaced with Blue-footed Boobies. They are easy to spot since their heads are not white, but dark gray, even if you can’t see their feet in flight.

Several white-headed albatrosses were spotted swimming and flying out from the ship. Since we are close to the Galapagos Islands these birds can be easily identified as Waved Albatross. I even managed to see the faint yellow wash along the back of the head and nape.



At 11 am I was back in my cabin and out on the balcony scoping birds. The previously-mentioned White-chinned Petrels and Sooty Shearwaters continued to appear in small flocks, while more of the Waved Albatrosses would be seen swimming on the water.

I started seeing tiny white specks flying just over the water and landing in groups of 3 – 6 birds. They swam upright and showed evidence of a dark patch extending out from the eyes. I believe these birds to be Red Phalaropes, which are common in this region and seen as far as 30 km from shore. 

What appeared to be a shallow shoal out ½ mile from the ship turned out to be a monster pod of ~400 dolphins churning up the water as they jumped continuously. The size of this pod must’ve extended over 1/3 mile. Dozens more were breaching just in front of the ship and just out from where I stood, and I managed to catch several dolphins as they leaped and slapped the water with their bodies.

Activity died down by early afternoon when I couldn’t see any more birds on the waters. At 11:30 am we were near La Bocana, Peru and approximately 250 miles to Manta, Ecuador. We are to arrive in port at 8 am.

I have scheduled a bird tour of the Isle de Corazon, or heart-shaped island near the Galapagos. Should be awesome!

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