Saturday, November 18, 2017

The Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge

Guest post by Dan Weisz

I just returned from the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival and really enjoyed seeing the varied habitat and the rich birdlife there.  The Festival is very well run.  The first day we visited the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge.  This area is famous for having the second highest bird count of any of the national wildlife refuges in the United States.  It is also now famous as the site where the new border wall that President Trump promised is going to be built.  The wall will rest on a levee that is one mile from the border and the vegetation will be cleared for 100 yards on either side of the wall, cutting right through the center of the refuge.  Here is the refuge’s webpage:

A view of the water and thick vegetation in the Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge

A Golden Fronted Woodpecker on a snag as viewed from the top of an observation tower above the canopy.  It looks similar to our Gila Woodpeckers but with the added yellow feathers at the base of its upper bill and a golden nape (the back of its head).

Green Jays were everywhere we went over the weekend.  This one was in a group coming to seed feeders in the refuge.

Green Jays are colorful tropical birds found primarily in Mexico and South America.  Green Jays just makes their way into the US in southern Texas (see the range map below).

There is also a resident population of Green Parakeets and Red-crowned Parrots in Harlingen, the town that hosts the festival.  The Red-crowned Parrots are native to a small region of northeastern Mexico, but through illegal pet trade, escaped birds and released pets have established colonies of feral population in a number of cities in the United States.

We found them near sunset in a residential neighborhood of Harlingen.

South Padre Island is a popular destination for Spring Breakers, but it is also a popular stop-over for migrating birds and offers a year-round sub-tropical environment for many other birds.

In one park, we saw a female Tennessee Warbler enjoying fruits on a tree on its way to its wintering home.  This is a bird that summers in the Canadian boreal forest.  Check out the range map to see how far this little bird has already flown on its way south.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

A Birding Trip to Northeast Botswana: Part 2

Guest column by Alan & Albert Adler
Read Part 1

Botswana is a landlocked country with no intercontinental airports. We left Tucson on November 23, 2016 to fly first to Atlanta and then take the Delta flight directly from Atlanta to Johannesburg, South Africa. It is a 14-hour flight (one of the top ten longest flights in the world) and we knew we would need a little downtime once in South Africa to reset our clocks. We stayed two nights in Johannesburg at a small hotel with lovely grounds. After a 36-hour layover we flew the final 700 miles to the Maun (population 56,000) on South Africa Airlines. The flight attendants on that flight worked their tails off to provide drink service and a hot lunch – impressive. There was always a small nagging thought that we would arrive in Maun and find no one there to meet us. Even though we had travel insurance, we were far from anywhere, feeling quite dependent. When we got through passport control and walked out to see our names on a Kit Adventure card we were totally relieved. For the first of many times Richard and the other Batswana we met during our journey proved we could count on them. We grabbed our bags and headed for the converted Land Cruiser that would be “birding central” for the next two weeks.

The Road to Sango Camp
Lilac-breasted Roller
It was 1 p.m. on November 26th when Richard picked us up at the Maun airport to head out to the first of three camps within three different areas, and we began birding almost immediately. The vehicle Richard provided had rows of seats in the back, which enabled us to obtain wonderful views out either side and over the cab. It combined the childhood thrill of riding in the back of the pickup with the safety of seat belts. And it had a sunshade. There was always a cooler for our preferred drinks to refresh ourselves or to toast a particularly fine view.

It was on the road to Sango Camp that we immediately became familiar with Richard’s style. He would see or hear something that we had no clue about, suddenly pull over or back up, turn off the truck, and point out the object of his interest. This gave us ample opportunity to find the bird, listen to the call, and take almost as many pictures as we wanted. Neither of us are wildlife photographers and our only big camera was the Canon Powershot SX60, so there was a lot of zoom fiddling, but Richard was always the height of patience. It must be noted that we were able to photograph with this camera nearly all the birds identified in this trip report. As a result we have recorded a lot of memories that would already be faded.

On the way out of town, we saw for the first of many, many times what we believe is the most ubiquitous, beauteous bird in all the world: the Lilac-breasted Roller. Richard told us that it is the unofficial national bird of Botswana. Other ubiquitous birds that we saw that exciting first afternoon in country were: the Fork-tailed Drongo, (a few days later we took a photo of one harassing a Brown Snake Eagle); the Ring-necked Dove, with distinctive white patches on its tail, and the beautiful Helmeted Guinea Fowl; the secretive but quite striking Red-billed Spurfowl whose calls would greet our every morning. One of the most unusual families of birds are the hornbills; that day we saw the Southern Red-billed, Southern Yellow-billed, African Grey, and the Bradfield’s Hornbill as well as our first Bee-eater: the Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, which is a predominantly green bird; only the males have a blue cheek. As we were going along, Richard suddenly stopped and about 10 yards from the road amidst the trees was our first of many sightings of a Giraffe. It was on the road to Sango camp from Maun that we saw the Striated Heron, the Emerald–spotted Wood Dove, the Pale Chanting Goshawk, the Groundscraper Thrush, the Double-banded Sandgrouse , and the Crested Francolin – all from families of birds with which we were familiar. But on that road we saw two 15-inch tall land birds: the striking Senegal Coucal (one of several species of coucal that we were to see elsewhere with their black crests pure white bellies, and lovely russet wings), and the Red-crested Korhaan (one of two species of these birds that have very distinct, beautiful markings on their back and upper part of their wings).

Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill

Bradfield’s Hornbill

Southern Red-billed Hornbill

Crested Francolin

In the 12 days we were together, we never failed to be amazed by his extraordinary ability to be barreling down a dirt road and still pick out something amazing – sunbirds at the top of a tree 100 yards away or a pair of male lions quietly resting 10 feet from the road, perfectly camouflaged in the dry brush. Our delight and excitement with each new bird, and, oh yes, cape buffalo, impala, and lion and elephant tracks, meant that our 2-½ hour trip to Sango Camp took close to 5. We were thrilled, and after all, we thought, isn’t that what we came for? Evening was falling by the time we rolled across the bridge and into the Sango camp within the Khwai Community Area.

Stay tuned for Part 3! 

Lilac-breasted Rollers


Alan and Albert Adler have been residing in Tucson since 1998. Alan has been a lifelong birder, and from June 1999 through August 2002, he served as a writer and the volunteer editor of Tucson Audubon's Vermilion Flycatcher. In the spring of 2000, he was very pleased to report that the 32-page “newsletter”, as it was known then, was ranked 1st among those from 10 other “very large” chapters, beating Seattle, Greater Denver, and Fairfax, Virginia in the competition held by the National Audubon Society.  For the past seven years, Alan has volunteered with the Lend A Hand Senior Assistance, Inc., twice serving as its co-President. Albert began birding as an adult and has worked as a pediatrician with the Tohono O’odahm tribe since August 1998. The photos that accompany the article were taken almost entirely by Albert.