December 2013 Winner – Instagram

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What’s Chirping? Monthly Winner – December 2013

Congratulations Dan Mason. Your Northern Flicker was this month’s winner. Thanks again for sharing it with us.

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Daily Features. Monthly Winners.

(Monthly winners are the photos that receive the most likes each month during their first 24 hours on the Instagram feed.)

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Birding Kaieteur Falls

Kaieteur Falls, located in the heart of Guyana’s interior is the tallest single drop waterfall in the world.  Fed by the Potaro River, over 100,000 liters of tannin-stained water pour over the edge every second, crashing into a gorge 741 feet below. 

The majority of visitors to the falls arrive and leave by small plane, because an overland trek to and from the falls takes a few days and accommodations are scarce. This cuts down on the number of visitors, which helps to keep this natural wonder in its pristine state. I have been privileged to visit twice this year.

My Ride

On both occasions I have been rewarded with glimpses of the magnificent Guianan Cock of the Rock, specifically the male, which is a brilliant orange color with a large crescent-like crest. Both times this striking bird was hidden so far back in the thick scrub that I was unable get a quality photo. Fortunately, on my second trip out I was accompanied by my good friend, CJ Webber, a very talented photographer who was able to get some pretty good shots.

Guianan Cock-of-the-rock (Rupicola rupicola) – Photo by CJ Webber 
Another shot by CJ Webber – Check out more of his work here.

My first visit to the falls was in June, during the wet season. The volume of water pouring over the escarpment that time of year is overwhelming, and a mist rises up from the river bed below that attracts white-collared swifts. The day I visited there must have been three hundred of them zipping in and out of the mist and circling high up into the sky above. The second visit was in November, which is the dry season. The river spills over the edge, providing a much more scenic view. With no mist, however, there wasn’t a swift to be found.

White-collared Swifts spiraling up to the heavens. 
White-collared Swifts enjoying the mist.
White-collared Swift (Streptoprocne zonaris)

Both times out I found Tropical Kingbirds behind the small welcome center, so I assume they are year round residents. The tours of the falls stay on a pretty quick pace, which didn’t really work for bird and wildlife photography, but the experience is still second to none. If you ever get a chance to go, do it. You won’t be disappointed.

Tropical Kingbird (Tyrannus melancholicus)

Smooth-billed Ani

I’d been searching for a Smooth-billed Ani for quite some time  in South Florida, where I live.  They are not common here, but every so often I see a report of one being sighted.  I was never able to catch up with one. So when I saw one during my recent vacation in Dominican Republic, you can imagine my excitement.  I was walking on a little nature trail while the rest of my family and friends roasted on the beach, when this beautiful bird swooped down from a tree on my right, over the path in front of me and landed on a low branch to my left.  I didn’t have my camera with me at the time, so we just stared at each other for a moment. Then he hopped back deeper into the brush and I continued on my way.  Of course that meant I would spend the rest of the week with my camera walking back and forth down that trail waiting for him to reappear. A few days later he did, so I am able to share him with you here.

Smooth-billed Ani (Crotophaga ani)
Smooth-billed Ani (Crotophaga ani)

Antillean Mango

The Antillean Mango is a common species of Hummingbird found throughout the Island of Hispaniola.  It is also found in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.  This female stopped buzzing around and stared at me for a moment, graciously allowing me to get this shot.  Then she was gone a quickly as she arrived.

Antillean Mango (Anthracothorax dominicus)

A Descent of Hispaniolan Woodpeckers

One of my favorite birds from a recent trip to Dominican Republic was the Hispaniolan Woodpecker. Unlike many woodpeckers, which tend to be solitary and skittish, the Hispaniolan Woodpecker nests and feeds in descents of five to twenty pairs. They are loud, very active, social and bold. I was able to get within two or three meters of them to shoot my photos. I found these birds to be absolutely beautiful, with their red crowns, bright yellow-orange eyes, beige breasts and black and gold backs. They are endemic to the Island of Hispaniola, which means the only places you will find them are Dominican Republic and Haiti. They are found throughout the entire island. They colonize in the palm trees along the coasts and are found in agricultural fields. They are present in the wooded regions and in the deserts and mountains of the island as well. Just in case you are wondering about the title of this article, a group of woodpeckers is properly referred to as a descent.  Enjoy the photos.

Curious male Hispaniolan Woodpecker  (Melanerpes striatus) posing for a photo.

Female Hispaniolan Woodpecker clinging to the “moon.”

Female Hispaniolan Woodpecker bringing food to her nest.

Impatient juvenile Hispaniolan Wookpecker waiting for his lunch.

Twisting and Turning – Motion Blur!

Bird on a Wire

Female birds in many cases are not nearly as brilliantly colored or marked as their male counterparts.  This is true of the female Red-winged Blackbird perched on the barbed wire below, which is neither black nor red-winged.  Females are streaked with gold and brown and feature a lighter eyebrow and pale breast.  Typically they exhibit yellow patches or occasionally a little bit of red on their shoulders. It is speculated that the female’s brownish coloration keeps her camouflaged, protecting her from predators while nesting.

Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus)

Laughing Gulls

Laughing Gulls are common on beaches or in parking lots throughout South Florida and the Eastern Coast of the United States.  As you would probably guess, their name is derived from their raucous laugh-like call.  I been told that they are not really laughing; it’s just the sound of their calls.  But the lively group below sure started “calling” a lot when I took my shirt off at the beach the other day.

Laughing Gull (Leucophaeus atricilla) Juvenile

Laughing Gull (Leucophaeus atricilla) Adult

This adult found a crust of bread…

…then dropped it in the sand…

…and shared it with his younger compatriot.

Hovering and scanning for an easy meal.

Skimming the bay waters and pulling up a weed.