Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Laguna Blanca - Raptors Delight!

The last couple of nights have been cold with the temperature around 6C. Despite the drop in overnight temperatures there have been signs of spring with daytime temperatures on the increase. The birds have also been more vocal with the rising sun. My task of finding nests and monitoring them has begun with a few early candidates, Least Grebe, Thrush like Wren and Southern Lapwing.

This morning at 0600hrs I sloshed my way through the swampy lagoon edge towards the Seasonal Pond which was to be the subject of my survey. I was halted in my track (if the mud had not already done that!) by a broad winged raptor that flew overhead and perched itself on a small tree within the swamp! To add to my initial “What was that?” panic the bird had positioned itself directly in front of the sun making a good view almost impossible let alone decent pictures!

The raptor was a Black collared Hawk which incidentally is a new bird for the reserve (but I have a feeling this bird has been seen but not identified in the last few months?!) and a LB tick for me. The bird took flight passing overhead to sit in a more favourable but semi obscured position for photographs.

I finally arrived at the Seasonal Pond which was alive with singing birds. I completed two McKinnon lists in fifteen minutes which is a record in itself! Having caught up with the paperwork I set about photographing some of the candidates.

Striated Heron have recently re-emerged after a short absence in breeding plumage. This species is smaller, greyer with rufous striping on the breast than the larger and plainer coloured Black-crowned Night Heron. The Night herons were absent from the pond today.

Just before 0800hrs the star of the mornings show dropped in literally and attempted to snatch a Least Grebe from the pond surface but the Grebe had been alert and dived out of the grasp of the Hawks outstretched talons. I caught this moment on camera but the result was fuzzy (wrong settings for the surprise visit!!) and did not make the editors final draft!

The Hawk then perched on a branch on one of the many sunken trees and let out screaming calls and regular intervals before flying to a higher perch to sun itself! The Hawk eventually moved on over the Atlantic Forest as did I as my survey method had been completed in record time!

I made my way back through the swamp to be greeted almost head on by a Long-winged Harrier that appeared from above the tree reed line. With an earlier Roadside Hawk the raptors had been the stars of today’s show!

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Laguna Blanca - After the storm!

I was just settling down to catch up with the Premier League Football on MoTD and the power went out. This happens less frequently these days but it is always good to have a plan B especially on a Sunday. I walked over to the base and had a short conversation with Sarah (UK) who incidentally is a bit of a bird watcher when she is not studying the moths and butterflies. Plan B sprung into action bird walk it was not that I needed any persuading!

A scan of the Lagoon at the beach saw a Snowy Egret which stood proudly amongst a group of Brazilian Teal. Not a bad start so to avoid disturbing them we walked up to the top of the road by the Atlantic Forest and checked a small pond opposite the entrance to Urukurea trail.

The pond which has benefitted from the amount of rain had Least Grebe and Common Gallinule on it. A mixed flock was moving towards us so it was binos to the tree tops as the flock made their way across the tree tops.

White-barred Piculet, Guira Tanager, Hooded Tanager, Rufous Cariornis, Tropical Parula, Brown-crested Flycatcher, Variable Oriole, Little Woodpecker, and Grey Elaenia made up the flock with a Pearly-vented Tody-Tyrant and Sooty Fronted Spinetail shadowing their movements from lower down in the trees and scrub. Not a bad collection of species at all!

We made our way towards the Seasonal Pond via the Urukurea trail. The trail and Lagoon front seemed very quiet with only the odd butterfly to hold our interest. Once we have reached the Seasonal Pond the bird action livened up very quickly with an Osprey taking flight which had the Picazuro Pigeons scattering for cover!

The Ospreys movement caused squabbling amongst a group of Black-crowned Night Heron that had positioned themselves on the Atlantic Forest side of the pond. A juvenile bird was observed amongst this group.

The pond itself still had a Masked Duck, Pied-billed Grebe along with the usual suspects Least Grebe, Common Gallinule, Brazilian Teal, Cattle Tyrant and the fairly regular Yellow-browed Tyrant. As we  walk back to the Lagoon a moulting Vermilion Flycatcher took up a position where he could observe us and even took a flypast to check our credentials!

There was a butterfly which Sarah found which I cannot remember having seen before. We will be checking the butterfly book later for its scientific name. A good couple of hours spent thank goodness the power went out!

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Laguna Blanca - Cheeping away at the list!

I have been taking an early morning walk around the lagoon and the seasonal pond to monitor any new arrivals at Laguna Blanca.

A Yellow-browed Tyrant is present along the flooded margins of the lagoon. The Blackish Rail also made a fleeting appearance scurrying away when it saw me stood along the tree line.

The seasonal pond has had a list of usual suspect Brazilian Teal, Common Gallinule, Least Grebe, Social Flycatcher, Variable Oriole and the Masked Duck which seems settled there.

Whilst watching the pond yesterday morning I noticed a small white and black bird moving low through the sunken trees and vegetation. A closer look revealed a White-headed Marsh Tyrant which was a new bird for my Laguna Blanca list. Unfortunately no pictures on this occasion but I hope the bird will remain and pose for a few shots!

A couple of uncommon birds have been photographed both were associating with the Chopi Blackbirds along the front of the beach. A Unicoloured Blackbird was seen yesterday 16th at the front of the tourist area.

A pair of Monk Parakeets was spied today from the porch of the house feeding on the ground with the Chopi Blackbirds. This species is quite rare at Laguna Blanca unlike other areas of South America. In Buenos Aires they were seen in large groups (like pigeons) feeding on scraps that careless people had discarded on the ground. I’m not sure how a chip eating parrot figures in the scientific world but they had no complaints!

Monday, 15 August 2016

Laguna Blanca - Peep Show!!

The weather has been settled recently with temperatures slowly rising to the late twenties. Rain was forecast at the later end of the weekend which always holds my interest as a rarity may take the opportunity to visit the reserve.

Saturday 13th was a clear sunny day with the temperature hitting thirty degrees but there was definitely something in the air! A juvenile Tropidorus lagunablanca had awoken from its slumber near the PLT house at 1130hrs and scurried up to the top of the tree. Kelly had been quick off the mark taking some pictures of it before it disappeared.

In the afternoon a Solitary Sandpiper arrived and was seen by Nori as she walked to the beach. This news had Jeremy scrambling for his binos and I took a quick sprint from the museum to the house to get my telescope. This bird clearly wanted to spend the afternoon at LB but the Lapwing had other ideas chasing the bird around the sand and over the reeds as it called in an attempt to call off its rather large pursuers!

As I walked back to the house a Collared Plover in breeding plumage flew towards me diverting at the last minute to land on the shore to the beginning of the stream. Wow two peeps in an afternoon not bad at all!

Talk over dinner was about the possibility of spring arriving early even though we were still in August but maybe the shorebirds are beginning to move! How wrong we were storm time!!

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Laguna Blanca - Jewel in the life crown!!

Over the last ten days PLT have been busy hosting an Earth Expedition. The group members have engaged themselves in discussions, scientific research and engaging with the local kids and community.

Pre breakfast bird walks have been an optional addition with myself taking some of the group to experience the various habitats and range of bird species that use them. Some interesting birds have been seen but the best was to wait for the trip to see the White-winged Nightjar.

The journey to Nightjar land is longer these days following flooding but there was an air of anticipation on the journey there. You don’t have to be a bird-watcher to have an appreciation for this amazing bird.

Darkness fell and the large group began to spread out to look for a nightjar. Joe located a male in the long grass and people were guided in to photograph the bird. A second bird was located by Jorge some distance away but it was not clear what he had found so I was directed to join him to clear the matter up.

He had found a female / juvenile White-winged Nightjar but it had moved from its original position revealing a jewel in the crown which he quickly caught in his hands. As I approached Jorge I could see a happy but slightly mystified look on his face. He announced that he had a bird that he was not sure what it was. 
I was intrigued and slightly baffled as Jorge knew most of the species on the reserve. The moment had arrived and El Magico slowly opened his hands to reveal the bird. I instantly had an OMG moment a bird I had searched high and low for over the years with not even a murmur of a call to indicate its presence.

I went into controlled crazee mode (Not quite as mad as the Gannets at Beddington Farm!) as I took the Black-masked Finch into my hand and showed it to the group around me. My reaction was apparently priceless a life bird which complets my list of Laguna Blanca Cerrado specials. The bird also features on an EE Youtube compilation video which is worth watching.

The bird briefly took centre stage as it was photographed before being released into the night sky.


Friday, 5 August 2016

Laguna Blanca - White-winged Nightjar!

A trip to see the White-winged Nightjar is always a top priority for any visitor to Laguna Blanca. This species is known to breed at only three locations in the world two sites are in Paraguay one of which is Laguna Blanca the other at Mbaracayu (which is further south of LB).

The species is critically endangered in the world and has been the subject of a study by Joe which I have had the privilege of taking part in. A period of monsoon like rain during November 2015 and subsequent storms have flooded the route to and the area where this bird is resident. The weather has been much drier in recent months allowing the area to be accessed once again by the PLT team.

The search on this occasion was to be a short one with Joe locating a male that was proudly sitting on a termite mound. The bird flew a short distance and froze allowing me to get close to it to enable the rest of the group to get good views. 

Trips to see this rare species can be booked through tours with Paul Smith at his Fauna Paraguay website or contacting Karina Atkinson at Para La Tierra. Hyperlinks to both sites are at the bottom of this blog. 

Laguna Blanca - Chipping away and adding to the LB list!

Jeremy Dickens arrived a month ago taking up the role of Museum Curator. He is also an ornithologist who shares my passion for birds. The reserve list can only benefit from having the two of us permanently on site.

On 19th and 23rd July Jeremy observed a Sirystes singing from a tree situated between the Museum and the lagoon. This species is an Atlantic Forest species but has not made it onto my Laguna Blanca list despite keeping an ear out for its monotonous call. I saw this species at San Rafael in June.

A juvenile White Cheeked Pintail arrived on the 28thwith a group of BrazilianTeal visiting the Seasonal Pond. This bird has since been seen in the margins of the Lagoon.

I saw a Guira Tanager in a mixed flock of passerines in the Atlantic Forest on the 29th. This colourful bird was the latest bird to make my Laguna Blanca list.

A Pavonine Cuckoo which has been present on the reserve having been heard at dawn and dusk in the area of Atlantic Forest behind the museum for over a month was finally seen by Jeremy and myself but has proved extremely difficult to photograph preferring the cover dense bushes between short flights. This species is heard calling at dawn and dusk. This is a new bird for the reserve and also a life bird for me.  

Woo hoo’s all round!