Tag Archives: Travel

Burrowing Owl #2

Following on from my first blog, Burrowing Owl #1, the excitment continued as I photographed these comical little characters for a day-and-a-half while I waited for Maria and the kids to fly in from Copenhagen.

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Like a lot of owl species, the Burrowing owl is a fierce looking little guy and a firm defender of territory. They are so fearless it is possible to get within a few metres, so with a little patience (and the right light conditions) I felt confident I could get some good images.

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Now for the facts:

As can be seen from the images, the Burrowing owl is a small, long-legged owl found in grasslands, rangelands, agricultural areas, deserts, or any other open dry area with low vegetation. They nest and roost in burrows, such as those excavated by prairie dogs or ground squirrels. As stated above, the Burrowing Owls are often active during the day, although they tend to avoid the midday heat. But like many other kinds of owls, burrowing owls do most of their hunting from dusk until dawn. Living in open grasslands, the Burrowing owl has developed longer legs, which enables it to sprint as well as fly when hunting.

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Adults have brown heads and wings with white spotting. The chest and abdomen are white with variable brown spotting or barring, also depending on the subspecies. Juvenile owls are similar in appearance, but they lack most of the whit spotting above and brown barring below. Although I could hear the juveniles calling from the burrows they never appeared above ground, so I may have been a week or two early before they fledged.

Males and females are similar in size and appearance, and display little sexual dimorphism. Adult males appear lighter in color than females because they spend more time outside the burrow during daylight, and their feathers become “sun-bleached”, this was the case for the owls I photographed, where I mainly saw two males, with occasional sightings from one female.

The burrowing owl measures 19–28 cm (7.5–11.0 in) long, spans 51–61 cm (20–24 in) across the wings. As a size comparison, an average adult is slightly larger than an American Robin (Turdus migratorius) or the Common Blackbird (Turdus turdus) of Europe.

Before European colonisation, burrowing owls probably inhabited every suitable area of the New World, but in North America they have experienced some restrictions in distribution since. In parts of South America they are expanding their range, one bonus from deforestation.

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In North America the Burrowing Owl range from the southern portions of the western Canadian provinces through southern Mexico and western Central America. They are also found in Florida and many Caribbean islands. In South America, they are patchy in the northwest and through the Andes, but widely distributed from southern Brazil to Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego.

The burrowing owl is endangered in Canada, threatened in Mexico, and a species of special concern in Florida and most of the western USA. However, the Burrowing Owl is fairly common and widespread in open regions of the Neo-tropics and area’s bordering the Amazon Rainforest. Due to this the Burrowing Owl is of Least Concern on the IUCN Red List.

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European Exotic #2 European Bee-eater

The second article in my three-part series on European Exotics, is the  European Bee-eater, an absolutely stunningly multi-coloured bee-eater. Due to it’s amazing color the European Bee-eater is on an equal footing in the “looking stakes” as the “European Exotic #1 – Eurasian Hoopoe” .

It breeds in southern Europe and in parts of north Africa and western Asia. It is strongly migratory, wintering in tropical Africa, India and Sri Lanka. This species occurs as a spring overshoot north of its range, with occasional breeding in northwest Europe, including the UK. This year we have had a good number of sighting already in Scandinavia, however, when in the “Suha Reka Valley” region of Bulgaria recently, these stunners were everywhere, aided of course by the abundance of food, even though the summer had not hit the high temperatures.

Bee-eater 6 (Bulgaria)

 Like most other bee-eater species, the European bee-eater is a richly coloured, slender, streamlined bird. As can be seen from the above portrait, the European bee-eater has browny/red/rusty and yellow upper parts, whilst the wings are green/blue/aqua and the beak is black and curved. From “tip-to-tail”the European Bee-eater can reach a length of 27–29 cm , slightly bigger than a Great Spotted Woodpecker.

Similar to the other “European Exotics” the European Bee-eater is a bird which breeds in open country in warmer climates.

Bee-eater 4 (Bulgaria)

One of the great joy’s of photographing European Bee-eaters in the breeding period is the interaction between male and female birds. The male constantly brings food to the mating perch to woo the female. This happens every two to three minutes if the weather is clear and warm and there is an abundance of food.

Just as the name suggests, bee-eaters predominantly eat insects, especially bees, wasps and hornets which are caught in the air by sorties from an open perch.

Before eating its meal, a European Bee-eater removes the sting by repeatedly hitting the insect on a hard surface. It eats some 250 bees daily. From time-to-time, small lizards and frogs are also taken. The most important prey item in their diet are Hymenoptera, mostly Apis mellifera; a study in Spain found that these comprise 69.4% to 82% of the European bee-eaters’ diet.Their impact on bee populations however is small; they eat less than 1% of the worker bees in the area in which they live.

They like to perch on the nearest branches to the breeding colony, this often leads to squabbles, similar to the one in the image below. These two birds had a stand-off for a good ten minutes, before European starling intervened.

Bee-eater 3 (Bulgaria)

In Europe, the breeding population is estimated to number 480,000-1,000,000 breeding pairs, equating to 1440,000-3,000,000 individuals (BirdLife International 2004). Europe forms between 25-49% of the global range. This species is suspected to be in decline owing to loss of suitable prey due to widespread application if pesticides, loss of nesting sites through canalisation of rivers, increasing agricultural efficiency and establishment of monocultures, development of wilderness areas and shooting for sport, for food and because it is considered a crop pest.

 

 

 

European Exotic #1 – Eurasian Hoopoe

Just back from a few days in North Eastern Bulgaria with Sergey from http://www.NatureTravel.eu. During the trip I photographed many wonderful species, especially the “exotics” of Europe.

One of these being the Eurasian Hoopoe. A long time ago, when I was 10 years old to be precise, I saw a Hoopoe in our garden in South Africa, since this day the Hoopoe has always been a bird at the top of my list.

Eurasian Hoopoe 2The Hoopoe is a stunningly colourful bird, as can be seen from the above image, that is found across Afro-Eurasia region. Interestingly, the English name is an onomatopoetic form which imitates the cry of the bird.

As can be seen from the images, the Hoopoe is highly distinctive, with it’s long thin tapering bill, broad and rounded wings, stunning crest and wonderful plumage. Not to mention the trisyllab call; oop-oop-oop, which gives rise to its English and scientific names, although two and four syllables are also common. The Hoopoe was a wonderful companion each morning at 5am when Sergey and I were up ready for our early morning photography sessions, calling from a distant tree and vying for our attention along with Common Cuckoo, Golden Oriole, Turtle Dove and Ortolan Bunting.

Eurasian Hoopoe 1The Hoopoe is widespread in Europe, Asia, North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa and Madagascar. Most European and North Asian birds migrate to the tropics in winter, in contrast the African populations are sedentary. Remarkably, the Hoopoe has been a vagrant in Alaska!! Although this was in 1975.

The Hoopoe has two basic requirements in its habitat; bare or lightly vegetated ground, which is plentyful in the Suha Reka region of Bulgaria, on which to forage and vertical surfaces with cavities, such as trees, cliffs or even walls, nestboxes, haystacks, and abandoned burrows, which to nest. Burrows being the prefered choice in Suha Reka.

Having seen and photographed the Hoppoe last week, the memories of living in South Africa as a child have been stirred and more birds are coming to the forefront of my mind, maybe an African safari is on the horizon……………….

 

Parati – Costa Verde

My final blog from our trip to Brazil, the wonderful town of Parati.

Parati or Paraty, pronounced “Par-a-CHEE” is a preserved Portuguese colonial town located on the Costa Verde (Green Coast) coastline of the state of Rio de Janeiro, in Brazil. The town is located on the Bay of Ilha Grande, which is dotted with many tropical islands. Rising up as high as 1,300 meters behind the town are tropical forests, mountains, and waterfalls.

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Paraty was founded formally as a town by Portuguese colonizers in 1667, in a region populated by the Guaianás Indians. In the Tupi language “Paraty” means “river of fish”. When the region was colonized by the Portuguese, they adopted the Guaianás name for their new town.

After the discovery of the world’s richest gold mines in 1696 in the mountains of Minas Gerais, Paraty became an export port for gold to Rio de Janeiro and from there on to Portugal. Eventually the gold began to run out and in the late 18th century, Paraty declined at a commercial port for gold.

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The city’s economic activity revived as a port for a new boom, Coffee in the early 19th century, until a railway along the valley created cheaper transport to the port of Rio de Janeiro. Another smaller revival came late in the 19th century with the production of cachaça, which is a sugarcane-derived spirit best known today as the basis for Brazil’s most famous drink, the caipirinha. Since then, Paraty has been out of the mainstream, until a paved road was built from Rio de Janeiro to Santos in São Paulo state in the 1970’s. The city then began a new cycle of activity, which transformed a small, almost abandoned town living on very limited economic activity, mainly fishing and agriculture into a tourism destination.

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South American Coati

The South American coati, or ring-tailed coati (Nasua nasua), is a species of coati from tropical and subtropical South America.

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The South American coati is widespread and can be found from sea level to 3,000 metres from Colombia across to The Guianas and Northern Brazil and south down to Uruguay and northern Argentina. Chile is the only South American country where the species is not found!

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If visiting Parque Nacional do Iguaçu in Brazil or the Parque Nacional Iguazú in Argentina you will not fail to see the coati’s foraging in the forest or even on the walkways.

Cataratas do Iguaçu

Iguazu Falls, (Portuguese: Cataratas do Iguaçu; Spanish: Cataratas del Iguazú) are waterfalls of the Iguazu River at the border of the Brazilian and the Argentinian.

The name “Iguazu” literaty translates from the Guarani or Tupi tribes meaning “big water”, and yes, as you can see from the photograph’s below, the water.

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Iguazu Falls was announced as one of the seven winners of the New Seven Wonders of Nature by the New Seven Wonders of the World Foundation in late 2011. After visiting the falls, this is not a surprise. The falls are amazing on there own, but with comes the surrounding eco system.

Depending on the time of year and the waterlevel, there is usually between 150 and 300 individual waterfalls, varying between 60 to 82 metres in height. About half of the river’s flow falls into a long and narrow chasm called the Devil’s Throat (Garganta del Diablo in Spanish or Garganta do Diabo in Portuguese). The Devil’s Throat is the highest of the waterfalls and at 82 metres high, 150 m wide, and 700 m long.

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The falls can be reached from the two main towns on either side of the falls: Puerto Iguazú in Argentina and Foz do Iguaçu in Brazil, as well as from Ciudad del Este, Paraguay. The falls are shared by the Iguazú National Park (Argentina) and Iguaçu National Park (Brazil), and trust me the wildlife here is phenominal. Both national parks are designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

On the Brazilian side, there is a walkway along the canyon with an extension to the lower base of the Devil’s Throat. The Argentine access, across the forest, is by a rainforest train. The train takes visitors to the entrance of Devil’s Throat, as well as the upper and lower trails around the falls, both of which are well worth a visit.

Hummingbirds of Brazil

On our recent trip to Brazil hummingbirds were abundant in all the locations we stayed in. They were very vocal from early morning until late evening and were very protective of there flowers and feeders, constantly chasing rivals off.

Hummingbirds are among the smallest of bird families, with most species measuring in the 7.5–13 cm (3–5 in) range. For reference, the smallest species of hummingbird, is the Bee Hummingbird, which measures 5cm, this tiny statistic making the bee hummingbird the smallest bird in the world.

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Festive Coquette – Ubatuba, São Paulo State

Hummingbirds hover in mid-air by rapidly flapping their wings between twelve (e.g. from the Giant Hummingbird) and approximately one hundred times per second for the smallest hummingbirds, luckily I have a pretty fast focusing lens on my camera as well as a superfast shutter speed.

Not surprisingly, these small acrobatic birds are called hummingbirds because of the humming sound created by their beating wings, which sometimes sounds like bees or other insects.

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White-chinned Sapphire – Ubatuba, São Paulo State

To conserve energy while they sleep or when food is scarce, they have the ability to go into a hibernation-like state where their metabolic rate is slowed. When the nights get colder, their body temperature can drop significantly and thus slow down their heart and breathing rate. As the day heats back up, the hummingbird’s body temperature will come back up and they resume their normal activity. They can fly at speeds exceeding 54 km/hour, that’s 34 mph for the British, so up there with Usain Bolt! The most interesting fact about the hummingbird though is that they are the only group of birds that have the ability to fly backwards.

There are some 341 species of hummingbird in the world, accordingly to IOC World Bird list. Within Brazil, there are 81 species, of which 13 are endemic. I managed to see 16 species in the Atlantic forest. Names for hummingbirds are often exotic and include the following for some of the Brazilian species; ruby, emerald, sapphire, seeing a pattern here?

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Brazilian Ruby – Serra dos Orgas NP, Rio de Janerio State

Hummingbirds are specialized nectarivores and are tied to certain species of flowers to be able to feed upon. Some species, especially those with unusual bill shapes such as the sicklebills, are co-evolved with a small number of flower species.

Remarkably, Hummingbirds have long life-spans, considering the rapid metabolisms. If a hummingbird survives its first year, there is a good chance of living a decade or more.

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Festive Coquette – Ubatuba, São Paulo State

Something that surprised me a few years back when I was on holiday in British Colombia, Canada, was the vast distances Hummingbirds migrate over. It is quite amazing that Hummingbirds are found from the southern tip of South America; Tierra del Fuego all the way North to Alaska! The majority of species occur in tropical and subtropical Central and South America, including the Caribbean, but several species also breed in temperate climates and some species even occur in the Andean highlands at altitudes of up to 5,000 metres .