Monday, April 29, 2013

Up-close with Kestrels - 2013 KestrelCam

Eyelash Pit Viper
Female American Kestrel "Katy", an education bird at Mountsberg Raptor Centre
The American Kestrel one of the smallest falcons in the Americas; an attractive, colourful little raptor.  When I was younger, kestrels were a common sight, frequently seen perched on high wires in open areas near home.  Sadly, American Kestrels have been declining in North America for some time now, and now a kestrel sighting in southern Ontario is an infrequent occasion for me. They are also one of my all-time favourite birds!

American Kestrel Partnership
Last year, I spent a good deal of time watching the nesting process and development of a family of American Kestrels in a nest box in Boise, Idaho, at the World Center for Birds of Prey, the international headquarters for The Peregrine Fund.  The American Kestrel Partnership is a project launched by The Peregrine Fund in order to advance the conservation of this species.  This project uses professional and citizen scientists (you and me!) to study the breeding behaviours of this declining species.  This year, the KestrelCams are up and running again, with a high-quality infrared camera inside the nest box for 24-hour monitoring, and a Bosch AutoDome 800 Series Pan-Tilt-Zoom Camera outside of the box to observe behaviour of food exchange, predator defense, and to watch the fledglings take their first flights.  Cornell Lab of Ornithology sponsors this program by providing ad-free live streaming.  

American Kestrel Nest Box
Male American Kestrel on top of monitored nest box, 2012 
Furthermore, there are many ways to be involved with this project.  You can easily submit your observations through the website, as events in and outside of the box are taking place!  You are also welcome to aide the project through means of donations, become a member, place a nest box on your property, and many other ways.  Please support American Kestrel research to further the conservation of this beautiful and important species!  View the nesting kestrels here!  

~ Jenn 

Saturday, April 20, 2013

A Visit to the Canopy Camp Darien

Darien Entrance

In January, I had the amazing opportunity to visit Darien National Park and Cerro Pirre in far eastern Panama, near the Colombian border.  It is a magical place, where Harpy Eagles, Great Green Macaws, Great Curassows, critically endangered Colombian Spider Monkeys and several Panamanian endemic species can live in pristine lowland, foothill and highland forests. With its long winding rivers and small indigenous communities sprinkled throughout the province, it is reminiscent of the Amazon.  It is truly a special place.  

Canopy Camp Darien
Safari-style Tent at the Canopy Camp Darien
This past week, I returned again to the Darien again with Carlos Bethancourt and Cesar Pinzon, to visit the Canopy Tower Family's new birding eco lodge, the Canopy Camp Darien.  The camp is situated along the border of a hydrological reserve, well into the Darien province beyond the town of Meteti.  The camp is currently in its construction phase, as safari-style tents are being put in place on platforms, each with their own private bathroom that offers a stunning view of the surrounding forest from the shower!  You can see more pictures of the construction of the Canopy Camp Darien on the Canopy Tower's Flickr page.    

Rufous-tailed Jacamar
Rufous-tailed Jacamar
The main purpose of the trip was to visit the Canopy Camp, as well as the nearby birding areas along the Pan-American highway to its very end in the town of Yaviza.  Of course we took advantage and did as much birding as we could!  The camp is surrounded by lowland tropical forests, with towering Cuipo trees in close range.  The Cuipos are in seed at this time of the year, with bright orange and magenta-colored winged seeds.  Around the camp, we frequently heard (and saw) Rufous-tailed Jacamars and White-headed Wrens as well as a Gray-cheeked Nunlet, nesting Black-capped Tody-Flycatcher, and a pair of Olivaceous Piculets.  Golden-collared Manakins and Golden-headed Manakins lek in the forest a mere 150 metres from camp, right along a trail.  Sapphire-throated Hummingbirds and Pale-bellied Hermits visit the Heliconia plants in the gardens to feed.  The bird list for the Canopy Camp is growing and growing, and on this visit we had great views of Royal Flycatcher.  At the adjacent birding sites, highlights included a gorgeous pair of Spot-breasted Woodpeckers, a Red-rumped Woodpecker, Plain-breasted Ground-Dove and many, many more.  We also saw over 1000 migrating Mississippi Kites passing overhead right at the camp!   

Cuipos towering over the forest canopy
Assassin Bug
Assassin Bug and its prey, a honeybee

On our last day, we stopped at Restaurant Arco Iris along the Pan-American Highway in the Darien for lunch - the best Corvina Frita in Panama!  Yum!
Corvina Frita (Fried Seabass)
It was a short yet productive trip to the Darien, I am already looking forward to going back!

~ Jenn 

Monday, April 8, 2013

Tropical Longhorn Beetles

This morning when I arrived at the Canopy Bed & Breakfast, Danilo pointed out a beautiful male Harlequin Beetle hiding underneath the doorway.  I was so pleased to finally see one of these beetles!  This species, Acrocinus longimanus, is among one of the largest in the Americas.  It has a body length of 8 centimetres, but in addition to that, males have elongated forelegs that can be much longer than the length of their body.  Both males and females have beautiful, ornately patterned elytra with red, olive and black scrolling lines.  They are a member of the longhorn beetle family Cerambycidae, and this species in particular has rather long antennae or "horns".  This diurnal species feeds on the sap of trees and females lay their eggs in chewed out grooves on the surface of dead or dying trees.  This species is found from Mexico south through Central America and throughout the Amazon region of South America.  

Harlequin Beetle
Harlequin Beetle, Acrocinus longimanus

Harlequin Beetle
Harlequin Beetle, Acrocinus longimanus

A couple years ago, when I was working in Ecuador, I came across another impressive Cerambycid one night while camping on the reserve with some volunteers.  This is Macrodontia cervicornis, "Macrodontia" meaning "long tooth" and "cervicornis" meaning "deer antler", for the shape of the mandibles.  At first it startled us with its rapid movements on the leaves of a small shrub at the camp.  I couldn't help but get closer to get a better look, and at one point had this beautiful, yet intimidating beetle in my hand.  This is the largest species longhorn beetles, and can reach lengths of over 17 centimetres.  In addition to this, they have impressive mandibles!  This species is also one of the most widespread, found throughout the Amazon rainforest of South America.  Macrodontia cervicornis is primarily nocturnal, and feeds on plant material including sap, bark and fruits.  Its larvae are particularly enormous, reaching lengths of 21 centimetres and can bore galleries in trees over a metre long.  Most of this species' lifespan is spent in the larval phase, which can last up to 10 years!

Unfortunately due to the extent of deforestation in its rainforest habitat and long larval phase (reducing time for reproduction), as well as demand for insect collections, this species is at risk and is listed as vulnerable by IUCN.  

Macrodontia cervicornis
Macrodontia cervicornis
Macrodontia cervicornis
Macrodontia cervicornis
These large longhorn beetles of tropical America are needless to say impressive, beautiful and can open our eyes to the world of insects, their world and importance to ours.  

~ Jenn 

Back in action!

Wow, its been a little while since my last post!  Its been a busy couple of months here in Panama with having guests, starting a new job and enjoying life here in Central America.  I am getting back into the swing of things with adding to the blog, starting with this photo of Rosenberg's Gladiator Treefrog, Hypsiboas rosenbergi, found up at Sierra Llorona in February.  More posts & photos to come!  ~ Jenn

Hypsiboas rosenbergi
Gladiator Treefrog, Hypsiboas rosenbergi