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Showing posts from March, 2010

Birth of a dragonfly

The cobbled, narrow streets of the ancient Guatemalan city of Antigua. As our crew rolled into town in our magic birding bus, I noticed Wandering Gliders, Pantala flavescens, patrolling these lanes, darting through traffic. Wandering Gliders are one of the world's most widely distributed dragonflies, so it wasn't that surprising to see them here.

The lovely grounds of Los Andes, a very eco-friendly finca that we spent time at. The following drama all took place in that little hemispherical-shaped pool, just to the left of those blue chairs.

The shed exuvia of a Wandering Glider, with a one Quetzal coin for a size comparison (about the size of an American nickel). One evening, Chuck and Barbara Vellios and myself took a nocturnal prowl around the grounds of Los Andes, and spotted this very nymph climbing from the water. Once high and dry, it locked itself to the wall and we were witness to one of the most spectacular transformations in the insect world.

After a short while, we …

The other turkey

There are two species of turkey in the Americas - the familiar, wide-ranging Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo, and another, far less common species.

I saw the other turkey on my recent Guatemala trip, and saw it well.

A gorgeous male Ocellated Turkey, Meleagris ocellata, struts his stuff. Click on the photo to blow it up and admire the intricate details of its plumage. Ocellateds are showier than Wild Turkeys; nearly peacocklike in their fanciness.

Ocellated Turkeys have a very limited distribution, being confined to the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico and adjacent Belize and Guatemala. This bird was photographed at Tikal in the Peten Department of northern Guatemala. Turkeys, and all wildlife, is protected within Tikal and the turkeys are now just as bold as you can imagine.

Just as it is here in Ohio, it's gobbling season for stud Ocellated Turkeys. They sound a bit like amplified bongo drums. Check the above video to see a performance.

Guatemala: people, places, and things

Whew! It's nice to have a day of (sort of) rest today; the first in weeks. Following ten days in Guatemala, it was off to the races immediately upon return, with back to back lectures at the Ohio Botanical Symposium (Friday) and the Shreve Migration Sensation (yesterday). Kudos to the organizers of those events; I believe both set attendance records (430+ and 1,000 +-, respectively).

I've got reams of cool photos from the Guatemala trip, which went exceptionally well. Our group tallied 315 species of birds, in addition to numerous mammals, reptiles, amphibians, insects, and flora. I've got photos of much of this stuff, and hope to share a bit more of it before being carried off in the tide of spring in Ohio and vicinity.

Following are some shots of places we visited, and the people who were involved.

Our group birds a finca (farm) in the mountains above Antigua. That's Jen Sauter on the far right; she did a superb organizational job on the Ohio end, making for a worry-fr…

Mourning Cloak

Columbus Dispatch
Sunday, March 21, 2010
Jim McCormac


Glorious mourning cloak struts its stuff early

Few creatures are more surefire signs of spring than the butterfly.

The sight of one of these gossamer-winged beauties flitting along on the season's first warm breezes is indeed welcome after the brutal winter just past.

One of the first Ohio butterflies to emerge and welcome spring is also one of the showiest species on the globe. The mourning cloak ( Nymphalis antiopa) is a jaw-dropping whopper insofar as butterflies go. With a wingspan that stretches the tape to 4 inches - like the familiar monarch butterfly - mourning cloaks are easy to spot.

If you see one, sneak in for a good look. Cloaks are extraordinary; painted in a background color of rich, velvety ebony-purple. The wings are trimmed in brilliant gold, as if gilded by elfin butterfly goldsmiths.

A row of tiny azure-blue dots stitches the margins of the gold, creating a fantastic tapestry of design that would turn Martha S…

White-throated Magpie-Jay

White-throated Magpie-Jay, Calocitta formosa, Guatemala. The specific epithet of the scientific name, formosa, means "beautiful". Very apropos.

One of the craziest, eye-catching, surefire crowd-pleasers that we saw on our recent foray into Guatemala were the magpie-jays. Our group saw quite a few, and every one of them elicited shouts and raised binoculars. These are truly spectacular animals: big, brash, loud, massively tailed and insanely crested.

One can almost see the influence this species had on Mayan art. Mayans were - and are - keen observers of nature, and impressively showy birds such as this one made an impact on them.

We saw or heard about 315 bird species on this trip, including five other species of jay, but the raucous magpie-jays may have been my favorite.


Freshly back from Guatemala, having endured the rigors of International travel once again. I was COMPLETELY off the grid for the better part of ten days - no e-mail, no phone service, no nothing to link me to the world from which I came.

As usual, I made many images, and below are a few...

Like some strange piece of furry, living art, a sea of coati tails hooks sinously skyward. This platoon was foraging on a lawn at Tikal, Guatemala.

His "brother" may be the raccoon, but White-nosed Coatis look much like a small bear. That spadelike snout is an extremely effective digging implement. A favored treat is large tarantulas, which the coatis snout from their earthen dens.
More to come...


The grounds of Rincon Suizo, Guatemala. Our breakfast this morning at their fabulous restaurant was preceded by a hike through interesting oak-pine forest. Just standing in the clearing above yielded sensation birds, including the following warblers: Crescent-chested; Wilson's; Black-and-white; Red-faced; Townsend's; Olive; Hermit; and Slate-throated Redstart. And... Pink-headed Warbler, one of the world's truly outrageous birds!

In just a day and a half we've already racked up a big list, and there's much more to come. I'm writing this from the remote hinterlands of the Guatemalan highlands, at a place called Los Andes Reserve. This place is a stunner.

A terrible pic, but you can get the idea of the outlandish coloration of the Pink-headed Warbler. This bird did allow for great looks by the entire group.

Natural History weekend - Presque Isle, Michigan

White Cedar, Thuja occidentalis, form an interesting boreal habitat that supports many bird speices and spectacular plant life in Michigan's Presque Isle County.
On the weekend of May 21 - 23, I'll be leading forays in stunning Presque Isle County, Michigan. We'll be based out of NettieBay Lodge, which allows for a life of luxury and excellent food when we're not afield.
Scenic Presque Isle County sits in the far northeastern corner of Michigan's lower peninsula, hard on the shores of the 2nd largest Great Lake, Lake Huron. This is the edge of the vast boreal forest, and there are extensive cedar swamps and other conifer-dominated forests, as well as fascinating habitats such fens, which support many interesting plants and animals. Long stretches of sandy beaches along Huron add to the diversity, and in places support breeding Piping Plovers.
The county breeding bird list is extensive, and includes Common Loons yodeling on the lakes, Golden-winged Warblers among 20+ …

The run of the salamanders

Up from the primordial ooze, a Spotted Salamander, Ambystoma maculatum, unerringly hones in on its ancestral breeding pool where it will mate, deposit eggs, and then return to its subterranean lifestyle.

Perhaps no passage of spring is more fleeting than the overland migrations of mole salamanders to their woodland breeding pools. Mole salamanders are large species in the genus Ambystoma, and for all but a few days they live out of sight under the earth. Each year with the first warm evening rains, these underground dwellers rise up from the earth and make fantastic voyages to pools where they will complete their life cycle, and do their best to ensure that their kind remains. I suspect few people know about this phenomenon, which is truly one of Nature's most interesting events.

I knew last night would be good, and it was. Dave Hughes, Laura Stalder, and Skip Trask met up with me and off we went into the wet rainy night to some hotspots near Bellefontaine. Following are some photo…