A journey to meet the Red-throated Caracara in Guyana



Recently, I made a long journey in South America, up the Rewa River in Guyana, in search of caracaras and other Amazonian fauna.

The story of this trip takes a bit of explaining. Last year, after our abortive research mission to Honduras, Catherine and I were holed up at my mom’s in Victoria writing our respective theses. We had little occasion to go to Vancouver, but in April we both needed to go over to take care of some administrative details at the university. While sitting in the lab after managing our red tape, the phone rang. As usual, no one in the lab jumped up to get the phone, so I picked it up and found that the person on the other line was looking for me, and wondering if I wanted to talk about caracaras.



Jonathan Meiburg, looking at home far up the Rewa, in the heart of the Amazonian forest region.


Well, after a good 90 minute conversation about my favourite loud birds and their relatives, I found out that the fellow I was speaking to was Jonathan Meiburg, a professional musician and a student of the biology and biogeography of striated caracaras (the fabled “Johnny Rook” of the Falkland Islands). I found out that Jonathan was a great student of caracara biology, and had written a wonderful thesis on the Johnny Rook (which he should really put online…I am not kidding, it is an absolute pleasure to read!) which also covered the biology and paleontology of the other caracaras.

We continued to keep in touch from that time, until last fall when Jonathan invited me to accompany him on a journey to the Amazonian forest to meet the Red-throated Caracaras, which he and I agree are the oddest of a very odd group of birds. The plan was to go to the Republic of Guyana, where Jonathan had some acquaintances working, and to journey up the Rewa River to the heart of Ibycter territory: the primary rainforests of the Amazonian bioregion.

total journey

In the following posts covering the trip, I will not stick to a travelogue format, but rather will skip around, introducing the characters (human and otherwise) we met along the way. As I write this, Jonathan is still out there in the forests of Guyana, hunting for the elusive heart of Amazonia, no doubt being serenaded by the harsh screams of the Red-throated Caracaras.

river HDR2



Weekend Expedition 64: Victoria birds and things


This weekend, Catherine and I went to Victoria to spend the weekend with my family and managed to get out for photography on both Saturday and Sunday.


My brother and I found this Kildeer making a bit of a fuss at the morning flight of crows at Cattle Point. Surely it is too early for nesting?


No! There was definitely some incubation happening!


Returning later in the afternoon allowed a closer approach with more light.


And speaking of crows, here are a few from Cattle Point.


With this moustache, it is no wonder Europeans often mistake our crows for ravens.


The camas is beginning to bloom in Victoria, with a few early blossoms showing u already. They are spectacular in the Garry Oak meadows, and are a great source of pollen for the bumblebees.


Although we shot a bunch of spiders, I will just show the Tibellus, leaving the rest for Catherine to blog about!


This shows how cryptic they can be on dead grass!


With some backlight, they really stand out!


Your background can really be a canvas to convey whatever kind of colour you need. Here is spring grass, you could also use dead leaves for a rich reddish wash.


At first when we found this bee fly, we thought a spider had killed it, as it was hanging limp from an oak branch.


Looking at the abdomen, we could see no spider attached.


It’s alive! Was just torpid from the cool morning.


After a photo session, the fly began some wing buzzing to warm up and fly off.


On Sunday morning, my brother and I headed off at dawn for some early shots. Here is the city from Gonzales hill,



We found this eagle at Clover Point.


After a time, it joined some gulls and crows investigating some garbage.


After an oblivious dogwalker scared it off, it flew away into the morning sun.


This shot is pretty cool…






A hardcore salamander



The Plethodontidae, or lungless salmanders, are a remarkable successful group of Northern Hemisphere amphibians. Unlike many other amphibians, these animals have direct development in the egg, and have freed themselves from the need for an aquatic larval stage. They are abundant and easy to find in the forests of coastal BC, where we have two very common species, the ensatina (Ensatina eschscholtzii) and the western redbacked salamander (Plethodon vehiculum).

After a remarkable unproductive photographic outing this Sunday, I decided to try for a portrait session with a pretty organism I was sure of finding. I turned over rotted logs in the forest of Stanley Park, and the first plethodontid I found was a Plethodon. Here are the resulting shots.






Goodbye to Taiko

The weekend was not all fun times with spiders. We also had to say goodbye to our friend Taiko, the large, and surpringly tough and worldly rottweiler we had known for many years. Taiko suffered a stroke on Saturday, and when we went to see him in the evening, he could no longer walk. He stayed with his beloved owner Buffie through the night, and on Sunday a veterinarian made a house call, and we said goodbye as he was euthanized.  He was happy and comfortable at home during his last moments, surrounded by loved ones. He will be missed.



Weekend Expedition 63: A very spidrous birthday


Saturday was Catherine’s birthday, and a very beautiful spring day to boot. Catherine and I spent the morning shopping for a house (yes, the dream finally came true for us! 15.99 at Wild Birds Unlimited!), and then accompanying our labmate Antonia as she conducted rodent experiments at the Bloedel Conservatory, a large dome full of tropical plants and birds. I put out some ant baits, but most of them were eaten by the birds….Not too different than baiting outdoors really.


Antonia in a sinister light, wielding her implements of murine death.



An African Gray parrot.


This cockatoo was very solicitous. He asked “how are you?” a great many times!

Catherine and Natalie lurk in the bushes.



After the tropical tour, Catherine and I took the show on the road, exploring Queen Elizabeth Park for spiders!


Catherine’s first find! A Phidippus lurking in her retreat!


With some persuasive stemwork we managed to coax her out for some pictures.


Such a gorgeous spider!


The rock walls were full of Salticus scenicus.


And emerging on the path in front of us was a juvenile Phidippus.


This is the juvie from the front.


One of the treasures we found on a rhododendron was this subadult male Araniella displicata, AKA the six-spotted orbweaver.


The rhododendrons also yielded a large number of juvenile Metaphidippus manni (we think). These coastal forms aren’t as showy as the inland ones, but we will try to rear them to see what they look like as adults. 


On Sunday, the spidrousness continued, with some Salticus scenicus observations close to home. Here is one with a sizable midge. 


And here is one attacking a conspecific juvenile. On facebook and twitter, I tried to make like I thought this was a “mama carrying her baby to safety” but no one fell for it.


Nonetheless, there is something special about jumper on jumper predation. The two sets of eyes are sort of creepy.

So all in all, a really fun birthday outing, and definitely spidrous! Happy birthday Catherine!







Weekend Expedition 62: Springtime in the park


After a hiatus of a few weeks, I finally managed to get out this weekend for some shooting! I went with my friend Florian to Stanley Park on a gorgeous sunny Saturday, to search out the creatures of the early springtime.


First of all some springtime flowers, which are blooming all over Vancouver.


The geese are getting frisky, cleaning up for the mating season. The males are getting all aggro as well, and we watched one fly right into a tree in a miscalculated attack on another perched nearby. He managed to fly away from that collision, luckily.


I noticed this eagle a little too late after seeing gulls flushing off the water. It was hunting birds, and I only managed to shoot one pass before it gave up.


Here it is in a steep bank searching for a target.


A bit of a halfhearted dive after some gulls, and then the eagle flew away.


There were lots of scaups on the lagoon, and the lighting conditions were quite nice even at midmorning.


It is too bad this bufflehead did not pass closer, as the lighting was just right for his beautiful iridescent head!


This seemed like a great pose for a fat coot. Reflection, colour, feet… It’s all there!


The sentry point for aggressive male geese…Seems like they do this every spring. The heron watches the silliness.


I liked the backlight on these leaves.


The bumblebee queens were out in force at a patch of heather…I think there were 3 species at least, but I was wrestling with some ill-charged flash batteries, and did not get many shots!


From a distance with the 300 I managed to shoot some bumblers on crocus.


An early syrphid! Later on we saw a Leptoglossus occidentalis as well, but I had to head home for some more writing.


A Douglas’ Squirrel by teh water.


And the prototypical springtime bird for most of Canada (though we have them year-round) the American Robin!

More camera trapping on the balcony


This past weekend was another work weekend, and in addition, I had a nasty cold. This precluded me from getting out for photography, but Catherine and I did expand our balcony bird buffet!

First off, we decided to see who would come for peanuts:

Second, a different position on the hummingbird feeder results in much better light! This female seems pretty pleased.

And a male to show off his nice gorget.

Here is a homemade suet ball that Catherine made, with all kinds of nuts and grains. The chickadees seemed pretty happy with it.

I also bought a bird feeder at the dollar store, which is not a bad little unit! Very low volume, but seems sturdy enough!

You can see in the photo above, and also in the reflection on the window the video setup. I am just using a light stand to hold the camera, weighed down by a jug of ethanol in a bag.


Anna’s hummingbirds at home

IMG_7857I have been rather busy these past few weeks working on top secret government stuff, so I have had not had much opportunity to get out and shoot. I was not such a big deal this week, as we have had miserable rainy weather for most of it. But yesterday turned out to be beautiful, so it was killing me a little to stay in and work. Luckily, interesting things have been happening at the hummingbird feeder, so I took a bit of time to set up some video. Since it it right on the balcony, I did not have to go far!

First of all, some HD video of various hummingbirds feeding.

Next, some less beautiful footage showing a female feeding. Any guesses what she might have been doing just previous to this?

Anyway, the hummingbirds were a nice treat on a working Sunday. I will try to get some more material on them when I get the chance!


Over the West


After my recent trip to Houston, I was treated to a clear day of flying back across the great American West. To survey these wide open spaces, flying at 35,000 feet gives a good overview.  I hope you enjoy the pictures!


It was raining in Houston when we left, so I snagged this wallpaper-like shot of the sky and the drops on the window.



Much of the saturation drops out over distance, so it is a bit of a trick to adjust colours and shadows. I had some frustration trying to replicate what I saw, so eventually I just decided to fiddle until I had a pleasing image. I guess that is the same thing astrophotographers do!


A big deep mine, probably in Arizona.


On the runway in Phoenix.


At this distance it is difficult to appreciate the size of landforms, but the road gives some scale.


Some crazy bluffs!


One of the bird-frying solar installations in Nevada.


Not sure if this one is operational or not.


An air-to-air shot of another passenger plane.


Mt. Hood.



South Seattle


Banking in for a SeaTac approach.










To Houston and back!


It is a wonderful thing to give a talk to an enthusiastic audience, especially when comes with a chance to travel and meet new people. I was very lucky to have had this opportunity last week when I went to Houston Texas to give a talk on Red-throated Caracaras to the Houston Audubon Society.

Mary-Anne Weber, along with Juanita Perkins arranged for me to travel to Houston to give this talk, and were my most gracious hosts during my trip. I did not have to stay in a hotel, but instead stayed with my friend Cullen Geiselman, a bat researcher who I met at the Nouragues Station.

I am very grateful to have had this wonderful opportunity, and I thank all of the people who came out to hear me talk.



The Houston Audubon is located at the Edith L. Moore wildlife sanctuary, and has about 17 acres of woodland protected.



One of the first things I looked for at the Sanctuary was ants, and I was lucky enough to find this Leptogenys elongata colony.


These are members of the subfamily Ponerinae, and are much different in form from the myrmicines and formicines I am used to.


As their name suggests, they are gracile (slender and long limbed) and likely either run fast or climb trees. On this day, they weren’t going anywhere quickly because it was cold and rainy.


On Friday, after my talk, I went out with Mary-Anne Weber and Joe Smith for a birding outing. Here is something we don’t often see in Canada!


This osprey allowed a close approach using the time-tested technique of pretending we didn’t see it!


A couple of local dogs who thought they owned the place!


Several osprey were fishing in the stormwater retention ponds.


A white pelican flies by some construction. This is likely to be another Canadian visitor to Houston.


White pelicans engaged in feeding. They are not spectacular divers like Brown Pelicans, but they sure are majestic. .


This is a juvenile Cooper’s Hawk, which Mary-Anne ID’ed correctly. I was thrown off by the white splotches on the back, which we do not often get on the West Coast.


From the front it looks much like our Cooper’s Hawks.


Everything is bigger in Texas, including the Great Blue Herons! Well, all over the east they are bigger than our West Coast form.


The closest approach of a White Pelican.


Back at the Sanctuary, I found some more ants, this time a very very tiny myrmicine. Any ideas about what this is?


The workers were dimorphic, with this large headed form being present.


I even managed to find a jumping spider, despite the cold wet weather.


And finally, a mystery ground spider, which we will be in a better position to ID after this summer, when Catherine and I will attend a workshop in spider taxonomy in Arizona.


After I left Houston, I took the opportunity to do some aerial photography of the western landscapes we flew over. Here the mountains and deserts look like an alien landscape with the desaturation of distance.