Learning Feather by Feather

Field Report #2: Base Camp

If you’re looking for the frontiers of birding, try the tropics. Limited knowledge exists and the ability for mistakes abound. Last week during a training session we noticed a number of presumably juvenile Barred Forest-falcons clustering in pines along a ridge (2-3, with a possibility of some of those being adults). The following day we were treated Barred Forest-falcon consuming a passerine. It was quite exciting to watch the predator consume the prey. As the act proceeded,feathers rained down and the ornithologists scurried about collecting the feathers. One of the projects here is to sample isotopes across the various communities to construct food webs.

We’ve since used our assortment of feathers to identify the deceased as a Blue-crowned Chlorophonia. Go science!

A day or so later towards the end of a low-key banding day, we captured one of these fine, fierce predators. As we were reading the description in detail, something wasn’t quite adding up. Turns out, we weren’t working with Barred Forest-falcons after all, but the much rarer, endemic White-breasted Hawk. Whee and whoops!

How we mistook a hawk for a forest-falcon I’m not entirely sure, particularly as the forest-falcon in question has great Elvis sideburns of feathers. It wasn’t until we were examining the hawk feather by feather that we realized our error. (To be fair, there was some question of where the bars were in the earlier encounters!)

This was a much more exciting discovery. The Americans on the team (Rob and I) received a bit of grief over the misidentification initially as the White-breasted Hawk is a subspecies of Sharp-shinned Hawk. However, unlike the Sharpie, White-breasted Hawks have….. white chests. I did however note as I arrived to the net that it was very much Sharpie sized, so I feel I’m off the hook on that one. (There’s a bit of bantering and division between American and British procedures and customs. It’s mostly in good fun unless you say anything less than stellar regarding David Attenborough*.).

The White-breasted Hawk was a ringing first for the park. I can’t share all my photos due to limited bandwidth, but from just this one I hope you can get the sense of what a fine bird it is!

Hawk in the hand. White-breasted Hawk, a ringing first in Cusuco National Park, Honduras. Photo taken June 15, 2015.

Hawk in the hand. White-breasted Hawk, a ringing first in Cusuco National Park, Honduras. Photo taken June 15, 2015.

*They’re probably just as displeased if you misspell Attenborough. Alas.

Note: While I am in the field I will have no access to most social media including facebook, twitter, and google+.

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