Tuesday, March 20, 2012

A woodcreeper chick

Swallow babies, while never really fuzzy and cuddly, are fairly good-looking animals. Not so much the other denizens of our boxes. Woodcreepers are furnariids... a family of birds we do not get in the US and while the adults are gorgeous, the babies are downright hideous.

Streak-headed Woodcreeper (Lepidocolaptes albolineatus) chick, about a week old.

Monday, March 19, 2012

A Net Story

An - perhaps the - indispensable tool for an entomologist is a nice sturdy, useful net for catching butterflies, dragonflies, beetles, wasps, small children, dropped binocular caps, etc... On the second day of my trip to Peru, my trusty net of 6 years was stolen (Peruvians seem to steal anything that is not tied down or locked up even if it has absolutely no value to them - a box of bird blood was stolen last year).

Hard to do without a net (or much patience). ?Erythrodiplax sp.? Pacora, Peru - the net's second capture!

But seeing as I had three months to go, the only option seemed to be to get a new one. You can't just purchase one from the local tienda here and ordering from an online catalogue isn't really possible here either... so go to the market and buy the raw supplies. After a couple hours of work, the strangest net I have ever had the pleasure of using came into being...

The scale is not obvious, but this is nearly as tall as I, and the circle is much larger than a normal net.
And it works! All considered, I cannot complain one bit given the situation - though I pine for my old trusty net with a straight handle.

The first capture... Pantala flavescens, Pacora, Peru.
I am relatively confident that this is the female of the species in the first picture. 

A Peruvian Booby... in the desert

Around the swallow site this morning (in the middle of the desert), after the day's work was finished, my coworkers and I were observing a fairly steady stream of Chimney Swifts going overhead. To get a better view, we decided to climb one of the Huacas - adobe pyramids of the Lambayeque/Sican culture of 1000+ years ago. Before we reached the top, we saw this fly by.

Adult Peruvian Booby, Bosque de Pomac, Lambayeque, Peru
I might add that the site is absolutely nowhere near the ocean - we have been puzzling over why the occasional osprey passes overhead, as there is not even any permanent water around, but that pales in comparison to why a booby would be there. If you read Nick's article yesterday, I took the latter approach as my friends were screaming "Sula! Sula!" - the genus of this bird - and we knew we needed photos as there are two species here (well, on the coast), Peruvian and Blue-footed. The lack of head streaking eliminates Blue-footed and the white head shows it is an adult. What has become of it is anyone's guess... it was heading south/south-east, not towards the Pacific (straight west).

Sunday, March 18, 2012

A good read.

Firstly, sorry for my horrible spelling error in the last title.

Secondly, read this... a good article that Nick (an excellent birder from CT) wrote on the question of photography and birdwatching (you didn't know that was a question, aye?).

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Old Friends, of the anima variety.

The new species which I encounter during my travels are, of course, very exciting. But I get a kick out of seeing species I am familiar with from other locations in new settings. So here are two species which are “old friends” that I have found in Peru recently:

Monarch, Argentina (the damn things won't sit still here)

Everyone knows the Monarch’s spectacular migration and wintering by the millions in Mexico and thousands in California. Less well-known (to us northern hemisphereans) a population exists across a broad swath of South America (and Australia!). From Colombia down almost to Patagonia in Argentina and Chile, little is known of this population, but it is downright common in places. 

Monarch egg, Pacora, Peru
Asclepias cursavica, Pacora, Peru
Here the milkweed species is different from all are home… the flowers are different colors and in less of a ball, and overall more dainty and small. But it is similarly devoured by the larvae of both Monarch and Queen butterflies (which occurs in the south of the US, but not up by us). Monarchs are probably the most common large butterfly here save Phoebis sennae, another old friend (though not common in the northeast).

I am 90% sure this is Phoebis sennae, the cloudless sulphur.

The other old friend around here is a fascinating one that I have encountered in many places… but could encounter in many more! Pantala flavescens, the so-called Wandering Glider, is a very common libellulid dragonfly the world over. It is said that every island world-over with fresh wáter has this species and I have read reports of swarms passing over boats hundreds of miles offshore! Here they are absolutely everywhere – often there are hundreds in view at a time. The development of the species is very rapid, just a couple months… not the year required by most dragonflies or the 5+ years required by Phenes raptor and other petallurid dragonflies. I have seen them ovipositing here in rice paddies, in small streams, large rivers and swimming pools…

Pantala flavescens, Bosque de Pomac, Peru

And to disabuse the notion that all I think of is insects… some birds, too! Many species here are widely distributed, either in South America (Rufous-browed Peppershrike, Tropical Gnatcatcher, Comb Duck) or in the Americas in general. I am just as likely to see American Kestrel, Peregrine Falcon, Turkey and Black Vulture, Lesser Yellowlegs or Spotted Sandpiper (migrants), Killdeer (resident) and House Wren here as in MA/RI. 
Turkey Vulture, Bosque de Pomac

Peregrine Falcon, juvenile?, a different subspecies than at home. Also it has been trying to catch my swallows...
Other species are quite different – such as this little tiny (<1”) mantis - it wouldn't be interesting if too much were the same...

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Parasitos de las golondrinas

Somewhat strangely, I was waiting for dinner here a couple nights ago watching TV and on came a show about parasites… narrated by a former Brown post-doc. I find parasites fascinating and thus I was somewhat excited when I encountered the first blowflies, Philornis sp., on the swallows this year. I know little about these parasites, though last year we found they were not lethal to most of the swallows, though they left scars.

Nine-day old Tachycinete stolzmanni with parasites on foot and neck.

They seem to attach to non-feathered skin, I have found most on the legs/feet with the remainder on the neck /belly. Interestingly, I also trapped two adult swallows in one nest that had a missing and a deformed toe, respectively. Without any other explanation, I assume this is the consequence of a blowfly when a chick… completely healed of course. Supporting this, when I removed the large engorged individual from the chick’s foot as seen in the picture above the toe was flaccid and pale and perhaps dead. 

The nice juicy one in the middle full of blood is the one from the foot in the pic above.

There is an interesting story of this genus of parasite “invading” the Galapagos and causing all sorts of harm to the radiation of Darwin’s Finches… just another problem in the terrible saga of Galapagos invasions. This is also the first time this genus, widespread in the New World, has been documented in an avian host in Peru – it is known from a whole host of other South American countries.

Foot of male stolzmanni showing deformed toe (nearest)

Foot of female (mate of above) showing missing toe on right foot

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Peruvian Tiger Beetles, by night!

As everyone knows, Tiger Beetles are pretty much the most beautiful and awesome predators in the world (ok, maybe not everyone knows, but they should all agree). I discussed them a little here, but I had only experienced them in the states, never before in South America. My first night in Pacora I found a few under lights at the soccer stadium here. Naturally I collected them for pictures. 

Since then, I have encountered the species very commonly on sidewalks and dirt roads after dark. Never before have I encountered a night tiger beetle, though I have read of their existance. These guys are cool as they don’t fly much - they are really unhappy to, though you can make them – so you can just grab them from the ground (if you don’t mind a little pinch). 

They really vary in color from metallic emerald green (like C. sexguttata in New England) to a beautiful deep purple, which seems to be the more common color. I have not encountered any larval holes yet, though I would love to raise these larvae – tiger beetle larvae are really interesting as well. 

I think it is in the tribe Megacephalini... but I don't have any references here, so take that one with a grain of salt.  

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Back in Peru!

I have now arrived in the province of Lambayeque, Peru and am fully enjoying the sun and humidity… actually not at all. But I am having a great time with the bugs and birds here. The difference from last year, an incredibly arid year, to this one, with average rainfall for the región, is ridiculous: the forest is almost as much green as brown and there are more butterflies, dragonflies and neuropterans than I imagined could exist here. 

A very common weevil here, though I can't tell you any  more about it.

  My access to reasonable internet is limited, I set up a few short posts to autopublish in the next week, so check back occasionally, but don’t expect constant updates… one of the disadvantages of this place. A few picture teasers of what is around here for now.

Callopistes flavipunctatus, the very monitor-like teiid here. This one was pushing 1 meter with tail.

A nymphalid, that is about all I have on this guy.

Burrowing owls abound here.

A pair of dung beetles rolling their precious prize across the desert floor.

Thursday, March 8, 2012


A few mistakes have been pointed out to me in posts in the past. The most egregious, which Justin kindly pointed out, is that I stated Golden Swallows were formerly found in Puerto Rico. This is entirely incorrect, I mixed up my islands, there was an endemic subspecies in JAMAICA, but it is now extinct and known only from a few museum specimens.
The Chilean butterfly list I posted has two errors as well – one of which I suspected, the other which caught me entirely off-guard. Dr. Art Shapiro at UC Davis (my school now!) corrected these two. What I had identified as Tatochila theodice is actually T. blanchardi, which is an interesting record as two Tatochila are known from Chiloe, but blanchardi is only known from much farther north. The other misidentification is what I listed as Argyrophorus argenteus is actually Mathania leucothea … my first guess, but since it was only listed in the book as near Santiago, I figured I had identified it wrong, so I changed it to A. argenteus… incorrectly. 

Chiloe's first record of T. blanchardi... found as roadkill while I was running.