Saturday, January 24, 2009

Colombia - Blue and Green

Colombia - Blue and Green

This installment begins again with another quintessentially Neotropical family, the toucans. When most people think of toucans, they tend to think more of the large black and yellow types, but the mountain toucans are a smaller group with soft blue plumage. Here’s a Black-billed Mountain Toucan.

I was surprised by the fact that there were very few corvids (crow family) in Colombia but I just loved the striking Black-collared Jay.

There are more tanagers in northern South America than you can shake a stick at. They are not just red and yellow but come in almost any colour you can imagine. Compare the various hues of blue and green starting with the Blue-capped Tanager.

From dark blue to light, the Blue-grey Tanager is common in towns and the countryside and often looks grey until you catch them in the right light.

Next, the vibrant blue and green of a pair of Swallow Tanagers. This tanager has sometimes been treated as a monotypic family because of several unusual features that differ from other tanagers including the swallow-shaped wings, broad and somewhat flat bill (compare with previous shot of Blue-grey Tanager for example), and shorter tarsi. These features are presumably related to their more aerial feeding style.

If you have ever birded in the tropics you’ll know the beauty of a mixed species feeding flock or “wave”. This next shot shows a green and blue moment with a male Black-capped Tanager perched alongside a male Blue-naped Chlorophonia. Of course the photo doesn’t show the six to eight other species of tanager, flycatcher and woodcreeper that were in the same tree at the time.

From a different mixed species flock, her are two more avian jewels: the globally vulnerable endemic Multicolored Tanager and the stylish Saffron-crowned Tanager photographed in the same wave (2 photos). When i saw this male Multicolored Tanager (left), I was combing through the flock looking for anything unusual and then there he was, like a spectral eclipse in my binoculars. It is always such a rush when something unexpected jumps up in front of you like that. The Saffron-crowned Tanager (right) is from the genus Tangara, famous for their luminescent patterns and their apparent lack of a song. I guess they decided that being so beautiful they don’t need to worry about talent.

Moving to purer greens, we have the Bay-headed Tanager, here represented by the Santa Marta race (other subspecies have blue underparts)

and the large Grass-green Tanager

Motmots are a fascinating Neotropical family, fairly close to the kingfishers but strictly forest bird, that are famous for their racket-tipped tails, which they swing from side to side like a jerky pendulum. The thing i find interesting is that their tail feathers don’t have the rackets when fresh but these form as the appropriate shafts quickly wear away. The Highland Motmot, treated variously as a subspecies of Blue-crowned Motmot or as a separate species, occurs at higher elevation than most and is less shy.

Rufous Motmot maybe should have been included in the last blog under red and yellow, but just look at that subtle blue-green sheen on the back and tail.

Another bird that combines green and rufous is the globally vulnerable Rusty-faced Parrot. Parrots may look gaudy in illustrations but their green plumage makes them very hard to see in the canopy.

Imagine zooming out when you view this female Spectacled Parrotlet feeding and you’ll see what i mean.

Speaking of green camouflage, check out this male and female Golden-breasted Fruiteater – a contingid, though much smaller than the fruit-crow and cock-of-the-rock, that looks dazzling in the plates but is super tough to see high in the canopy even when you hear their thin hissing call. These photos aren’t great but it was an effort just to see these beauties.

Last but not least is the dashing Yellow-browed Shrike-Vireo, though i bet the bugs don’t think they’re dashing when they see that honking bill probing their way.

Many of these photos can be viewed in largher resolution on my webpage:


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