Saturday, February 14, 2009

Mexico - mangroves

The coastal mangroves are a remarkable ecosystem – a story of triumph over environmental difficulties, the mangroves grow where no other trees can thanks to a series of extraordinary adaptations that allow them to cope with flooding and salt. Where the mangroves thrive there is an extraordinary diversity of life like this American Crocodile

Two of the highlights of a boat ride through the mangroves in San Blas (west coast) were nesting herons – first the magnificent Bare-throated Tiger-Heron – just look at that gorgeous cryptic plumage, so different from the white youngster on the nest

And then the bizarre Boat-billed Heron – what a bill! The large eyes betray this species’ nocturnal habits. Previously I had only seen this species flying out at dusk or at night with a spotlight so it was fascinating to see them at their nesting colony by day.

These female Anhingas stuck an attractive pose – male inserted to show difference. Anhingas, called darters in the “old world”, are a peculiar family comprising only 4 species (one each in the Australasian Realm, the Oriental Realm, the Afrotropical Realm, and the Neotropical Realm (although the Neotropical representative, the Anhinga, makes it up a little way into the Nearctic realm, i.e. above the Tropic of Cancer). Like the similar cormorants they don’t have the preen oil to provide waterproofing found in many other water bird families and so spend hours sunning themselves, wings outstretched. Their ability to swim with their body submerged and just their long neck protruding has earned them the nickname “snake birds”.

This juvenile Yellow-crowned Night-heron stayed perfectly still as we drifted by

And this beautiful Amazon Kingfisher stayed still just long enough for a photo

A real bonus in an area of aquaculture (shrimp farming?) was this juvenile King Rail who walked within a few feet of us. These “kings” are just huge – they would dwarf a Virginia Rail!

Rufous-bellied Chachalaca stayed high in the tall trees above the water and I was always looking up at them and trying to photograph them in difficult light.

Staying in the mangroves at dusk also has rewards, like seeing several Northern Potoos. The potoo has the most insane eyeshine ever - you can spot them several hundred meters away!

On the other coast – a mangrove ride at Lago Catemaco found us several great birds including a female Great Currasow high in a tree at dusk and several Grey-necked Wood Rails like this one.

Of course everyone at the conference in Veracruz wanted to see Sungrebe and so many traveled down to Lago Catemaco… but the time of year was not right and this species was nowhere to be seen… but here’s a female Adam and I saw at Lago Catemaco some years before (yes, I’m cheating I know). The Sungrebe belongs to the fascinating pan-tropical finfoot family which comprises just three species: one in the Oriental Realm (Masked Finfoot), one in the Afrotropical Realm (African Finfoot), and one in the Neotropical Realm (Sungrebe). This family gets their name from the lobed webbing on their toes.

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