Friday, January 15, 2010

Neotropical owls

Back recently from a trip to Mexico, Belize and Guatemala, which I will post about in more detail soon. Since I haven’t posted anything in nearly a month, I thought I would start quickly by sharing photos of some of the nightbirds from this trip. I put together and more comprehensive and organized series in due course.

We start with my lifer Crested Owl. This phenomenal looking creature is quite unique and placed in their own genus Lophostrix. Their voice is also rather unique, being exceptionally gruff, even for a large owl. I have wanted to see Crested Owl for a long time so on this trip, whenever I found myself in lowland rainforest, I spent my nights looking for this species. It wasn’t until near the end of my trip, at Palenque in Mexico (famous Mayan ruins) that I finally caught up with this enigmatic species. I had been birding in the ruins and then birded back down the entrance road very slowly after dark. After hearing a Crested Owl call it took nearly half an hour to track the caller down, so I was absolutely elated when I was able to maneuver into position to take this photo. Of course when I walked passed the military check point, they searched my persons and my backpack thoroughly (in case I had tried to smuggle out a relic) and not me I was not supposed to be on the road after dark (the people at the ticket counter had told me this was allowed). At that point, I didn’t mind the incursion – I already had my photos of Crested Owl.

Another highlight was this Bearded Screech-Owl at the Pronatura Reserve called Huitepec, near San Cristobal de las Casas in Chiapas, Mexico. It took three nights to find this species. On the first two, the wind picked up an hour before dusk and made listening for owls almost impossible. On the third night it looked like it would rain but instead the blanket of cloud and fog seemed to hold back the wind. As a result I got my lifer Bearded Screech-Owl and Unspotted Saw-whet Owl, although I didn’t manage a photo of the latter. The Bearded Screech-Owl, like many screech-owls in dichromatic, i.e. there are two colour morphs, red and grey. This bird is obviously a red morph individual. Notice also the long wings relative to the tail and the naked (unfeathered) toes characteristic of this species.

Of the Strix owls (large and round-headed) in the tropics, Mottled Owl is the most ubiquitous, being found from Mexico to Argentina and from the lowlands up to 2500m asl. I photographed this species at four sites on this trip. This photo was also taken at Huitepec on the same night as the Bearded Screech-Owl above.

The Black-and-white Owl was formerly placed in the genus Ciccaba but now merged into Strix (there has been a fair bit of merging of genera in owl taxonomy recently). Unlike the Mottled Owl however, this species sticks mostly to the lowlands. I took this photo at Cockscomb in Belize, a wonderful lowlands rainforest area.

Like the Mottled Owl, the Ridgway’s Pygmy-Owl is widespread and common. This species used to be called the Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl (and still is by the AOU) but the North/central American form (Ridgway’s) is now considered specifically distinct from the South American form (Ferruginous). I heard and saw this species at quite a few sites on this trip. This photo was taken at the ruins at Cobá.

Not an owl, but another exciting nightbird is the Northern Potoo. The potoos are a Neotropical family of nocturnal insectivores. It is amazing to watch such large birds sally forth from a perch in the night to pluck an insect from the air, like a huge nocturnal flycatcher. Their superb camouflage makes them difficult to find while roosting (almost completely motionless) in the daytime. In this case, I heard this bird calling just before dawn and followed them to their roost.

Well, this is a sampler but plenty more to come soon. I will also update my webpage soon. There are larger versions of the above photos available at

1 comment:

  1. This blog by Christian Artuso birds wildlife looks like it is on the way to become the best and biggest blog of its kind. The photos are a joy to contemplate and the text is fantastic and informative to read. I wish we had more birds on Tenerife Island where I stay, when looking at this wealth of our feathered friends. The only ones, I am not very fond of, are doves.


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