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June 23, 2018

Return of Bird of the Week: Black-browed Albatross

Black-browed Albatross, West Island, Falkland Islands

So we go from a few weeks of birds that cannot fly, to birds that can only barely land, the albatrosses. The Black-browed is a medium-sized member of the albatross family, with a wing span of seven to eight feet. This bird lives in the air, landing on the ocean only when the wind dies, something that doesn’t happen often in the Southern Ocean. It comes to land only to breed. It is a magnificent flier and an enthusiastic ship-follower. WC watched the birds from the stern of his ship as they pirouetted across the sky, flying fractions of an…

Return of Bird of the Week: Humboldt Penguin

Humboldt Penguin, Pucasana Island, Peru

Most folks think of penguins as Antarctic birds. And, for the most part, they are. But like most things involving birds, there are exceptions to every rule. For penguins, one exception is the Humboldt Penguin, which ranges within a few degrees south of the equator. All of the Humboldt Penguins WC has seen and photographed have been from a small boat bouncing in the waves and chop off the coast of South America. So the photos aren’t all that wonderful. As you might guess from its appearance, it’s a cousin to the Magellanic Penguin that was featured last week. The…

Return of Bird of the Week: Magellanic Penguin

Magellanic Penguin, Near Stanley, Falkland Islands

This is late going up. Sorry. WC will stay with penguins just a little bit longer because flightless birds are cool, too. The Magellanic Penguin is unusual in several ways. First, it is the only species of bird in the range that has a breeding colony protected by land mines. You can’t make this stuff up. The Magellanic Penguins’ range includes the Falkland Islands in the South Atlantic. In the Argentine-Britain War in 1982, the Argentines placed land mines on several beaches. One of those beaches was the site of a large Magellanic Penguin colony, empty of penguins at the…

Return of Bird of the Week: Chinstrap Penguin

Chinstrap Penguin, Deception Island, South Shetland Islands, Southern Ocean

The thing is, it really does look like a chinstrap, holding that black “helmet” on to their heads. That thin line of black feathers gives the species its name, although they are also called Stonecrackers for the harshness of their calls. This is circumpolar species, with an estimated world population of about 8 million birds. They are dietary generalists, feeding on krill, squid, shrimp and small fish, which gives them an advantage over some of their more specialist cousins. When WC was at this small colony on Deception Island in early December, courtship was just getting started and the birds…

Return of Bird of the Week: Macaroni Penguin

Macaroni Penguin

Macaroni Penguins, despite their silly name, are another amazing mountaineering species of penguin. These photos are all from a bouncing Zodiac rubber raft; we couldn’t make a landing where the Macaroni Penguins routinely did. Note the different bill structure. The Macaroni’s bill is adapted for a different genus of krill, its primary prey, resulting the bulbous shape. The feathers in the crown appear to be a sexual display thing. This is the landing for the Macaroni colony. Note the areas of bare rock, where the algae and barnacles are worn off by the passage of thousands of Macaroni feet. This…

Return of Bird of the Week: Rockhopper Penguin

Rockhopper Penguin

One of the striking things about penguins is the steep-sided hillsides some species favor and climb to get to their rookeries. As you watch a flightless penguin waddle along, mountain-climbing isn’t the kind of skill you expect. And among the best climbers is the Rockhopper Penguin. Rockhoppers are a sub-antarctic species. These photos are from a rookery at West Point Island in the Falkland Islands. The rookery is located on a steep, rocky headland, shared with Black-browed Albatrosses and King Shags (Cormorants). It’s about 800 feet above the South Atlantic. The Rockhoppers climb that steep, slippery, rocky slope multiple times…

Return of Bird of the Week: Adélie Penguin

Adélie Penguin with Egg, Yarlour Islands, Antarctic Peninsula

If WC has a favorite penguin, among the ten or so species he has seen, it has to be the Adélie Penguin. This bird is all business, all of the time. Partly, that’s because they are the most southerly-dwelling of all the penguin species. Emperor Penguins famously breed further south, but when Emperor chicks are fledged the species heads north. Adélies, by contrast, remain at the southernmost edge of open water year-round. As a species, Adélies are doing all right globally, but in the area of the Antarctic Peninsula, where WC saw them, they are in deep trouble, Adélies are…

Return of Bird of the Week: King Penguin

King Penguin Courtship, South Georgia Island

This week – and for the next few weeks – we’ll spend some time in the Southern Ocean. Specifically, on the extraordinary South Georgia Island. South Georgia offers concentrations of wildlife that are simply incredible. Not the least of those concentrations are the breeding colonies of King Penguins. The breeding colony at Salisbury Plain may be the largest number of breeding animals at once place left on this planet. Up to 100,000 King Penguins breed there. Ridiculously handsome, photogenic and charismatic, the King Penguin is the poster child for its clade, Spheniscidae, the penguin family. It was a privilege to visit…

Return of Bird of the Week: Resplendant Quetzal

Resplendant Quetzal

WC has been accused of posting photos of boring birds. While there are no boring birds, it’s true that some have broader appeal than others. So here’s a lot of folks’ candidate for the most beautiful bird in the Western Hemisphere, the Resplendant Quetzal. The bird is about 15 inches long, plus about 26 inches of tail. It’s iridescent green blue and red, and seen live absolutely takes you breath away. A member of the Trogon family, it is considered divine by Mesoamerican peoples. It is certainly spectacular, and WC counts himself luck to have been able to see and…

Return of Bird of the Week: Long-tailed Tyrant

Long-tailed Tyrant, Costa Rica

There are a staggering, bewildering number of birds in the Neotropics that eat bugs. Hundreds of species of flycatchers, alone. One of the more spectacular is the Long-tailed Tyrant. Long-tailed Tyrants feed exclusively on flying insects, especially stingless bees.  Insects are captured by making quick aerial sallies from a high exposed snag or branch. Not coincidentally, that perching makes them easy to photograph. The species has an extensive range, from Honduras to Brazil, The species is described as “fairly common but patchily distributed,” but the total population is unknown and the species is, in the phrasing of ornithology, “poorly understood.” Despite that long tail,…