Friday 20 May 2016

Bird of the Month/Black and White Hawk-Eagle

Some wonderful things have happened to me since I was smitten with the 'birding bug'. I had always noticed birds but had never considered myself a birder. Then about five years ago I was gifted with a very generous buyout from my employer. Thirty years of chasing ambulances, photographing the aftermath of drug wars, the odd Whitecap game, the annual Christmas bird count and the ever shrinking editorial content combined with the generosity of my employer meant the stars were aligned and a new adventure beckoned.
Around that time Al Grass gave me A Photographic Guide to Birds of Western North America. 
It was a godsend, I was still in the eighties when a spotted towhee was a rufous-sided towhee. There were others name changes to catch up on. The new book was full of beautiful bird images, most of which I never even knew existed, best of all many could be found within twenty minutes from my home.
Since then I have been to a place called Point Pelee, took the train to Churchill to photograph the spring migration and recently Mexico! Other birding adventures included looking for wheatears and red kites in the Welsh mountains, a trip to the UK's Farne Island to photograph Atlantic Puffins and tracked down a Dartford Warbler in Cheltenham. The latest overseas visit was a non-birding trip to Mexico where I was lucky enough to photograph over 80 species, one of which turned out to be somewhat of a celebrity.
Greg Homel a well known birder and guide saw my posting on e-bird and conformed I had photographed a black and white hawk-eagle, a first time record for Puerto Vallarta/Jalisco area. Here is what he wrote.
The bit about me being as good birder can be taken with a pinch of salt!

by Greg R. Homel/
Black-and-White Hawk-Eagle Spizaetus melanoleucus 
NOTE: Photo(s) courtesy John Gordon

In recent years, an exponential influx of birding pioneers to and within the Vallarta region has really started to ramp up local knowledge of our ornithological richness. And the growing species list—which now numbers around 400—is impressive to say the least!
Sometimes it’s tempting to assume “everything” has been discovered by now.... But every once in a while a discovery is made that so knocks the socks off even the most avid birding pioneer, that other sightings pale by comparison. Such was the case for Canadian birder, John Gordon, who, on March 20, decided to take a bus from Old Town Vallarta to Vallarta Botanic Garden.
Luckily for the rest of us, Mr. Gordon—who is an excellent birder—made that fateful day trip. It was his first visit... and he made history! Among the birds John Gordon saw, photographed and posted on his blog, TheCanadianWarbler.blogspot, was a mysterious raptor flying directly over the garden “against the cobalt blue sky [in] a kettle of vultures and hawks!”
A week later, Mr. Gordon contacted me, asking for help identifying some of the species he photographed... possibly assuming the photos he provided were commonly-occurring species. Included in the impressive collection was an image that made my jaw drop: It was Jalisco’s only recorded Black-and-White Hawk-Eagle!

Black and White Hawk-Eagle

This Neotropical species ranges primarily in montane and lowland forests from southeastern Mexico through Central America to Amazonia and Argentina, with a small number inhabiting Oaxaca and Chiapas’ Sierra Madre del Sur in West Mexico. There are, however, occasional, disjunct (by more than 1000 kilometers) sightings in southern Nayarit.
In recent years two other hawk-eagle species—Ornate and Black—have been recorded in Cabo Corrientes’ wild interior, along with Double-toothed Kite. Combined with the presence of such keystone species as Hook-billed Kite, Military Macaw, Jaguar, Mexican Beaded Lizard and others, these sightings emphasize just how important Cabo Corrientes is to biodiversity in West Mexico!
Many recent sightings of significance are reported by first-time visitors like John Gordon. And some of the best sightings have occurred right here at Vallarta Botanic Garden! So keep your eyes and lenses pointed skyward, you may be the next to make such a discovery!

"It's never too late to start birding"
John Gordon
BC Canada

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