Friday, May 19, 2006

A story of an Aplomado falcon family in Veracruz.
Here goes.....I finally have some information and photos to share with you.
I live in Tlacotalpan Veracruz (the tropical lownds/wetlands of central Veracruz)
Here is a timeline to the Aplomado nesting activities.
First spotted
I spotted/digiscoped the female Aplomado falcon on April 3, 2006

Eggs laid
As close as I can tell the eggs were laid on or around April 6, 2006

First Aplomado "chick" hatched
On May 8, 2006 the first Aplomado falcon chick hatched

Nest discovered
the nest was discovered by Angel Montoya field biologist with the Aplomado Project -The Peregrine Fund and myself on April 24, 2006

Second Aplomado chick hatches
The second "chick" hatches May 11, 2006
in addition eggshell samples were taken from the nest and the nest was photographed by field biologists from The Peregrine Fund.

Observations begin
Since May 13, 2006 (time allowing) I try to get out to the site and observe the nest and Aplomado falcon behaviours twice a day, 1.5 hours in the morning and 1.5 hours in the afternoon.

Now for the photos. (just click on the highlighted links below to see photos) Note with regard to photos:
Unless otherwise noted ( see the Peregrine Fund photos),
these are my photos and may be copied for personal/educational use. Commercial use of my photos requires my permission.
David McCauley

The power of "digiscoping". This PHOTO shows the magnification possibilities of "digiscoping" (a digital camera coupled with a spotting scope)
Without the "digiscoping" setup I would never attempt to photograph the nest.
Here are some images of the "lay of the land" and where I am in relation to the nest and observation perches of the Aplomados.

Some ID observations on the Aplomado falcons
Here are some photo charts that help show some of the field marks and differences between the male and female Aplomado falcons.
M/F Size Comparison

Meeting the Aplomados
Since I am in Mexico I have named the pair of Aplomados after the Maya dieties "Itzamna" and "Ixchel" SEE PHOTO

The NEST is either that of a Brown Jay, Roadside Hawk or possibly a Northern caracara, Aplomado falcons do not build nests but instead depend upon the nest building skills of others.

The nest photographed.
Here are photos of the nest with one "chick" hatched (approximately 3 days old) and the second "chick" is just breaking its way out of the egg. The reason for climbing up to the nest,(hence the photo) is a joint project of The Pergrine Fund and USGS with the end of collecting eggshell fragments and infertile eggs for testing of pesticide/herbicide levels. This is a good thing, field biology at work, a proactive approach to study unregulated pesticide use in Latin America. (DDT is still sold here in Mexico and is in no way regulated.) Hmm.
These photos were taken by a field biologist of The Peregrine Fund and have been used here with their permission. (These images are property of The Peregrine Fund and may NOT be copied or reproduced without their permission.) I am most grateful to The Peregrine Fund for the use of the photo on my weblog. Plese keep in mind that the photos taken is a result of a field study. Please, it should go without saying but- DO NOT CLIMB TREES OR USE MIRRORS ON POLES in order to photograph nesting chicks or egg clutches.

Ixchel and Itzamna on the nest.
IXCHEL (female)
ITZAMNA (male)

The feeding of the Aplomado Chicks.

So there you have the basics of the family of Aplomado falcons in Tlacotalpan Veracruz Mexico. I will as time allow continue to post photos of the progress of the young and share with you some of my field notes/observations.
The Aplomado falcon population was nearly eliminated in the US due to loss of habitat and pesticide contamination.
Thanks to the ongoing efforts of The Peregrine Fund with their Aplomado Falcon Project, the species in now being successfully re-introduced into its former breeding habitats.
I would encourage all who can, to actively support this ongoing project.

David McCauley

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

The Aplomado falcon nest is discovered!
On April 23, 2006 I am sitting out on the porch conducting the spring hawkwatch here in Tlacotalpan and I am approached by a group of people that look like birders... My guests are Angel Montoya, his wife Jennifer and son Woodrow together with Angel's sister and brother in law. Angel tells me that he and his family are here on vaction and that he works for the Peregrine Fund and his wife Jennifer works for the World Wildlife Federation.
Instant camaradeire.
Anyone who gives a damn about nature is a friend of mine.
As I talk more with Angel he tells me that he is a field biologist with Peregrine Fund working on the Aplomado falcon restoration project in the US. How cool is that?
I am the captive audience with a thousand questions!
That afternoon Angel and myself sat on the porch, drank a couple cold beers and counted migrating raptors 5,248.....among them 5,010 Mississippi kites, 16 Peregrine falcons, 13 Turkey vultures, 4 Ospreys, 1 late Swallow/tailed kite, 196 Broad/winged hawks, 6 Swainsons hawks, 1 American kestrel and a Partridge in a pear tree!
In the course of the conversation I mentioned that I had been "digiscoping" Aplomados nearby and asked him if he wanted to go birding the next morning. Angel agreed and early the next morning we headed out to my local patch to bird.
Note. I live in central Veracruz in the tropical lowlands.
The next morning Angel showed up on time, and we headed out to bird. When we got to the area where I had been photographing Aplomado falcons, I scanned the fence line and we found the Aplomado nest!

I was really excited, this is the first time in my life that I had ever seen a nesting Aplomado falcon!
The Aplomado falcon family and sharing them with the world.
It is after careful consideration that I start this series on the Aplomado falcon on my weblog.
It was two years ago here in Veracruz, that I had a memorable encounter with a pair of Aplomado falcons. I was out birding/digiscoping and I heard a commotion, it was two Aplomado falcons giving a good "get the hell out of my territory" message to a Roadside hawk. Unforgettable. The Roadside hawk retreated to more hospitable terrain. I observed the pair of Aplomado's in my binocular and was able to "digiscope" with my rather rustic setup of a basic Nikon spotting scope and my 2 megapixel Sony Mavica 250CD.(after vingetting I was lucky to get a good 4X6!)
Suddenly one of the Aplomado falcons shot off of the branch where it had been perched, almost immediately the second Aplomado falcon followed. I saw it all in my binocular.
The first Aplomado was in rapid pursuit of prey, the prey headed for the nearest leafy tree.
As the prey entered the safety of the tree the first Aplomado shot up into the air and hovered/"kited" above the tree.
The second Aplomado, (which was not far behind) went directly into the tree pursuing prey.
An Aplomado falcon is an undisputed master of airspace for its aerial acrobatics, but put them into a tangle of branches and they do not do well! So I observe this Aplomado foundering in a tangle of branches....the prey (a juvenile Eastern Meadowlark) seeing its attacker clumsily flapping in the branches sensed the opportunity to escape and flies from the refuge of the tree. BIG MISTAKE.
The first Aplomado falcon which had been hovering above the tree, saw the escaping flight of the juvenile Eastern Meadowlark and deeply swooped to make a definitve "kill".
I had just witnessed what must surely be one of nature´s greatest "dramas"....the cooperative hunt of the Aplomado falcon!
This colorful, long-tailed falcon had made unforgettable impresion on me. I was hooked!
I began to study all the material that I could find on this amazing bird of prey.
I recently crossed paths with a family of Aplomado falcons here in Tlacotalpan Veracruz, Mexico where I live. What I hope to do over the next several weeks is share with you images as well as information regarding Falco femoralis - The Aplomado Falcon.

Here is the image a provoked a renewed interest in the Aplomado falcon. While conducting my annual spring hawkwatch here in Tlacotalpan, I had Dane Ferell (of the Corpus Christi Texas Hawkwatch) here with me helping me with my spring raptor migration count. One morning (April 3, 2006) we were out birding before the hawkwatch and we came across this female Aplomado. I digiscoped a few pictures. (For those who may not know "digiscoping" is a is a photography technique that couples a digital camera with a spotting telescope. In the birding world the late Laurence Poh is considered to be the "father of digiscoping". Laurence eagerly shared with many his techniques, which have revolutionized nature/bird photography. Thanks to this recent technology, it is now possible to photograph most birds from a considerable distance and still capture their behavior and visual characteristics without "stressing" the bird.
Unless otherwise noted my photographs of the Aplomado falcon have been "digiscoped" using a Nikon Coolpix P1 (8megapixels) camera handheld to a Nikon Fieldscope 82mmED with a 30XWide Angle eyepiece, with either a Slik or Gitzo tripod.
So the journey begins of the Aplomado falcon family in the spring of 2006 in Tlacotalpan, Veracruz Mexico.
David McCauley

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Yesterday afternoon here in Tlacotalpan Veracruz in a three hour period, I was able to count 5,675 Broad-winged hawks. There had been a bit of a lull in the movement of Broad-winged hawks here at the count but today they made a good showing.

In the morning yesterday I was able to "digiscope" this cool Yellow-headed Savannah Vulture (lesser)
The Savannah vulture is a resident here in Tlacotalpan, Veracruz. In flight they resemble a Turkey vulture.

-David McCauley

On April 25, 2006 Twenty-three Peregrine falcons flew over the spring hawkwatch in Tlacotalpan Veracruz.

I love to watch Peregrine falcons! Perched or in flight this is one damn impressive raptor! In recent days they have been migrating through in fairly large numbers. We have observed and counted 65 Peregrine falcons in the last seven days. So far this spring we have counted 136 Peregrines.
On April 25, in the afternoon, this beautiful Peregrine falcon landed on a radio antenna (two blocks from the hawkwatch site) I left Rafael and José Luis counting, grabbed my scope and digital camera, and was able to get a few photos of this Peregrine falcon at rest.
David McCauley

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

(photo of a Roadside Hawk that I "digiscoped" yesterday in Veracruz)

Yesterday we passed the 200,000 mark for raptors counted at the spring hawkwatch here in Tlacotalpan, Veracruz. It has been an amazing spring. See HAWKCOUNT
We have logged 207 hours and seen 19 migratory raptor species. Really good stuff!
This year I have had more help scanning and counting and that has made all of the difference. Mississippi kites are still coming through in good numbers.
David McCauley

Friday, April 21, 2006

15,255 Mississippi kites and a Great Black Hawk

Yesterday I was out in the morning before the hawkwatch and was able to "digiscope" this beautiful adult Great black Hawk - Buteo urubitinga ridgwayi
Nikon Coolpix P1 handheld to Nikon Fieldscope 82 ED 30XWA eyepiece - Slik tripod

Once again the raptors here at spring hawkwatch in Tlacotalpan put on a magnificent showing. Today the Mississippi kites were in the spotlight. We counted 15,255 Mississippi kites in a 4 hour span. There were three large groups of 1,500 plus Mississippi kites.
The total count for the day was 16,351
The count for April so far is .......160,114 (133 hours of observation)
The total count this far for the Tlacotalpan Spring hawk watch is...190,832 (186 hours of observation)

Me, on the porch of the house in front of Plaza Doña Marta, sitting in my favourite "hawkwatch rocking chair" Its a tough job...but somebody's got to do it..LOL
Having the time of my life and happy to share it with the world.
Eyes to the sky,
David McCauley

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Greetings from Veracruz - I was out early yesterday and was able to digiscope this adult Roadside hawk.
The winds persisted from the south and there was no apparent raptor movement. At 14:30 the winds shifted from the SSE and the floodgates opened!
For the next three hours the sky was filled with raptor migration! There were no massive groups of raptors, the largest "stream" was about 500 raptors (mississippi kites). Fairly low flight provide excellent views.
Below are some photos that I took through my binocular to give you a sense of what was happening. (click on all of the photos for the enlargement).
David McCauley

Monday, April 17, 2006

It was quite an amazing day here at the hawkwatch in Tlacotalpan. The afternoon brought low flying mixes of Swainson's hawks and Broad-winged hawks.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

I logged a little over 7.5 hours here yesterday in hawkwatch. I observed 16 species of birds of prey (including resident raptors) and counted 2,382 northward bound raptors.
The bulk of the days movement occurred between 3 and 5 pm.
The afternoon sun illuminates the low flying raptors as the gracefully swirl overhead. Broad-winged hawks, Swainson´s hawks, Missippi kites, Peregrine falcons, Osprey, Sharp-shinned hawks, Cooper´s hawks........hawkwatch bliss.
With two weeks of April counting done we have counted 97,093 migrating raptors and the total spring count including some days in March is 127,811.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Spring hawkwatch 2006 Tlacotalpan Veracruz. Here is a brief report of the Tlacotalpan Spring hawkwatch so far. With 149 hours of observation time we have counted 125,429 migrating raptors (18 migrating raptor species observed and 9 species of resident raptors for a total of 27 species of raptors observed.) I don´t know of any other hawkwatch site that can equal this type of raptor diversity.
This year I had more help with the hawkwatch observation and it is reflected in the numbers. I want to thank all those who have helped out so far this season.
I still have two weeks of observation left for the month of April. For a report of this and previous year´s counts here in Tlacotalpan Veracruz, you can visit the HAWKCOUNT site.
I have not made regular posts to my weblog as I have been very occupied with visitors, early morning birding / "digiscoping" and cooking.
For these last two weeks I plan to post on my weblog some of my hawkwatch observations and share with you a little of this marvelous hawkwatch experience.

Friday, March 03, 2006

My first day on the spring hawkwatch. March 2nd I was able to spend 3 hours on the hawkwatch. I have a new counting location this year about a half a block away from the house. I am on the rooftop of a 3 story building with a nice clear view. The added height will allow me to see things that I missed last year. I have still have to fix up a small area with some shade. Early next week I should have my new digiscoping equipment.
I am pretty excited to try it out.
As for my observations...I counted 15 Turkey vultures. As of March 20th I plan to put in 8 hours a day on the hawkwatck until April 30th.
I could use some counting help if anyone can come down. I also need a couple new clickers.
contact me
A couple of days ago I was able to get out and photograph a juvenile Snail kite

and a Northern Caracara gathering nesting material

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Spring Hawkwatch 2006
Attention birders and hawkwatch enthusiasts I warmly invite you to make some plans for the spring bird of prey migration here in Tlacotalpan, Veracruz....... March 20th through April 8th I will be offering a birding/raptor migration tour here in Tlacotalpan Veracruz that will feature the spring raptor migration, general birding, some mexican cooking classes and an overall good time.
Last year during these dates I counted 74,629 raptors!
This year is going to be great! You can sit on my front porch in the afternoon and watch raptors fly overhead by the hundreds and thousands. It´s fantastic stuff!

I want people to come down this year.
The trips are flexible, decide the amount of days that you want to stay from March 20 through April 8th. The cost is $75.00 USD per day based on either single or double occupancy and includes;
1. early moring birding (6:30am til 9am) afternoons will be dedicated to the hawkwatch.
2. Basic accomodations (clean rooms with ceiling or floor fans) AC would be additional.
3. breakfast, lunch and dinner
4. if you so desire, you can pick up some tips on preparing some great mexican dishes.
5. purified drinking water
(not included, between meal snacks, alcoholic beverages )
If you want someone to meet you at the airport in Veracruz and accompany you to Tlacotalpan r/t add on $50.00 USD

You can contact me for more information David McCauley, my e-mail is

Good birding,