Tag Archives: Rafael Galvez

Lesser Nighthawks: EVERGLADES

Several Lesser Nighthawks (Chordeiles acutipennis) were observed from November 19 through November 22, 2012, foraging over C-111 Canal and the agricultural area outside of Everglades National Park, at the intersection with 9336, Ingraham Highway. The sketch above was done from those observations during that period.

I counted 20 Lesser Nighthawks on November 19, immediately after sundown, between 5:40 and 5:55 pm at the above location. On November 21, I counted 12 birds from 5:45 to 6:10 pm. On November 22, I only observed 2 nighthawks in the vicinity. I’ve also visited other locations recently, where Lesser Nighthawks have been observed during this time of the year, including the Hole-in-the-Donut sector west of  the Research Center (ENP) and Dump Marsh, but observed none.

Lesser Nighthawks - November 19, 2012 Field Sketch

Lesser Nighthawks wintering in Florida have been reported since the 1970s, but are rarely documented. Reports typically include few individuals, most of them in and around the vicinity of Everglades National Park, Florida Bay and Cutler along Biscayne Bay. In the Everglades, the species was first found at Eco Pond on December 28, 1980 by Paul Sykes and Sonny Bass, and has been observed from Snake Bight to Cape Sable at sunrise or sunset in recent years. This area, as part of the Coot Bay Christmas Bird Count usually furnishes the highest number of Lesser Nighthawks for the U.S. during winter. The all-time highest count for the species during a CBC in the U.S. was 10 (Coot Bay, 11oth CBC). However, “15 to 20″ were reported on December 10, 2000 from Flamingo.

Thumnail sketches of Lesser Nighthawks

However, as Dick Cunningham once wrote, “It is suspected that several dozen Lesser Nighthawks may winter in the pinelands area south of the [Everglades National] park headquarters and can be seen at twilight in the adjacent farmlands to the east.” The species is often seen during the Long Pine Key Christmas Bird Count in Everglades National Park, which covers the area from Royal Palm west through the pinelands. Maybe this December of 2012, several Lesser Nighthawks will be observed during the Long Pine Key CBC.

Identification

The Common (C. minor) and Lesser Nighthawks are very similar, and best differentiated by voice where their ranges overlap. However, the Lesser is typically silent during winter. Individual Common Nighthawks have been documented during winter in South Florida, so one must be cautious in identifying a Chordeiles nightjar during this season in the region.

With careful observation and experience, details in the plumage and structure of the Lesser can be differentiated from Common Nighthawk on birds in flight. The wings of Lesser Nighthawks appear more rounded, due to the outermost primary feather being noticeably shorter than the second. In the case of Common Nighthawks, the outermost primary is perceived as longer or equal to the second, giving the bird a more pointed-wing appearance. Additionally, the Lesser may appear overall darker than the Common in flight; this is primarily because females of the species do not have contrasting white markings on their wings, as in Common. The paler “bar” on the wings of the female Lesser is buff, and blends with the overall brown coloration of the bird, giving the impression of an all-dark nighthawk in low light.  On the male Lesser Nighthawks, the more-visible white wing markings are closer to the wing tip and smaller in size compared to Common Nighthawks.

Lesser Nighthawks during winter in our area seem to be active almost entirely during sundown. The short period of time during which they are visible may present the greatest challenge in identifying and documenting them. I’ve had the fortune of finding roosting birds on the ground during late afternoon at Hole-in-the-Donut, but have had a hard time replicating the experience.

The recent C-111 nighthawks exhibited several of the behavioral traits associated with the Lesser, including more erratic flight at low altitudes, and individuals foraging in groups. During winter, the species is typically associated with water, and in my experience having seen the  species from Cutler to Cape Sable, the birds often fly low over canals, bays, lakes and marshes. From Nov 19 – 21, the birds were observed flying low over C-111 Canal moving S to N in small associated groups, at times circling very close to me and low over the Ingraham Highway overpass. Several of the individuals in the feeding group were clearly females, exhibiting no white wing markings.

Sketches

I was able to do several sketches of these nighthawks, keying-in on their wing shapes, the placement and color of the wing markings, and the overall form of the birds. Above, is a compilation of thumbnail sketches (averaging 3cm) done in the field with graphite on off-white 20 lb paper.

The watercolor above was done from the hood of my Jeep, parked next to C-111 using Yarka St. Petersburg Watercolor 24 set pans on 140 lb, cold-pressed Arches paper (25 cm width). All field observations were done through my trusty Leica Ultravid 8×32 HD binoculars.

Neotropical Raptors of Trinidad & Tobago

Imagine the possibility of 37 raptor species in a territory smaller than Delaware, or one sixth the size of Belgium! The wonderful Caribbean islands of Trinidad & Tobago have that many raptors on record. Not to mention the 400 or so bird species that make this nation a birding paradise.

I returned from a trip through Trinidad & Tobago with Caligo Ventures astounded by the wealth of bird species we saw – tropical rainforest passerines, hummingbirds, trogons – the list goes on. Trinidad & Tobago is a nation composed of two main islands and several islets no more than 13 miles from the coast of Venezuela. For its relatively small territory, the nation boasts a surprisingly diverse bird life.

Neotropical Raptors GALVEZ

Above is a field sketch of raptors seen from the Northern Range, overlooking the Arima Valley on June 11, 2012. The sketch includes Common Black Hawks, Turkey Vultures, a Zone-tailed Hawk, a Short-tailed Hawk and a Swallow-tailed Kite. Click image for a larger view.

The composition was done on a 7″ x 9″ sheet of 100 lb cold-pressed watercolor paper. Each bird was done as a pencil thumbnail directly from observation through binoculars (Leica Ultravid 8×32 HD), filling in the composition one by one during a fast paced day of birding. The watercolor was added later, with the rendition of the Arima valley done the next morning from the veranda at the Asa Wright Nature Center.

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Above are details of the watercolor sketch, depicting the various species observed during a relatively brief stop at an overlook along the mountainous road. The thumbnail sketches range in size from less than half an inch to more than two inches. In each, I’ve made an earnest effort at capturing the flight attitude that differentiates the depicted species.

While the abundance of hummingbirds alone would have made the trip unforgettable, I was particularly excited about seeing any of the 37 diurnal raptor species documented from this archipelago nation. I was fortunate to observe 14, and I have also posted about one of my most memorable – the Bat Falcon, and interesting observations about the mud-covered legs of a Common Black Hawk.

This article was originally posted in the Florida Keys Hawkwatch blog on July 15, 2012.

TRINIDAD: NATURE & WILDLIFE ART WORKSHOP
FEBRUARY 23 – MARCH 1, 2017

VENT2_kicsi

To find our more about tours led by Rafael Galvez visit the
Victor Emanuel Nature Tours website.

Bat Falcon: TRINIDAD

June 10, 2012. Asa Wright Nature Center and Lodge, Northern Range, Trinidad.

Falco rufigularis: A small and intrepid Neotropical falcon that takes most of its prey on the wing. Though it does consume bats, these typically compose no more than 15% of its diet. It hunts primarily hummingbirds, tanagers and swifts by agile aerial pursuits, though insects such as dragonflies and lepidopterans are also taken in substantial quantities. Rodents and other ground dwellers are taken on occasion. It is the falcon with the highest rate of reversed sexual dimorphism, with females up to 30% larger than males.

A Bat Falcon perched on a snag overlooking the Asa Wright estate house, and most members of my Caligo Ventures group had already seen it from the spectacular veranda by the time I got there that morning.

It was a raining and mist could be seen over the Arima Valley below, climbing the forested slopes of the surrounding mountains. The wet falcon kept mostly in a tucked posture, perched above eye level and facing down the slope.

Bat Falcon studies GALVEZ

The colors of some birds appear saturated when wet and their feathers become stringy, hugging the body and giving them an unusual contour. This morning, the sky washed with a thick atmosphere that flattened distances, and the falcon appeared dark and silhouetted.

I must confess that Bat Falcon was high up on my Trinidad & Tobago (T&T) wish list, and I was thrilled to see this bird regardless of lighting conditions. The proximity lent by my trusty scope – Leica Televid series – fixed this.

I decided to truncate breakfast and stayed with the bird some 40 minutes. We were soon to depart on a full day’s journey, and as we learned the hard way, the tour bus waited for no one. I managed to do a couple of watercolor sketches and several quick pencil and ink renderings. All the renderings in this post were done based on field observations of this bird from the Asa Wright veranda.

Bat Falcon GALVEZ

My first impression was that of a small bull-headed falcon in the vein of a stocky Eurasian Hobby. Superficially, the combination of a heavily patterned breast against rufous thighs and vent add to this. And the aerobatics of the Bat Falcon have a similar reputation as the hobbies, in terms of speed and agility. However, authorities consider the species a closer relative of the Aplomado Falcon, and particularly of the Orange-breasted Falcon, with which they share general similarities in appearance, vocalization and behavior.

As I quickly sketched, I noticed that this bird had brownish primary feathers, indicating a certain amount of wear, and a warmer cast to the greater coverts compared to the bluer upper parts. In the case of most North American falcons, wing molt begins once the birds are nesting. Females tend to molt primaries while incubating and males when nestlings are being reared. I also noticed the tail feathers in a bit of disarray and falling short of the folded wing tips. Most male Bat Falcons have wing tips shorter or equal to tail length while the wing tips of females may surpass tail length. However, rain causes feathers to appear out of the ordinary, and I might have been interpreting this bird more than is prudent.

Rain seemed to be slowing by the time I left this Bat Falcon. Now its appearance was changing; its feathers fluffed and its posture enlivened as it commenced preening.

Bat Falcon sketches GALVEZ

Sketching in the field

I use a telescope and binoculars to do many of my field sketches and paintings of birds. During this trip I carried an assortment of paper, none larger than 14” x 10”, and a couple of small sketchbooks. Because of the wet conditions throughout the trip, particularly in Trinidad’s Northern Range, the paper was always moist or wet, especially after hikes in the rain.

  • Bat Falcon preening: This was rendered over a watercolor gesture done on site. Pencil and color details were added later that day and the following morning, using sketches from other renderings as reference.
  • Bat Falcon – various postures and talon details: Most of the watercolor was done on site. Details were added later.
  • Bottom image: Pencil and ink rendering done on site. Watercolor added that night.

This article was originally posted on the Florida Keys Hawkwatch blog on July 15, 2012.

TRINIDAD: NATURE & WILDLIFE ART WORKSHOP
FEBRUARY 23 – MARCH 1, 20

VENT2_kicsi

To find our more about tours led by Rafael Galvez visit the
Victor Emanuel Nature Tours website.

A Common Black Hawk with Dark Legs?

Here are some sketches from my June of 2012 trip to Trinidad & Tobago. Below is the lower portion of a spread done at the Caroni Swamp in northeastern Trinidad. To the left is a Common Black Hawk (Buteogallus anthracinus) and to the right a pair of Tropical Screech-Owls (Megascops choliba).

coblackhawk-tropical-screech GALVEZ

I lugged around nice paper, watercolors and favorite pads, but 80% of the sketches I did were pencil thumbnails on a 3.5” x 5.5” Moleskine originally meant for notes. Since it had been raining most of the trip, I found it more prudent to quickly pull out this pad from my pocket and sketch. It was a run and gun trip – mostly a birdwatching group and they liked a quick pace.

Dark Legs on a Common Black Hawk?

Everyone knows that Common Black Hawks – and all Buteogallus sp. – have yellow legs. Well how did I wind up with dark legs in my sketches?

It turns out I captured the mud-caked legs of a bird, which appeared naturally dark at first. Common Black Hawks that live in mangrove habitats will often walk over the mud, foraging for crabs or fish stranded by the tides. And anyone who’s ever walked on mangrove shallows knows how soft this clay can be. In South Florida, I’ve often seen egrets, spoonbills and shorebirds with dark legs as a result of walking on this clay.

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I often wonder whether I capture any information of value in my sketches. Photographs can hold so much detail that one often discovers minutia in them that wasn’t necessarily noticeable in the field. Not to mention the speed of it compared to sketching.

We were cruising on a flats boat through the Caroni Swamp when this Common Black Hawk was discovered, perched on the branches of a Red Mangrove. We must have spent no more than five minutes on this bird, as it flew from one perch to another. It is rare that I have the luxury of pulling out the desired paper and watercolors while the bird is posing for me.

The screech-owls were deep in the mangroves along the path leading to the boat ramp. I was still trying to sketch the forms of nearby Red-capped Cardinals when the owls were announced. It seemed as if the photographers in our group were challenged by branch obstructions – yet I don’t doubt that some phenomenal photos resulted from this. I must have spent no more than eight minutes on this sketch. Sure, it does not hold enough information for me to derive a complete painting from it, but combined with future sketches, I might have enough to compose something worthy.

RBTR Little Tobago GALVEZ

Often, sketches are no more than quick lines. In them, I try to capture jizz and form first. If I don’t have the right shapes to begin with, it won’t matter how much detail I add. The image will only be a stylization. We spent no more than 15 minutes at the overlook from Little Tobago Island, from where we watched Red-billed Tropicbirds, Red-footed and Brown Boobies fly by.

All these sketches were done while observing birds in the field using Leica Ultravid 8×32 HD binoculars. Their compact and lightweight build are perfect for holding with one hand while sketching with the other. The short length of their barrels allows for excellent bright and crisp images, which compensate for less magnification.

This article was originally posted in the Florida Keys Hawkwatch blog on July 23, 2012.

TRINIDAD: NATURE & WILDLIFE ART WORKSHOP
FEBRUARY 23 – MARCH 1, 2017

VENT2_kicsi

To find our more about tours led by Rafael Galvez visit the
Victor Emanuel Nature Tours website.