Fun field things

Maybe everything in Puerto Rico is black and yellow.

The iguanas on Isla Magueyes splayed themselves out on the toasty sidewalks all day long. Frequently you’d walk past half a dozen and wonder what disaster was just narrowly averted.

They also remind me of that one episode where MacGyver staples the villain to the ground.

A favorite from the Bahamas, the scrape of the Antillean nighthawk.

(Scrape, because you really can’t call it a nest.)

The nighthawk’s name in Spanish is “que-re-que-que,” emphasis on the first syllable, for its rapid-fire call. Its voice is the only thing that distinguishes it from the identical-looking common nighthawk. Males of both species fly super-high in the air, then do a nose-dive that produces a booming sound as air rushes through their wings.

Here’s a stealth shot of Mama Nighthawk herself. She no longer flushes every time I walk past—maybe she sees me and goes “meh.”

Nighthawks are part of the goatsucker (chupacabra) family. When closed, their bills look tiny, but they have massive gaping mouths used to catch insects in flight. The catchy name comes from the myth that they suck milk from goats. Who comes up with these ideas?

My housing site at Columbia National Wildlife Refuge in Washington state had a killdeer nest out in front. Guess who’s sitting on eggs in the Cabo Rojo parking lot? Soon there will be fuzzy babies running around!

After others and I alerted a FWS official about the nest, some traffic cones went up around it. Maybe she won’t have to do her “I am injured, follow me as I lead you away!” broken-wing display so often.

Clapper rail eggs! After days of hearing their cackling, grunt-y calls, I finally saw one wading furtively through the mangrove yesterday. This is because I’d been waiting so long to trap a male that everyone returned to business as usual. (The male didn’t go in. First stop tomorrow.)

Another favorite from the Bahamas, the black-necked stilt nest. Inadvertently I was standing too close while trying to catch a different male. Like the killdeer, the female did a broken-wing display, but it wasn’t nearly as convincing. I imagine a predator would raise an eyebrow at a performance that involves undulating your wings in a one-bird wave; shimmying your belly to the ground; looking up to make sure you’re being watched; and then…pause…shooting out a wing.

This is a Puerto Rican flycatcher. Like all flycatchers, it has those bristles next to its face, called rictal bristles. Science says, “Proposed explanations … are that they perform tactile functions, serve as an insect scoop, or protect other facial feathers.” That is how you know science has no idea what they do.

The Puerto Rican flycatcher’s high-pitched song sounds exactly like—and I am not making this up— “BIEB!”

Here’s another endemic, the Puerto Rican tody. My PR bird guide had such a wacky illustration of it that I didn’t believe it actually looked so…squat.

Todies have a crazy high feeding rate, supposedly eating nearly two insects a minute, every minute, from dawn to dusk (which amounts to 40% of their body weight). The Puerto Rican tody sits and scans the underside of leaves for insects, flies up to snatch it, and lands on a new perch. Repeat every waking moment.

Hope there are no typos, because I’m going to bed. Thanks again for the wishes, everyone. I caught four birds, took some pictures, had a long walk out of the mangroves, and gorged on the internet at Burger King. It was a very satisfying day.

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