Readers’ photos: cats and birds

February 27, 2012 • 11:55 am

Reader Bruce Lyon, responding to my request for wildlife photos, has responded in spades, sending great pictures of a wild cat and some birds taken in Costa Rica. Here’s his background (in the following, Bruce’s comments are the indented ones):

I spend a couple of weeks in Costa Rica each year on vacation with my family. I am a faculty member at the University of California at Santa Cruz (i.e. busy) so the trips to Costa Rica are my one opportunity each year to immerse myself in pure natural history and nature photography. Tropical natural history is hard to beat.  Given your recent trip to Costa Rica I thought a few photos of Costa Rican birds might be appropriate. I include a very small selection of birds (my speciality) from five trips to Costa Rica. I chose species that are both personal favorites and for which I had photos that I thought really brought the species to life. Given Jerry’s fondness for all things feline, I thought it was appropriate to include a couple photos of the world’s smallest spotted cat, the Oncilla.

First, the cat, an oncilla (Leopardus tigrinus), found in Central American and the Amazonian Basin of South America.  It’s smaller than a well-fed house cat, weighing 1.5 to 3 kg (3-7 lb). It’s a nocturnal hunter, hence the big eyes.  Bruce reports:

The Oncilla (Little Spotted Cat, Tiger Cat) is apparently the world’s smallest spotted cat. This animal was a rehab animal released into the forest at Volcan Arenal and it was provided with food. It became wild enough that it eventually found a mate and had a kitten. These animals are spectacular climbers and leapers—more like flying—and in the photo below the animal traveled about ten feet. A colleague who spent an enormous amount of time in the canopy of Panamanian forests studying harpy eagles says he frequently saw Oncillas chasing after monkeys in the canopy and easily following the monkeys across gaps between the trees.

Be sure to click on all the photos as they’re large!

The birds:

The tropics are loaded with frugivorous [fruit-eating] birds. Many nature lodges put out fruit tables (bird feeders with fruit) to attract these fruit eaters. This Chestnut-mandibled Toucan [Ramphastos ambiguus swainsonii] passed up the feeder at a lodge to go for wild food—palm fruit.

A great kiskadee (Pitangus sulphuratus):

Great Kiskadees are ubiquitous- in Costa Rica. Taxonomically they are flycatchers, but they also eat a lot of fruit. While I watched this individual it barfed up (regurgitated) four different seeds, all of which were very sticky and required considerable effort for the bird to detach the seed from its beak. For this seed, the bird had to wrap it around the branch, as shown in the right photo. It is likely that the seed stickiness serves some function in seed dispersal.

This black-faced solitaire (a thrush) was feeding on the white berries shown in the bottom right of the photograph.

And my favorite, a turquoise-browed motmot (Eumomota superciliosa) with its “racket-feathered” tail. When I was a graduate student doing a summer course in Costa Rica, I caught one of these in a mist net. I still remember holding it in my hand, marvelling at this little jewel of an animal. (It was released unharmed).

Turquoise-browed motmots are spectacular! Most species of motmots have bizarre tails with ‘racquets’ on the end. The tail feathers initially grow as normal feathers and the birds then remove some of the barbs to create the naked shaft (I suspect the barbs are designed to fall out easily). Troy Murphy at Trinity College has shown that both sexes use the tail to signal to predators—predator deterrence.

Readers are still invited to send me their best animal or plant photos.  I can’t promise to use them all, but I’ll try to use the good ones!

19 thoughts on “Readers’ photos: cats and birds

  1. Outstanding photos, Bruce!

    Oncilla – long cat is long.
    Great Kiskadee – any relation to R. Santorum?
    Motmot – not tail feathers, trail feathers.

    Beautiful creatures.

  2. Just wanted to attest that in addition to being a fantastic photographer Bruce is an amazing teacher. Taking his Ecology and field biology classes played a huge role in inspiring me to go on to grad school and get my PhD in evolutionary ecology. Glad to see these great photos.

  3. Lovely work, Bruce! To me the motmots comprise the prototypical Neotropical bird family, and the Turquoise-browed is certainly one of the most spectacular. The Chestnut-mandibled Toucan is masterfully done.

    But the pic that impresses me the most is the Black-faced Solitaire. They’re even hard to see, much less photograph; and yet you somehow managed a terrific shot of this one. Did it sing for you?

  4. Wow! is right. I especially like the oncilla and the Toucan. I hope Bruce doesn’t mind if I use the Toucan on my desktop for a while.

  5. The solitaire flew in and landed in front of me to grab a snack on the berries. No singing. Readers can take and use photos for whatever they like except commercial uses.

  6. Here in Curitiba, South Brazil, there are plenty of kiskadees (nice to know what they’re called in English) and also a lot of seeds stuck to things, particularly the climbing frame and goal posts in the garden! So yes, I guess it’s for dispersing them.

  7. I never noticed before how much motmots look like bee-eaters, but (quick lit search…) they are not each other’s* closest relatives. Convergence seems less likely than that the last common ancestor of Coraciiformes (Kingfishers etc) looked a lot like one of these.

    Could the kiskadee’s sticky seeds be from a mistletoe? They seem adapted to germinate on a perch, which makes it an epiphyte (if not necessarily a parasite).

    Leaping kitteh reminds me of a sifaka. Are they bipedal on the ground? 🙂

    [*Spellcheck doesn’t like this apostrophe, but anything else would be barbarous, methinks.]

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