Saturday, April 22, 2017

Not Your Kentucky Bird

Brown Jay
Even in Costa Rica, we were able to find some familiar birds, and it made me feel more confident as a birder to identify a Baltimore Oriole or some Cattle Egrets without assistance. Of course, in a new country you expect to find a majority of birds to be unfamiliar species. These Brown Jays, for example, are the size of crows (which we did not see, strangely enough), but as raucous and curious as any Blue Jay here at home. They raised a fuss one afternoon, and someone figured they had found a snake.
Buff-throated Saltator
"Saltator?" What in the world is that? There are several species of Saltators, which are finches. I always had an image of them pouring salt on each other's tails.
Crested Guan
We found both the Black and Crested Guan, said to be uncommon. It resembles a turkey, or even some kind of small dinosaur when silhouetted on a branch.
Laughing Falcon
I didn't actually hear this Falcon laugh, but the recording has it with a definite ha-ha-ha call.
Red-breasted Blackbird
No, it isn't a robin, which you might think at first glance. Found in the same field as an Eastern Meadowlark.
Resplendent Quetzal
I admit it. I bought a postcard of the Quetzal and took a picture of it. This member of the trogon family is the target bird for any birder who comes to Costa Rica. It is found only in the highlands and has a distinctive call.
This is my photo, showing the long flowing tail feathers much better than the postcard, don't you think? Is anybody out there good with Photoshop to remove some of these sticks? I'm in awe of anyone who can photograph this bird without sticks in the way. Remember that rule of birding - don't open your mouth when looking up in a tree!
Lesson's Motmot
The field guide says that this motmot with a long, "racquet-tipped tail" is common around gardens, coffee plantations and riparian zone. I was pretty thrilled to see it.
Volcano Junco
Yes, we have Juncos who come to spend the winter in Kentucky, but none of them are as "in your face" as these Volcano Juncos are. We drove up to 11,000 feet in altitude to find them. The little wren who lives there called repeatedly, but wouldn't come out to see us. The Junco, on the other hand, practically climbed up our legs! With those glowing golden eyes, you wouldn't imagine them to be afraid of anything!
White-eared Ground Sparrow
Even the sparrows were different. I thought this should have been the Golden-eared Sparrow until I saw the small white spot on its ear.

Friday, April 21, 2017

What Bird Is That?

Golden-browed Clorophonia female
In the US, all bird names are governed by the American Ornithologist Union. So when a familiar bird's name changes, that is who to blame. In the 1700's and 1800's, when birds in North America where being discovered, it was bad form to name a new species after yourself, so many species are named after a friend of the discoverer - Gambel, Wilson, etc. Or they might be named after the first place they were found, such as Tennessee and Kentucky Warblers, even though they don't nest here.

Yellow-thighed Finch
I don't know who is in charge of naming birds in Costa Rica, but they have a completely different naming scheme. Costa Rican birds seem to be named more descriptively, with colors. In fact, we often teased Glenn about making up the names of the birds. We had trouble keeping the Clorospingus and Clorophonia straight.
Ruddy Tree-runner
How many words can you think of that mean red? We played a game at lunch one day trying to come up with all the "red" or "beak" words that are used in bird names. Red, reddish, ruddy, chestnut, crimson, scarlet, bay, flame, fiery, rufous - you get it. Then add those names to a body part - necked, throated, crowned, capped, collared, breasted, rumped, thighed.I had never heard of the word "olivaceous" before, but several birds had it. Once in a while, they ran out of descriptions and just called a bird "plain."
Lesson's Motmot
What kind of bird is a Motmot? The one we saw has vibrant feathers, and a long tail with an extra tip on it. Woodcreepers are smaller than Tree-runners, but otherwise they seem to look the same. We saw a Streaked Xenops one day, but no Antshrikes, Antwrens, Antbirds, Antthrushes, or Antpittas. Glenn said he heard Potoos in the night.
White-colared Manakin
The White-collared Manakin does not model clothes in a store window, but courts his prospective mate by dancing in a "lek." He scrapes a bit of ground clear of leaves, and dances for any female who may be watching, snapping his wings so they sound like fingers snapping (that's how Glenn called them) and his call sounds like an electrical short. All I ever saw was a glimpse of him.
Boat-billed Heron
At first glance, I thought this was a Black-crowned Night Heron. When we took a closer look, however, Glenn pointed out his broad bill. It's the Boat-billed Heron.
Masked Tityra
I never did learn how to confidently pronounce the name of the Masked Tityra.
Black-billed Nightingale Thrush
But the small Black-billed Nightingale Thrush could sing duets with himself all day long and was one of my favorites.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Cloud Birding

The Cloud Forests of Costa Rica are old growth forests. I was surprised to learn that many of the trees are giant oak trees. Nearly 50% of the bird species recorded from Cerro de la Muerte are endemic to the Talamanca range. These include fiery-throated hummingbird, timberline wren, sooty robin, black-billed nightingale-thrush, peg-billed finch and volcano junco.

In the morning, the sun shines brightly, but by noon, you can watch the clouds rolling in. The forest is moist whether it rains or not, although it does rain frequently even in the dry season.
Because of this abundant moisture, everything that doesn't move is covered in moss. Each tree is a community in itself, home to mosses, ferns, bomiliads, orchids and other epiphytes. The diversity is incredible. I had trouble keeping up with the group because I stopped to look at some little fern.
Gray-breasted Wood Wren
Because of the density of the vegetation, it can be very difficult to find the birds. Glenn knew they were there from their calls, but I had a really tough time locating them myself. Plus, the narrow trails make it hard for those in the back of the group to get the right angle for the bird. By the time we reached the front, it had usually flown away. See if you can find the birds in these photos.

Glenn heard a Quetzal on our first hike into the high forest. Can you see it here? Talk about warbler neck!
This is the best look at the Flame-throated Warbler that I ever got. Many birds are shades of brown, gray and black, making a perfect camouflage for them in the shadows. This seems such a good evolutionary adaptation that I asked Glenn what predates on these birds. He replied some hawks, but hawks would not be able to penetrate the heavy forest growth well. Other than that, he couldn't think of many predators for them.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Tantalizing Tanagers

Summer Tanager molting
Scarlet Tanager
 In Kentucky, we have two kinds of tanagers, the Summer and the Scarlet, and it's always a thrill to see one. In Costa Rica, however, we sighted 13 tanager species of a total of 20 on our checklist. I never knew they could come in so many brilliant colors!
Blue-gay Tanager
The Blue-gray Tanager was our first, found in the gardens at Hotel Bougainvillea in San Jose. When sitting in the sun, he is a bright blue, but appears to be a drab gray in the shade.
Plain Tanager
The Plain Tanager and the Palm Tanager are similar, and I think I have the right name on this one. It can be hard to remember a week after sighting the bird.
Flame-colored Tanager - male
Flame-colored Tanager - female
The Flame-colored Tanagers were abundant around the Savegre Lodge in the mountains, coming down to eat bananas at the feeders each morning.
We found two different black and red tanagers with white beaks, and it's easy to get them confused. The Crimson-collared has, of course, red around his neck...
Passerini's Tanager
...while the Passerini's Tanager has a red rump. Not many birds in Costa Rica are named after people, but this is one. Both live in the same habitat.
Golden-hooded Tanager
Here's where you get dazzled by bright feathers - the Golden-hooded Tanager...
Silver-throated Tanager
...and the Silver-throated Tanager. There was another, the Spangle-cheeked Tanager which sparkled in the sun, but I didn't get a photo of it. It's hard to decide which birds are my favorite from the trip, but the Tanagers are right up there at the top.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Bright Hummingbirds

Magnificent and Fiery-throated Hummingbirds
When you go to the tropics, you expect to see lots of colorful hummingbirds, and you won't be disappointed! We saw at least 18 species of hummers, and sometimes it is hard to tell them apart. Different species lived at the higher altitudes around Sagreve Mountain Lodge - from 7,200 to 10,000 feet. In the shade, they all look the same, but when they turn into the sun, the brilliant iridescent colors will amaze you.
Lesser Violetear
 The Lesser Violetear is one of the easier birds to identify, with the patch of violet on an otherwise green head and body. Found in the highlands.
Magnificent Hummingbird
The Magnificent Hummingbird is also found in the highlands. When the sun is just right, the top of his head turns purple while his throat is bright turquoise. He is larger than the other hummers in the area.
Magnificent Hummingbird on Nest
In Kentucky, our little Ruby-throated Hummingbirds build small nests on a branch and are almost invisible. This female Magnificent builds a much larger nest, this time under a roof, so her little ones won't get wet when it rains.
Magnificent Hummer investigating orange nails
All you have to do is put out a few feeders to attract many birds to your yard in Costa Rica. They are fearless and will zoom between people standing in their way to chase another bird from their favorite feeder. I tried holding out my orange finger nails, and several birds came to investigate. This little guy came and tapped on my nail to see if it was a flower.
If the line is too long at the feeder, some will reach down from a nearby twig for a quick drink.
Snowcap Hummingbird
In the Carribean foothills around Rancho Naturalista, about 3,000 feet in elevation, the tiny 2 inch Snowcap is a harder bird to find. Being so small, he tries to keep away from the many larger bullies at the feeders.
White-necked Jacobin
The Jacobin is one of the more aggressive birds at the feeders, but very easy to identify with the white spot on the back of the neck and brilliant white feathers when he spreads his tail. He is more a shiny navy blue than green. The tail spread seems to be a warning for whatever bird he wants to argue with, such as the Rufous-tailed Hummingbird.
Rufous-tailed Hummingbird
The Rufous-tailed also fans his rufous tail as a warning, before taking after the Jacobin to chase him away.
Rufous-tailed Hummingbird
In addition to the rufous tail, this little guy has a rufous beak as well, and is very common in gardens of the middle elevations.
White-throated Mountain Gem
Volcano Hummingbird
 The Mountain Gem is about 5 inches compared to the little Volcano at only 2 inches. 
Green-breasted Mango female
To me, most of the female hummers look very much alike with green backs, and white bellies. This Mango female is quite distinctive though, with a prominent dark stripe down her throat and belly, making her easier to identify than the male.