Thursday, April 27, 2017

Not a Bird

When I think of the tropics, birds come first to mind, of course. But I expect to see  many other kinds of animals as well. People come to Costa Rica to see sloths and monkeys, for example. We didn't have too much luck finding exotic animals this trip. Perhaps they live in other parts of the country we didn't visit.
 We did see some nice butterflies... orange bee...
 ...and a Giant Schnauzer that loved chasing Glenn's laser pointer light.
 Not sure what kind of lizard this is, but it certainly blends in well with the rock wall where we found it sunbathing one morning.
 This basilisk was really impressive though. Must have been at least 2 feet long, with an impressive frill or sail all the way down its back.

Squirrels and this single white-nosed coati were the only mammals we found, other than the dog of course. We were starting to count cows and horses just to say we'd seen some mammals.
Walking across the yard at Rancho Naturalista, we found trails of bare dirt, 1 - 2 inches wide. Stand around for a while and you would find leaf cutter ants on their super highway. The cut the leaves from plants, then take them back to huge underground nests to feed them to the aphids they farm. It was just like National Geographic!

Monday, April 24, 2017

Costa Rican Water Birds

Great Egret
One day, we drove to a nearby university which had a large lake on the campus. A lake was filled with both familiar and unfamiliar water birds. Nesting was the activity of the day!
Cattle Egret
Breeding plumage was displayed for all to admire, and admire it we did!
Cattle Egret Rookery
What in the world are all those white spots in that big bamboo overhanging the lake?
Cattle Egret Nests
Oh yes! The Cattle Egrets don't care about personal space when they are nesting. I guess there is safety in numbers.
Anhinga and chicks
The Anhinga chicks are large enough to be very demanding. Feed us NOW! They look about ready to fall right out of the nest.
Jacana and chicks
The Northern Jacana chicks are precocial and ready to walk around looking for food soon after hatching.
I love their long toes that allow them to walk on the lily pads.
When they come in for a landing, they have yellow wings and an extra "finger" extending from their wrists. This was way across the lake, sorry it's not closer.
Purple Gallinule
The Purple Gallinule which we just saw in Florida, pulls up the edge of a lily pad and holds it down with his long toes while searching the underside for edibles.
Boat-billed Heron
I thought this was a Black-crowned Night Heron at first. Then Glenn told us to look at the beak. Not sure what advantage this large thick beak gives him.
Torrent Tyranulets
The American Dippers swim in the raging mountain streams, just like they do in Colorado. But these little Torrent Tyranulets are flycatchers, living in the highlands of Costa Rica. Instead of perching on a twig, they do their flycatching from a big rock in the stream.
Sun Bittern
We walked down a long and muddy road looking for a Sun Bittern along the rocks. We tracked it along the rocks for a while, but did not see it displaying.
According to Cornell's website, the spectacular frontal display of the Sun bittern has been documented only in threat and defensive situations, with little evidence supporting any role in courtship behavior The defensive role of this display also is supported by the fact that the colorful wing patterns are obtained by both sexes with no intermediate plumage types, as well as by the fact that young Sun bitterns begin practicing the display at an early age.
Amazon Kingfisher
The Amazon Kingfisher has an extra long and heavy bill, but seems to behave just like the ones we know here at home.

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.