Saturday, February 28, 2015

the road to Rancho

An afternoon in the bus allowed a few birding stops.  Reprising the theme of Costa Rica's ugly birds, here's a Groove-billed Ani.  

 We stopped and birded some pastures around the Casa Turire Hotel.  We saw Southern Lapwings last year on the morning of Tarcoles river birding, but they weren't as close as the birds we had here.

Some of the pastures were more overgrown than others.  Some of the lusher ones held Gray-crowned Yellowthroats.  The ones in CR seemed to have much better defined masks than the bird I remember from South Texas many years ago.

Red-breasted Blackbirds teed up distantly.  It's a bird I'd definitely like a closer look at.

The long legs and red eyes of Giant Cowbirds (an Oropendolo parasite) created a fairly bizarre looking bird.

Otherwise there were scatterings of common edge birds, Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Tropical Gnatcatcher, and this Tropical Pewee.

Summer Tanager is another very common bird in CR in the winter.

After we left the hotel Vernon's sharp eyes picked up a Fasciated Tiger-heron in its preferred fast-moving river habitat, definitely my best look at this night-heron sized bird.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

into the clear

After about 36 hours of rain we were ready for some sun and clear weather.  Fortunately day 5 dawned clear and we were free of precipitation going forward.

Normally I wouldn't post a pic of a Yellow Warbler from Michigan, much less Costa Rica, but I liked the way this one turned out on the hotel grounds in the muted light just before dawn broke over the mountains.

We birded this morning along a road in the Orosi Valley still in the high middle elevations.  We rode up the mountain until mist was almost starting to fall (along with spirits).  We either reached Vernon's starting point or else he could feel the pulse of the group and we got out just before the mist started to coalesce into actual droplets and started walking down into the sun and birded our way back.

Rufous-browed Peppershrike had teased us repeatedly in the highlands.  They have a loud bright easily recognizable song, but tend to sing from one perch and not move.
This time the trees were smaller and Vernon located it after a minute or so.

Red-headed Barbet had been a bird that was probably in my top 5 most wanted.
 We'd seen this distant relative of toucans the day before, but nothing close to this view.
 I think on most of the trips I've been on we've worked hard for our first Black-faced Solitaire and then had one pop out in the open a couple days later.  This one perched only seconds however.

We'd missed Emerald Toucanet at Savegre so it was nice to connect with one here, our first toucan of the trip.

We got into a little burst of activity with Plain Antvireo, Purple-crowned Fairy, and this Scale-crested Pygmy-tyrant.

 Vernon started hearing a Black Hawk-eagle.  An Ornate had called but escaped unseen by the majority of the group a couple days before.  This time a pair of eagles were visible, initially a bird that held its position motionless in the sky before it swooped down and past a lower bird here.

In front of the vertical spiral trunk just below the drooping cluster of brown leaves is an Olive-striped Flycatcher.
 They act a lot more like warblers than flycatchers.  I wasn't able to photograph either my lifer bird or the 2nd one so it was nice to get at least a distant shot here.

This is Chestnut-capped Brushfinch, another bird we had missed in the highlands

Finally, a Black-headed Tody-flycatcher.
 This is one of several lower elevation birds that we were starting to get down to and a bird I've only seen once before.  Other birds we had on this walk were a heard-only calling Highland Tinamou, another high White-winged Tanager, and my lifer Smoky-brown Woodpecker.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Refuge from the rain

Though not for this Black Phoebe...

A lot of the small restaurants in Costa Rica aren't completely walled in.  The kitchen is inside the building but you eat essentially outside under a pavilion with support pillars but no walls.  Such was the layout for a relaxed lunch after a morning of fighting the rain somewhere outside Tapanti.  We could sit at the tables and relaxedly scan for movement.  Blackburnian and Black-and-white Warblers foraged as did the Red-faced Spinetail from the previous post.  Lyle spotted a fleck of red in the treetops, this turned out to be a White-winged Tanager, a bird I had hoped to see though certainly wasn't guaranteed.

We would see another one the next day, but it was even farther away.

We had mostly finished and were not exactly chomping at the bit to go back out into the elements when Lyle (again, I think) spotted a couple Green Ibis that flew up into a tree to rest.

 This odd cross between a vulture and a rail was as smart as it was beautiful since they appeared to be trying to spread their wings to dry.  In the rain.
It was another bird I wasn't sure we would find.  Vernon implied he had a spot for it later in the trip, but seeing it here allowed him to target other birds instead so definitely a fortuitous spot.

There was a feeder set-up where oropendolos and Silver-throated Tanagers were coming in, but it attracted a White-naped Brush-finch as well.
This had been a lifer the day before that was probably on my 10 most wanted birds for the trip, surprising as that probably is.  They tended to forage much more quickly than their Chestnut-capped cousins that I've had a lot more success photographing.  It flew before the auto-focus kicked in.

We headed back out in the afternoon, but the only pic worth posting (male Collared Trogon) was in the last entry.

Monday, February 23, 2015

21 feet of rain...

is I think what Vernon said annually falls at Tapanti.  Not surprisingly the rain from the day before continued.

We stopped on our way to the national park to take another crack at Orange-billed Nightengale-thrush, a bird we'd tried for the evening before (in the rain).  It didn't take long to spot this attractive species.  Later in the day we saw Slaty-backed Nightengale-thrush as well.

There's a lot of birds that occur just in the upper-mid elevations which would potentially be new and despite the rain (which continued all day), I got more lifers on this day than any other (about 13 out of a total of 30 for the week).  The rain made it hard to get pics without risking equipment and I mostly kept the camera under the raincoat unless there was something pretty exciting.  Prong-billed Barbet was my first barbet of any kind.

There's a whole mess of different furnarids, variously shaped generally small to medium sized brownish insectivores for which we have no real reference point for in the U.S.  This is a Red-faced Spinetail.

Scaly-throated Foliage-gleaner is another member of this group.  Despite having seen 4 or 5 foliage-gleaners at this point I've never gotten a really good pic at any member of this hyperactive tribe.

Spotted Barbtail is a bird that the book lists as a furnarid.
It acted (and looked) a lot more like a Woodcreeper.  I was able to identify it a couple times, other times it confused me.
Trogons will sit still at least.  We'd heard Collared Trogon in the highlands but had no success with seeing one.  On this day we saw both sexes.  This female's contentedness to just sit there was a decided contrast with a couple Azure-hooded Jays we saw a few minutes before.

Here's the (soaked) male.

We alternated walking from shelter to shelter along the trails in the woods with walking the more open roadsides that offered more visibility at the price of more exposure.  We saw a few different hummingbirds highlighted by brief views at 2 new species of Mountain-gem for the trip as well as a pair of Black-bellied Hummingbirds that defied my attempts to get a reasonable pic.  We missed the Lancebill, a very local hummingbird with a 2-3 inch bill that likes to flycatch along little waterfalls and streams (of which there were many).  We also made a decent effort to find an antpitta; I'll spare you the suspense to say I've still never seen one.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Raptors along the road

A few pics that didn't really fit into prior posts...

A pair of Tropical Screech-owls huddled on their dayroost (across from a train station) while we were working our way down from the highlands into steadily increasing rain.

A lot of birds in the tropics get considerably faded.  Chestnut-sided Warbler is a very common species at mid and low elevations in Costa Rica in the winter.  We see the bright fall birds; after bleaching in the tropical sun you'd be amazed how easy they are to mistake for gnatcatchers.  The same fading occurs in raptors too.  This is a young Broad-winged Hawk.
If not for the shape (and Vernon) it would be very difficult to recognize.

Here's the adult.  We tried to make it a Roadside Hawk at first glance, but the broad tailband gives it away.

The adult Roadside Hawk for comparison...

Returning to the narrative of the trip, it took me a while to gather up all the camera equipment and rain gear in the back of the bus when we arrived at our hotel after leaving the highlands.  I was the last one off the bus and was lucky enough to have a Hook-billed Kite fly right over in the misting rain...

We saw one very high bird last year (while distracted by Scarlet Macaws).  This was definitely my best look at the kite (and got kinda lucky that the camera settings were dead on for a black bird against a white sky).

Friday, February 20, 2015

Paramo payoff

The paramo is a habitat found above the treeline atop the mountains that form Costa Rica's spine.  The vegetation looks like a cross between sagebrush and bristlecone pines, it's thick, brushy and not super heavily populated by birds.  Really, what bird would live in an area at 11,000 feet of elevation with constant wind and fog when they could live in a nice comfortable jungle a little lower?

We made one stop as we departed Savegre valley as we headed up the mountain to the paramo and were met with fairly steady rain falling from a relatively clear sky.  I tried to take pics with the camera in a 3 gallon Ziploc bag which I found nearly impossible.  I managed one of a Spotted Wood-quail and gave up further attempts at photography at that location; I just couldn't see well through the plastic into the viewfinder and was depending entirely on auto-focus and the metering bars.  Instruments only photography is no fun.

There are a handful of specialties only found in the Paramo though and for the 3rd straight year we attempted to target them.  This was by far the most successful I've been with them.  I mentioned in the last post that there was some light rain.  That turned into much heavier rain and even stronger wind atop the mountain.  It was 25mph gusting to 40.  I didn't have any hope of seeing much.  We did see a Volcano Junco along the side of the road but I didn't risk my gear to try to photograph it.  Vernon stopped at a hopeful looking thicket.  The wind was at our back and blowing the rain horizontally which made it easier to shield the camera.  He almost immediately taped in a couple Timberline Wrens. 
They skulked deep in the thicket.

A Peg-billed Finch followed.  It didn't like to perch for long in the howling wind (that apparently blew down one of the cell phone towers atop the mountain that afternoon).

We started driving down the mountain and Vernon got out again at a fairly non-descript little patch of soaked thicket.  It contained a Zeledonia, also known as the Wrenthrush, an odd bird sort of believed to be an aberrant warbler but probably its own family altogether.  It's another bird that could give a Connecticut Warbler lessons in skulking.
I've heard it twice prior but never seen one before.  I think there were 2 in this thicket.

Rain become more steady as we descended, sometimes under sun and other times under overcast creating by an order of magnitude the most intense rainbow I've ever seen.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Gold at the end of the rainbow

Golden-browed Chlorophonias that is.

Overcast skies greeted us on our final morning in the highlands and we rode up to an orchard where Vernon told us we would look for "some birds."  Light misty blowing raindrops started appearing as he pointed out a few female Chlorophonias.  It quickly became apparent that there were at least a dozen birds foraging in the orchard and we dispersed somewhat to get better looks of this typically canopy-dwelling pseudo-tanager.

It didn't take that long to locate a male which I slowly worked my way towards.

The females were also showy and unique birds that glowed in the morning light that alternated between sun, sun with rain, blowing mist, and fog.

I think 3 was the most birds that I managed in one frame.

A few silver-throated tanagers were also working the fruit.
A small group of Sulfur-winged Parakeets flew into the trees across from the orchard but didn't fly in.  There were also a ton of Tennessee Warblers as well as my lifer White-naped Brush-finch, a bird that was pretty skulky and didn't give good views.

A last pic of some flowers in sunny backlit rain.
I'm sure at times there was a rainbow extending straight out from where we were depending on one's vantage point.  I suspected at the time that the hour we spent with the chlorophonias would probably be the highlight of the trip and if it wasn't then it was certainly close.