Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Esquinas forest interior

After doing a pre-breakfast walk around the grounds we walked some trails into the forest interior after breakfast.  Forest birding in the tropics mostly centers around finding little mixed feeding flocks, after seeing a very dug-in Ruddy Quail-dove and not being about to attract a Black-bellied Wren into view we found a little group.  A pair of Dot-winged Antwrens and a pair of Black-hooded Antshrikes popped up virtually simultaneously.  The antwrens worked past pretty quickly but the antshrikes were a little more cooperative.
 The male (above) had been banded at a nearby biological station.  The female has nesting material.
Despite seeing the antwrens several times I never managed a good pic of one.

A Black-cheeked Ant-tanager popped up relatively low, it seemed like it moved slowly, but it was another bird surprisingly hard to get into focus.
Its breeding range is smaller than Kirtland's Warbler's.

A Northern Bentbill's vibrating song called our attention to it.
 A Rufous-winged Woodpecker is another bird whose name is really difficult to have sink in.  The wings are obvious only when it flies; then it looks like a woodcreeper.
 The Black-bellied Wren finally popped up not long after.  The vegetation looks identical to the bird pictured on its Wikipedia article.
A Plain Xenops was the final bird I managed shots of out of this group. 

We went down another path (the Bird Trail) to change habitats slightly.  A Chestnut-backed Antbird was found fairly quickly.
It was another bird that would almost come out into the open, and then duck back.  I lagged behind the group to get an even halfway decent shot ...
... and almost missed the Red-capped Manakin Vernon had spotted farther up the trail.  Fortunately the tree it was in was fairly open; I looked where the groups' bins were aimed and saw the bird teed up in very nice light.  It was almost better I didn't know what they were looking for.

Finally, the bird of the morning for me, a Baird's Trogon.
The picture doesn't do the colors of this bird justice.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Esquinas Rainforest Lodge

We awoke to overcast and humidity on our first morning in the Pacific jungle.  It had rained some overnight which didn't put much of a damper on the humidity.  The dawn chorus was the other clue that we had changed locations entirely, Bright-rumped Attila, Crested Guan, Black-cheeked Ant-tanager, and Riverside Wren sang prominently (though all well hidden).  The scarlet-rumped tanagers were split somewhere in the last 10 years.  Last year I didn't get much of a shot of the northern form, Passerini's.  Cherrie's Tanager replaces it, and is equally as common, on the Pacific side.  There were two pairs nesting in the trees right next to the main building at Esquinas Rainforest Lodge.

Buff-rumped Warbler, the only Band-tailed Barbthroat of the trip, and Long-billed Hermits started appearing.
The Long-billeds were one of the more common hummingbirds here.  We also saw a few Stripe-throated (Little) Hermits.

We walked the grounds of the Lodge as the light grew, getting looks at the Riverside Wren, as well as some of the common ground birds, White-tipped and Gray-chested Doves, Black-striped Sparrow, and Variable Seedeater.

Also on the ground were a couple different flavors of tropical vermin, Momma and Baby Agouti,

 As well as this very special flavor of tree rat, Alvaro's Pygmy-squirrel

They probably both taste the same to a Spectacled Caymen (note the baby on the back)
More on the Caymen later in the week.

Spot-crowned Euphonia was common, the tawny forehead of the female is easier to ID than the male in this species.

She probably spent the better part of 3 minutes pulling off and then eating this flower bud, frequently hanging upside down in the process of incising it off the tree.

Monday, February 24, 2014

I blame the book

As we left the highlands and moved onto the Pacific side of the country we entered an area I've never been and a lot of birds I'd never seen.  You don't realize how much you rely on experience when you bird until you go to a new area.  A person can study the book as much as they like but it's not a substitute for actually seeing the birds.  Any book is limited, the Costa Rica books are about a generation behind those dealing with the U.S.  Stiles and Skutch is laid out like the Peterson Guides of the 60's, all the birds crammed onto plates in the center section of the book with the descriptions and maps (?) in the remainder 90% of the pages.  Garrigues and Dean is laid out like the modern Peterson, with a few birds on each page and the map and description facing them.  The artwork is about comparable to the Western Peterson but there's frequently only one view of each bird.  Would you match the next photo with the plate?

We stopped at a mid elevation patch of the little purple flowers so favored by hummers in CR hoping for white-tailed emerald.  We found our only Snowy-bellied's of the trip.  Most of us didn't realize how much like a rufous-tailed it can look like from the back.

We stopped for lunch at an open-air restarant and enjoyed some new birds for the trip, this was the only Golden-hooded Tanager I saw on the trip.
 A Red-legged (as well as a Green) Honeycreeper appeared ...
 as did my first Red-crowned Woodpecker, a bird I had forgotten about.  I called it out as a Hoffman's (I admittedly didn't spend a ton of time with the woodpecker plates)

We mostly drove for our lodge in the Pacific rainforest, but Vernon did make another birding stop as we descended at some random field with Fork-tailed Flycatcher, Smooth-billed Ani, and a Red-breasted Blackbird, a bird I'd hoped to see, though not one we ever got closer to.
 He taped out a couple Tropical Mockingbirds as well.

We continued descending.  I was using a 50mm lens to take scenery pics from the moving bus (it worked pretty well at 1/2000th of a second) and as I glanced up from shooting some black vultures in a roost tree I saw a silhouetted raptor with a pale sub-terminal line to the outer primaries.  There's only one raptor in the book with that pattern and I excitedly yelled out 'Crane Hawk!'.  I was in the very back of the bus and no one else got on it.  Vernon was skeptical, but there's literally nothing else in the book with that pattern.  It wasn't until I got home and down-loaded the photocard I had in the scenery camera that the riddle was answered.  I hadn't noticed that evening that, incredibly, I lucked into an image of the bird when I shot the vultures:
 It's a Yellow-headed Caracara, a bird I'd never seen before.  Granted it has a light body, but backlit I'm sure it could look dark.  The book (Garrigues and Dean), which is the best book currently out there for CR imho, shows the wrong underwing pattern.  They duplicate the caracara upperwing primary patch on the underwing in the plate.
Oops.  Oh well.  The female Bellbird in Garrigues and Dean is also wrong, it doesn't show the big difference in the streaking of the throat vs the breast.  If I ever win the lottery I'm going back to Central America to do a Crossley style CR book.  Now everyone go buy lotto tickets to get those jackpots up to have-your-own-foundation-rich levels so I can start getting tickets again.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Leaving the Highlands

... but not without birding them some more!

Vernon was targeting some specific birds on our last morning in the highlands. We had nice looks at Spot-crowned Woodcreeper on the way to the trail.
 We walked up a narrow trail along a small stream (Mike Mahler and I walked it last year at midday and didn't see much), Vernon was listening and occasionally playing tapes for Spotted Wood-quail, Zeledonia and Silver-fronted Tapaculo.  Long story short, most of the group had a brief look at the Tapaculo and we heard the Zeledonia once but neither remotely approached coming into the open.  We actually had some brief looks at more Quetzals when they flew high over the trail.  The female perched directly above us at one point giving up what Mike Sefton termed the Proctologist View.

It wasn't until we were practically back to the cabanas when Vernon heard the Wood-quail scratching at the bottom of a ravine.  There ended up being about 5 birds.

Just like last year on our last walk Emerald Toucanet showed well over the cabanas.
 This bird's odd vocalization stopped Dea and me.  It couldn't have been more than 15 feet away, though the back-lighting/shade left something to desired.

Barred Parakeets feed on seeding bamboo and commute up and down the valley from their roosts to their feeding areas.  Last year I wasn't really prepared for the parakeets; this year I'd listened to Sulphur-winged and Barred and knew to look for the presence or absence of yellow in the underwing.  In this case absence.

We drove away from Savegre, but had 2 stops to make.  The first was a highland specialty I'd been asking Vernon about (actually one of four), and he allowed he had one spot where it might be reasonable, Barred Becard.  Immediately when we got out of the bus an Ochraceous Pewee, of all things, called.  It was followed by a little mixed group, mostly Black-cheeked Warblers and Ruddy Treerunners.
 The Becard started calling soon after and we tracked it down in the canopy of a large tree, an odd bird to say the least.

After that we headed even higher, to the paramo, an above-the-treeline (about 10-11,000 feet) sagebrushy habitat with a few specialties.   They didn't cooperate at all in the bright sun.  We very briefly saw a dull brown female Peg-billed Finch, once heard a slightly more patterned Timberline Wren, heard no more Zeledonias, and with a lot of effort eventually saw a couple Volcano Juncos.
 I will definitely return to Costa Rica, but I don't plan on returning to the paramo again, too few birds, and all of them skulkers.  To add insult to injury some of our group got altitude sickness.

With that it was time to head down lower to the southern Pacific lowlands, a new area for me.
We saw a last Rufous-collared Sparrow at a roadside snack break and with that, went down the mountain.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Savegre Hummingbirds

In case you haven't noticed, I like to take pictures of hummingbirds.  The Savegre lodge had 2 clusters of feeders which attracted a continuous stream of hummers (as well as birders and photographers often watching the well-conditioned birds from only a few feet away).  I think a lot of people got good pics with smart phones.  White-throated Mountain-gem is common but not as abundant as the others.
 It used to be called (and is still in some of the books)  Gray-tailed Mountain-gem

I tried to mostly stay away from the feeders though, going for more natural backgrounds (and flight shots).  Green Violet-ears were abundant.

Any bush with flowers to attract hummingbirds would usually have a Slaty Flowerpiercer or two as well.  The females would defend some of their favored bushes from males.  Only the males are slaty.
I think this Stripe-tailed Hummingbird is nectaring from holes that the flowerpiercer left.

The other common hummer at Savegre (aside from Magnificent) was Scintillant Hummingbird

This tiny Selasphorus's rufous tail helps separate it from the somewhat less common Volcano Hummingbird