Wednesday, June 29, 2016

from Tanagers to Tiger-herons

This was my first visit to Costa Rica without a guide, though I certainly built upon prior trips with Costa Rica Gateway.  It's easy to bird the feeders at Arenal, you just stand on the porch and see what happens by.  There was more tanager diversity than I'd experience my one prior trip here.

Emerald Tanager is always fun.
If you look carefully there's an out-of-focus, mostly obscured Bay-headed Tanager directly beneath the Emerald.  A Scarlet-thighed Dacnis was in the same flock.
This was the lifer I thought I'd glimpsed on the way in, but didn't get a good enough look to prevent doubt from slowly creeping in.

But eventually one has to pull themself away from the feeder to search for the forest interior birds.  I walked the trail that I remembered we took 4 years ago ... and discovered why Steven had chosen it.  In the areas I walked there was a lot less solid primary forest, mostly edges by pasture.  On the last morning I found some other side trails I'd overlooked that would be worth spending more time with, and there's a much longer trail up a mountain I would like to explore, but time ran out.

I did flush a Fasciated Tiger-heron on my 5 mile circuit though.

Gray-breasted Doves (if memory serves on the name) are very common.

A couple times I heard Thicket Antpittas but never came close to seeing it.  This Spider Monkey spotted me though.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Brown Violet-ear

My three prior trips to Costa Rica have all been mid-winter, generally between late January and mid February; our trip in April meant that some of the birds making altitudinal movements would be in different places.

Brown Violet-ear was an apparent example.  In 3 trips I've never seen this species, though a couple people on one of the trips glimpsed one at Rancho Naturalista.  In spring, quite to my surprise, this short-billed bird was just about the most common hummer at Arenal.

 As far as hummingbirds go, this is no White-throated Mountain-gem, Fiery-throated Hummingbird, or even Green Violet-ear.  That being said, the bright beard and ears on a plain bird are fairly unique

 They shared the somewhat paler tail base with their Green cousins.
This was the first clear lifer of the trip; I'd glimpsed a bird I thought was a Scarlet-thighed Dacnis the day before, but doubts started to creep in the more Red-legged Honeycreepers I saw (despite the number of honeycreepers I've seen), but maybe I'd get another chance...

Friday, June 24, 2016

Spring Break in Costa Rica

After 3 trips to Costa Rica with bird groups, I convinced my family that this was the place to go for spring break.  Results were ... well, probably about what one would expect for trying to hybridize a family trip into a foreign country with birds.  I would do again; I don't know that we will however.

We flew into San Jose and made the drive NW to the Arenal area.  You don't notice when you have a driver how bendy most of the roads are that gain or lose elevation with numerous one lane bridges on narrow curves.  Long story short Hannah got car sick pretty quickly and we were making a lot of stops to give her a chance to rest.  One of the stops had a little mixed flock highlighted by a Slate-throated Redstart.

We made it to Arenal after nightfall, taking a couple longcuts to get to straighter roads.  The Arenal feeders were as I remembered them, active with Oropendolas as well as the kids' first toucans, a Chestnut-mandibled in this case.

We walked about the grounds and the kids were impressed by the Passerini's Tanagers

 And more so by a tiny Common Tody-flycatcher that was actively building a nest about a foot from the path

Black and yellow is a common color scheme in the neotropics as evidenced by the common Bananaquits
 and abundant Kiskadees.

Finally a Crested Guan that Ginger spotted teed up above the gardened grounds.
Hazel was quite impressed by this pre-historic looking creature.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Best. Flower name. Ever

Ladies and Gentlemen, 8th grade me is guest-writing this blog prior to a return to actual birds of interest next post I promise...

He'd like to present a fairly innocuous St. John's-wort looking plant, the yellow flowers on the dune...
What's so great about this?  Well, its name, drumroll please, is Hoary Puccoon.
Yes that's right, Hoary Puccoon.  I'm sorry, that name is hilarious.
Want a closer look?
 Because who wouldn't want to get up close and personal with ... Hoary Puccoon?  You have to inspect it carefully to ascertain it's not a sister Lithospermum species, the (I kid you not) Hairy Puccoon.  Because it'd just be embarrassing to confuse those two what with their (Litho = stone) spermum and all.
Notice the little jumping spider?  I don't have the first clue what it is, but how awesome would it be if it was a Hoary Puccoon specialist, living out its life cycle in the gentle embraces of ... Hoary Puccoon.  OK, I think even I've agreed that this is worn out.  The puccoon is native at least.

Because it's June, why not another spider pic (I'm quite certain I'm never going to type those words again even if I keep this blog going for a quarter century).  I'd be interested if anyone knows anything about its identity, I just called it a Watermelon Spider.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

a ten-year-old Hazelnut

Hazel, my oldest kid, turned 10 earlier this week.
She likes to release the dragonflies she catches off her nose if you can believe that.

My brother sent her the coolest legos I've ever seen, can you ID the birds?
 Left to right it's a Eurasian robin, Green Violet-ear, and Blue Jay.
Here with Hannah...

Here she's holding a Unicorn Clubtail.
 It's very similar to Lilypad Clubtail.  Both have very narrow S3 and S4 side stripes (the vertical stripes on the body under the front wing), but Unicorn has a lot more yellow at the very end of the abdomen (tail).

Finally a Spatterdock Darner, the first one I've caught in a few years.
 Some of the Darners will bite; I didn't let her go nose-to-frons with this creature.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Pelagic's end

While the Red-billed Tropicbird was the "best" bird our groups found over the 2 days, I think Black-capped Petrel was the most emblematic seabird.  Sadly it was our only Pterodroma (though eventually it'll probably count as two...).
These birds knifing over the intensely blue Gulf Stream were entirely different than the local rat gulls lazing over much grayer Lake Michigan.
The above pic (full-sized) is my current background screen on my computer

We saw a few of the light-faced types, the speculation is that the birds breed at different times (as evidenced by the differences in wing moult) and eventually will be split.

A last view of a Wilson's to try to highlight the differences with the final species...

I'm not sure how much of a difference can be appreciated in still pics of Wilson's (above) and Band-rumped Storm Petrels (below).  Certainly the toes don't protrude past the tail tip in the Band-rumped.  I somewhat get the sense of a bigger head, though would have the see the birds again to see if this is real or just an artifact of the first pic.  The guides made a big deal about a different flight style that I'm not sure that I would recognize yet if they weren't calling the bird out.

I managed no pics of the larger storm-petrels last year (it was the action of trying to follow a Leach's through the viewfinder that was the final straw for me a year ago), so the Band-rumps (and the Audubon's Shearwater yesterday) were new photo birds.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Day 2 Shearwaters

The second day of the pelagic had similar (mercifully rather light) winds, though out of the same direction meant less chance at a rare petrel.  Audubon's Shearwaters showed much better on the second day however.

These (fairly small) shearwaters seemed weaker flying and less dramatic than the Cory's or Black-capped Petrel and didn't usually mount up as high in the air as they skimmed about looking for Sargassum weed.

 I'm not actually sure what the top bird in the above photo is.  Probability says a Wilson's that's just a lot closer than the other birds, but it kinda gives the impression of a bigger species.

Here's the Audubon's swimming in some Sargassum patches.  It would dip forward in a motion halfway between a dive and a dabble to look for the small fish and crustaceans found in the tiny islands of vegetation.

Oops, not a shearwater.
My second ever photographically proven Pomarine Jaeger.  It made a single pass by the boat and disappeared.  On a few of their trips this year Poms have hung out practically all day in the chum slick, a somewhat mixed blessing as apparently the seabirds don't like them any more than our gulls do.

A few more shots of fairly photogenic Cory's from the way back in.

We briefly saw a Sooty Shearwater, but it never came close and I don't believe I came back with any ID-able shots of a species I'd seen once on a California whale-watching boat.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Red-billed Tropicbird

The best bird of the trip appeared a couple hours into day one.  Our eyes were mostly scanning for a larger storm-petrel coming into the chum slick or watching at horizon level for a rare petrel to come knifing by, but there's a reason to look up on pelagics.  Tropicbirds are prone to making high-altitude appearances as they check out a boat.  I don't know who saw this bird first, but a call of TROPICBIRD! suddenly spread through the crowd.

 Most surprisingly, it's a Red-billed.

 White-tailed is the more expected  species; I didn't even study the difference between the two leading up to the trip I thought it was so unlikely.

While these birds are apparently pretty common if your Caribbean cruise goes by (or makes port at) the right island; not having done that, this was my first Tropicbird of any kind.  The bird had very thin wings, but fairly powerful buoyant flight with the curved wings beat relatively shallowly.

A last look at the bird watching the ocean's surface (it ignored the squid Kate was tossing).

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Medication is my friend.

I've expressed (though probably insufficiently) how sick I got last year.  This year I was prepared for the Seabirding pelagic out of Hattaras.  I took ginger tablets (and lots of them) for 2 days leading up to (and through) the trip.  I put a scopolamine patch on as soon as I got on the boat (they recommend putting it on before that but I knew I'd be fine for the first 2 hours while the boat was up on a plane motoring out), and then took over-the-counter meclizine every 4 hours while on board.  Between the herbal, the anti-cholinergic, the anti-histamine, and the all-purpose anti-nausea Zofran tablets that I took once or twice just in case, I had no seasickness at all (now mid-afternoon drowsiness on the other hand...).

The first thing a person encounters as they get out to deep water (which surprised me how common they were last year) is flying fish.  Photographing them isn't super easy, identifying them is even harder.  I don't know what this first one is, it was pretty large and could soar a couple hundred feet.
 The next ones were smaller and less common, though more likely to occur in small schools.  Howell calls them Odd-spot Midgets for the asymmetric black spot on a single side fin.

Black-capped Petrel was the first consequential bird we came across upon reaching the gulf stream.
 The top bird is a Dark-faced type (currently I think a subspecies though there's speculation they segregate enough on the breeding islands to be their own species) as well as a blurrier Light-faced type below.

Wilson's Storm Petrel is the most common seabird (maybe in the world) and they were behind the boat in at least some numbers much of the day.

 If you look closely, you'll see that most of the above birds are in at least some degree of wing moult, missing a few mid-inner primaries.  Band-rumped and Leach's Storm-petrels are bigger than Wilson's and when you see a Wilson's with the full complement of wing feathers it gives the impression of a larger bird (and probably flies a little different too).
The toes projecting past the tailtip though confirm it to be the long-legged Wilson's (apparently most of the Southern Hemisphere species, of which Wilson's is one, have long legs).  This one is probably a first year bird, wintering in our summer.

To keep this post from getting too long I'm going to hold the highlight bird for the next post.  We spent a lot of time in the deepwater, but didn't come across a ton of diversity.  We started working our way back and came upon a collection of Cory's Shearwaters where the Gulf Stream meets the near(er) shore waters, still probably about 20 miles out.  The warm tones of the Cory's conflicted somewhat with the cold blue ocean.

In this same area we came across a small group of Red-necked Phalaropes that tolerated close approach.
 Here you can see the darker underwings that could help separate a distant one from a Red Phalarope
It reminded me of having Red Phalaropes in the old boat a similar distance from shore in Lake Michigan a few years ago.