Sunday, July 31, 2016

the Lion bird of La Paz

Late in the trip we spent much of a day at the La Paz waterfall gardens as we worked our way back to San Jose.  This site had a little of everything, hummingbird feeders, an aviary, monkey house, a few restaurants, a fairly extensive trail system I would have like to have explored further, and oh yeah, really impressive waterbirds.  This site would count as upper mid elevations, and had somewhat similar birds to what we encountered in continuous rain at Tapanti a few years ago.

Looks at a number of species, even given limited time, were much better this time though.  I've always thought Prong-billed Barbets looked like they have lion manes.

Slaty-backed Nightengale-thrush is another bird I only saw in really awful light at Tapanti.  This one came up to our feet.

Spangle-cheeked Tanager is one of my favorite Costa Rican birds, this was the best look I've had of one since my lifer Spangle-cheeked on my first Costa Rica trip.

A slightly different elevation meant different hummingbirds.  Purple-throated Mountain-gem was a lot more common here.

These are my first useable Black-bellied Hummingbird photos, another upper mid elevation specialist.

Staying here would have been prohibitively expensive with the whole family, but if I ever go back with a very small group, I think I would return here.

Monday, July 25, 2016


We only stayed one night at our 3rd motel (I should have made reservations sooner than I did) and I was awake before sunrise to walk the trail down to the river.  A paraque was attracted to the light along the drive up to our room (I should have gotten up sooner to check for other buglight birds, a solid low- and mid-elevation strategy in the tropics; there were a few ant-tanagers about as well).

It was mostly edgey second-growth stuff so I didn't have a lot of hope for an antbird, but after about half a mile I heard a Thicket Antpitta singing.  Unlike at Arenal, it wasn't dug into utterly impenetrable vegetation, this jungle was merely dense.  With a nice slope down from the trail I knew I couldn't get lost and I started creeping down, one step at a time.  The bird was very difficult to locate and somewhat ventriloquial, I was having a lot of time judging how far it was.  However, the vegetation seemed to thicken further in and I assumed the bird would probably be amidst it.  I continued an extraordinarily slow approach; the only way I could have gone slower was if it could have shot back.  At one point an Ant-tanager abruptly flew up with every apparent intention of landing on me, between the adrenaline of an oh-so-close antpitta and the non-zero possibility of encountering a venomous snake instead, I was so keyed up it felt like I jumped a foot.  The feargasm doubled my heartrate for a few seconds for sure.

Suddenly the antpitta worked its way past, mostly concealed by the leaves and disappeared.  I picked it up again a little further in and maneuvered with difficulty between leaves to get a mostly clear shot.  It was hand-focus only; too dark and too much vegetation in the foreground for auto-focus to work, but I did end up with one manageable image.

After the Panama Streak-chest Antpitta, this made the 2nd visualized antpitta for the year, the only two in my life.

With some combination of relief and elation I made my way back to the family for an open-air breakfast.
 A few Orange-billed Sparrows were working about, and Scaly-throated Hummingbirds were about, a plain species whose ID was difficult for me the first few trips to Costa Rica.
It's a relatively big hummingbird with a fairly short bill and some pale edging to the throat.

Friday, July 22, 2016

El Cocorro was Brilliant

Last post from the El Cocorro hummingbird garden.  When we stopped there at the very end of our trip 4 years ago it was raining, lightly initally, and heavily by the end.  We didn't stay long and I was disappointed by not being able to stay longer.  So the late afternoon/early evening sun when I returned there this spring was probably the photographic highlight of the trip.

Green-crowned Brilliant is another of the mid-elevation hummingbirds fairly common in Costa Rica.  I think this is the northern-most of the Brilliants.  The male has a fairly distinctive posture with a somewhat almond-shape head and relatively short bill.
 With the right light a little blue throat patch lights up, as does the green crown.

The female has a more speckled appearance that could be mistaken for a female Jacobin
The white stripe between the malar and the cheek is a good mark for her.

The immature male has an orangey malar stripe (and throat)

The Brilliants had a fairly distinctive feeding posture.  Sometimes they would hover like most hummingbirds, other times they would somewhat perch with beating wings as they curved their body around the lip of the feeder.
I don't know if they adopt that posture when feeding on actual flowers.

Monday, July 18, 2016

another big Shorb

Because you can't play Pokemon all the time can you?
I mean eventually your phone runs out of batteries.
Unless you have an extra battery pack.  Then you can play for hours.
But I definitely don't know anything about that.

I had 3 adult avocets fly calling past the pier and land on Silver this morning.  By the time I'd posted them and walked back down the pier there were 3 more nicely chestnut-headed birds on the beach.
 I was assuming it must be the same 3 birds circling back though it seemed odd I didn't see them fly back in, but Kip ended up seeing 7 birds so they likely were a new group after all.
 I worked around them and out into the water to wait for a beachgoer to flush them for the flight shot at the top.

I walked up to Klock hoping for a Piping Plover but had to settle for another mildly worn adult Willet.  I didn't realize it at the time, but the Willet flock from earlier in the month was the largest ever in Michigan for eBird.
and the b@st@rd Yellow Team that currently owns the Tiscornia Pokemon gym is forewarned.  They will be evicted.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Sabrewing study

More hummingbirds from El Cocoro, leading off with the largest hummingbird in Costa Rica (maybe in all of Central America?), Violet Sabrewing.

It's an impressive bird.  This was the one Costa Rican bird that the kids knew about (from a WildKrats cartoon episode) that they wanted to see; you can see why.  Now technically they weren't actually there for this one with Hannah wanting nothing to do with another bendy road and Hazel still a little wiped out from her experience with Montezuma's Revenge, but I had another spot for them a couple days later.

Here's an immature male

It's reminiscent of a Blue-throated with the big broad tail and huge white tail corners.

Here's the female.
 ID points for her are the huge size, good-sized down-curved bill, and again the long broad tail.

This is Purple-throated Mountain-gem
 I've always found them less common than their higher elevations cousins, the very attractive White-throated Mountain-gem, so it was nice to see another one here

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

a Coppery-headed endemic

There's a lot of birds that can be seen in Costa Rica.  There's a small handful (I can think of 3) that can only be seen there (excluding the ~25 birds that are endemics to the Chiriqui highlands shared with Panama).  One is the Coppery-headed Emerald, a small hummingbird particular to a narrow elevation band mostly (I think) on the Pacific slope.  It's one of the highlights of the aforementioned Cocoro Hummingbird garden.

If I had actual photoshop skills I'd ditch that barbed wire.

Head-on Emeralds are stupendously green.

The white tail flash is a pretty good marker for these short-billed birds as well.

A couple better looks at the female.
 If I said last time that female Wood-nymphs look sort of Generic Hummingbird-esque then the female emerald definitely lowers that bar.
The small size and short bill though eliminate the other possibilities, at this location at least.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

a hidden gem

On our very first trip to Costa Rica Steven stopped at a little hummingbird garden along the road between Arenal and San Jose.  I'd never been able to find much online about the spot, but as luck would have it, there's not that many roads between the two areas (two to be exact) and we passed the site on our first evening.  It's called Bosque Nuboso El Cocora in eBird.  With a list of 10 species, I'm in the top 5 listers for the site!

I returned to it about halfway through the trip to visit the well-attended cluster of feeders for mid-elevation hummers.
Crowned Wood-nymph is one of the more common species.  I'd never really noticed the bronzy crown that this next bird shows.
 It's old name was Violet-crowned Wood-nymph so perhaps this was a young bird, or maybe it was just the lighting.

There really aren't many other small to medium sized purple hummers in Costa Rica, but there are in Panama; the forked tail this bird frequently flashes is a pretty good mark for it (here it faces down a Rufous-tailed).

Another look at the male on the left with its forked tail and the female on the right.  The female might appear somewhat nondescript and generic, but the buffy gray throat that extends far down onto the breast is fairly unique.

 Finally a Green Hermit.  There were a few around, though they typically didn't spend long at the feeder

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Summer Shorebird Season is on

With 80-90 degree days, a person doesn't really think about fall migration, but the first regular migrants we get are the large shorebirds.  Mostly this is willets, but with a few avocets, and some years Marbled Godwit thrown in too.  Today was the first day I was able to connect with any.  I checked the beach in a brief lightening in the rain early this morning and figured I'd check it again midday when I got out of lectures; Tim quick-drew me though, finding a couple flocks of willets and marbled's.

Mid-afternoon I walked most of the way to Jean Klock to catch up to the birds.  I waded out into the water waist deep to see if the beachwalkers would push them past me; it didn't work, though they did flush right past.

This group was 73 Willets and 3 Marbled Godwits, my personal high count for each in the county.

I was thinking that there was a difference between males and females in terms of bill color, but neither Sibley nor the Karlson Shorebird guide make note of one.  Sibley shows the breeding bird as having an oranger bill base with the non-breeding birds pinker.

 Karlson says that females average larger with longer bills.

I think this is the 4th time I've had Marbled Godwit in the county.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Sunbittern Sickness

So I mentioned that the 2nd place we stayed had hot springs, with pools a person could lounge/swim in of varying temperatures with some of the water from the nearby stream.  Chlorination? What chlorination?  The water couldn't flow through and be returned to the stream if it was chlorinated could it?  The pools were very nice, it was relaxing to float, listening to manakins snap, aracaris ratchet, and gray hawks lazily float by.  We spent most of the afternoon doing the spring break pool thing, joined occasionally by Gray-necked Wood-rails.  The proprietor said no one ever had a problem with the water.

Well.  That night some mild cramps turned into intestinal unpleasantness, shall we say.  I took a Cipro and an Imodium and was fine.  I walked out the next morning as the sun rose and was flabbergasted to see a Sunbittern just walking along at pool's edge.

I'd never noticed the slate and tan tailband before. That would be a cool feather to have.  I've been fairly lucky with them, having seen one already this year in Panama, and a handful more last year at Rancho.

The Wood-rails were also walking about.

Unfortunately I returned to the room (technically it was a treehouse) and found that Ginger had gotten sicker than I had and Hazel even more so.  Hannah, who is as averse to putting her head under the water as I am if not more, was unaffected.  It was not a terribly fun day.  The lady who ran the place assured us that no one gets sick (though I noticed they drained the pool we were in and were scrubbing it down the next morning) and that their water was totally safe.  We boiled it anyway.  It's a pain in the butt to boil water, and then let it cool down to (tropical) room temperature before drinking, a process that we repeated a few times.  You're not really supposed to give Imodium to kids, but as I watched Hazel dehydrate I started shaving pills down and giving her a quarter pill at a time; I would totally give IV fluids to a kid who looked like she did.  I drove into town and went to 3 different pharmacies (getting to exercise the old high school Espanol) to get a 2nd kid friendly antibiotic since she didn't initially respond to the Augmentin I'd brought and you're also not supposed to use Cipro in kids.  I bought a bunch of juice and soft drinks too.  Long story short she started perking up by evening and was basically back to normal the next morning, but it was frustrating to be at essentially a waterpark and not be able to go in the water as well as more than a little bit scary.  Oh well.

We went out that evening as it cooled off to show the kids Blue Jean Frogs, one of the poison dart from flavors that were quite common there,
 as were White-faced Capuchins, the kids' 2nd species of monkey.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Bio Thermales lowlands

After spending a couple of days at Arenal (I had planned to spend longer, but was late in making the reservations) and we moved on to a treehouse site in north-central Costa Rica called BioThermales with a tree house and hot springs.  More on the hot springs next post.  It was an interesting spot, with a decent sized tract of 2nd growth forest.

White-collared Manakins were audibly snapping from the forest edge.

Pale-billed Woodpeckers worked the grounds, I was surprised to see several together.
 The lady who ran the place with her husband was convinced that they had Ivory-billeds because a capital-O Ornithologist (spoken in reverential tones) had seen one there and told her about it.  I tried to point out that the habitat was completely wrong and it would be a very easy bird to photograph if you actually had one, but she remained unpersuadable from the delusion.

Both mornings we were there I explored their trails, one was short and flat, and the other quite steep.
I tracked down this Black-throated Trogon that was calling (and probably should have been able to recognize by voice)

I recognized Rufous Motmot vocalizations though

I was really hoping to find some antbirds, but I think this little patch of habitat was too small, or too isolated, to have some of the sexier forest interior species.  I got my hopes up when I found a family group of Barred Woodcreepers.
 They formed the core of a little feeding flock that I would encounter on a couple of the walks.  White-breasted Wood-wren was the other Central American species.
A Golden-winged and couple Kentucky Warblers would work the periphery, and were joined at least once by a/the Black-throated Trogon, but my hopes for an antpitta would have to wait another couple days...