The Gone Birding Newsletter V3, N4

The Gone Birding Newsletter

Vol. 4, No. 1

January 2003



Tram Tops All in CBC Tallies

The unofficial Christmas Bird Count results are in from the local compilers (the folks at Audubon have the final word) and it was another excellent year here in Costa Rica. The weather was good during all six counts, which is nothing short of amazing for the period spanning 14 December to 03 January, given the high probability of very rainy weather at this time of year on the Caribbean side of the country. The overall participation was also better than anyone could have imagined, especially considering that two new counts were on the menu.

Here's a chronological review of how things went:

14 Dec: The period kicked off with the country's longest-running count, the Grecia Christmas Bird Count organized by Rafael Guillermo Campos Ramírez, celebrating its 19th year. The total of 189 species equalled the effort of the previous year and came in just a few shy of the count's record of 193. With a bit more participation and a couple more routes, I feel sure this count could eventually break the 200 mark.

15 Dec: The Cartago/Tapanti count mustered about 30 participants on 12 routes, producing 328 species. Although this count has been taking place nearly as long as the Grecia count, it isn't an "official" count in the sense that the data is not sent to Audubon, however, it is carried out in exactly the same manner as the other CBCs. Thus, you won't find the results on the CBC results website, but the data should be available on the website of the Asociación Ornitológica de Costa Rica (though it hadn't been posted at the time of this writing).

20 Dec: Now no longer a newcomer in its sixth year, the Monteverde count had its best year ever (never having had a bad year) with 377 species reported, and a couple more still to be confirmed, including five White-eyed Vireos (Vireo griseus) seen by Sergio Vega. In all, a grand total of 8884 indivdual birds were logged by 68 participants monitoring 24 routes.

22 Dec: The year's big news comes from the inaugural count sponsored by the Rain Forest Aerial Tram, which tallied an astounding 400 species, and 11,500 individuals! Numerous factors seem to have combined to yield such results, including the aforementioned good weather, but more than anything it comes down to organization and participation. Daniel Torres managed to line up 82 people on 30 routes, thus giving thorough coverage to a count circle with an elevational range of 90 to 1430 meters above sea level. This incredibly species-rich zone certainly proved its potential. Some of the rarer species sighted were: four Black-and-white Hawk-Eagles (Spizastur melanoleucus), eight Great Green Macaws (Ara ambigua), one Red-rumped Woodpecker (Veniliornis kirkii), two Strong-billed Woodcreepers (Xiphocolaptes promeropirhynchus), two Gray-headed Manakins (Piprites griseiceps), one Black-and-white Becard (Pachyramphus albogriseus), one Sharpbill (Oxyruncus cristatus), and one Rufous-winged Tanager (Tangara lavinia).

The most commonly recorded species was Chestnut-sided Warbler (Dendroica pensylvanica), seen on 24 of the 30 routes.

29 Dec: After the Christmas break, counting resumed at La Selva, with its 18th edition CBC. The total of 356 species was the second highest in count history, following the 365 spp. recorded in 2001. However, more than 1,000 additional individuals were seen this year, resulting in the largest amount ever: 10,610 individuals. Again, these numbers were possible thanks to a good turnout. All told, 74 birders covered 22 routes (14 of which are on the La Selva property).

Even after so many years of censusing, four new species were added to the overall species tally, which now comes to 484. Jim Zook added three of these while checking out the wet, shrubby pasture where the Pinnated Bitterns (Botaurus pinnatus) had been seen earlier last year. All are open country birds that take advantage of our species' activities: Scissor-tailed Flycatcher (Tyrannus forficatus), Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus), and Red-breasted Blackbird (Sturnella militaris). [In this same pasture on the afternoon before the count, Robert Dean, Henry Kantrowitz, and Winnie Orcutt also saw a Rufescent Tiger-Heron (Tigrisoma lineatum) and a Palm Warbler (Dendroica palmarum). Additionally, we stopped by on our way home on the afternoon of 30 Dec and found several Nicaraguan Seed-Finches (Oryzoborus nuttingi).] The fourth new species was a Rufous-winged Tanager seen by Leonardo Garrigues at the El Ceibo site at about 500 meters. Actually, Leonardo may have established something of a record himself by being, as far as I know, the only person to have participated in all six CBCs!

Full results for the entire history of the La Selva CBC are available as a .pdf file through their website.

03 Jan: The new year rang in another new Costa Rican count, the La Merced CBC, organized by Noel Ureña and Walter Odio. Even after all the previous counts and year end festivities, there was still plenty of interest and enthusiasm as 44 people took part in this count, coming up with 336 species on a total of 18 routes. Another impressive inaugural effort!



Lapwings Still Around at Last Count

En route to the La Merced CBC on 02 January 2003, we stopped by the sewage treatment ponds outside of San Isidro de El General, and without more than a minute or two of scanning the otherwise uninteresting assortment of birds, located a lone Southern Lapwing (Vanellus chilensis) at the western end of the near pond.

A week later, while visiting Hotel Villa Lapas, local guides Eduardo Morera and Esteban Villamontes told me that they'd recently been to the Playa Hermosa site (which caused such a stir a year ago with the appearance of a pair of lapwings) and found three birds there. (Did the first pair breed successfully??) Apparently, the site is much drier than it was at this time last year due to the activities of a nearby development project. In fact, the lapwings have been found in the pasture area on the left hand side of the road as you drive in from the coastal highway, across from (not below) the livestock pens on the right.

It also sounds like the bird that was seen last year at the large farm pond on the road from San Ramon to La Fortuna is still there. Jim Zook was told by some visiting birders that they had found the lapwing standing on the island in the middle of the pond and vocalizing in late December.



Short-tailed Nighthawk Caught Napping at Villa Lapas

Shortly after arriving at Hotel Villa Lapas on 08 January, with a group organized by Bob Quinn, I tried to locate evidence of the Bare-throated Tiger-Herons (Tigrisoma mexicanum) that have nested for the past several years in the big Rain Tree (Pithecellobium saman) that sprawls over the entrance to the main building. Finding neither birds nor nests with my unaided vision, I lifted my bins and began scanning, when a strange looking lump on a limb caught my attention. I asked Bob, who was standing next to me, to check it out and tell me if it didn't look like a roosting nightjar. He did, and agreed.

Next, we put the scope on it and removed any lingering doubt. Now the question was, which species was it? The bird looked very dark and quite rufous. The natural urge of most any birder when confronted with something unfamiliar is to hope for a life bird, and so I hoped this would turn out to be a Rufous Nightjar (Caprimulgus rufus), as it was at least within expected range ("N to hills above Parrita" according to Stiles and Skutch). However, all the grayish-white in the scapulars and tertials didn't match the illustration. But what really threw up a mental red flag was that the roost site was a high limb of a large tree! Checking the text (never leave home without it!), it seemed we had a match: Short-tailed Nighthawk (Lurocalis semitorquatus). Checking the scope again, it definitely gave the impression of having no tail (note the wing extension in the photo).

The bird was on the same limb for three days in a row, though just slightly further out each day. We tried to see it at dusk on 10 January (our birding activities didn't get us back in time either of the two previous evenings), but were unsuccessful. At dawn the next day, I glimpsed a nighthawk swooping just at tree top level along the creek (i.e., typical foraging behavior for a Short-tailed Nighthawk), but it never gave another viewing. Later, we were unable to find it in the same roost tree.

This record represents a significant range extension northward from the "Golfo Dulce and Terraba districts" given in Stiles and Skutch, though Jim Zook has seen this species in the Dominical area and rather commonly in the San Isidro de El General region.



Monklets Put on Show at Tuis River

While at Villa Lapas, I had the pleasure of crossing paths with Rafa Campos, who had come from Rancho Naturalista and was rather ecstatic to relate the following events.

On 06 January 2003, at about 16:00, Rafa and the group he was leading for Caligo Ventures, accompanied by Frederic Vanhorn from Rancho, were birding along the Tuis River. At a spot where a landslide has covered the trail, a bird flew down from the row of trees along the river and landed on a low branch not far from where the group happened to be standing. It was a Lanceolated Monklet (Micromonacha lanceolata)!

Local folks had been cutting back the trailside vegetation with machetes, and perhaps the disturbance had drawn the bird's attention. At any rate, while they watched, it flew to the ground, grabbed a large katydid, and returned to the perch. A second bird appeared and the group was able to watch and photograph them for several minutes before they eventually flew off into the brush on the uphill side of the trail.  



La Virgen del Socorro: CLOSED FOR REPAIRS

Another locally famous monklet site is currently experiencing problems. The entrance road to La Virgen del Socorro is being worked on by I.C.E. crews. Earthmoving equipment, dump trucks, and throngs of workers make for less than ideal birding conditions, especially if you're trying to hear anything that might be calling or singing. The electric company employees work from 6:00 - 17:00, Monday through Saturday. So, if your planned visit doesn't fall on a Sunday, there's not much daylight on either side of their working hours. I suppose that the good news might be that at that rate they hopefully will have finished their construction activities in the not-too-distant future.

Actually, if you dare to try passing all the large vehicles, apparently there is no work being done on the road leading up from the far side of the bridge over the Sarapiqui River. I've also been told that despite now having a workers' shack at the entrance to "the Monklet Trail" there is no disturbance to the trail itself.

Taking advantage of a two-week Christmas break during which there was no construction, Winnie Orcutt made several visits to the LVS road and had some good sightings. On 20 December 2002, she spotted a female Blackpoll Warbler (Dendroica striata). And on 03 January 2003, a Nashville Warbler (Vermivora ruficapilla) put in an appearance amongst a mixed-species foraging flock.



Sunbittern Seeking Sun in Guanacaste?

Gustavo Abarca recently sent word of having seen a Sunbittern (Eurypyga helias) while doing a float trip down the Corobici River near Cañas, Guanacaste, back in mid-November. It was an afternoon tour (approx. 15:00) and the three local rafting guides (Samuel, Lalo, and Daniel) said that they had seen the bird earlier that same day while doing a morning raft trip. It was the first time, however, that any of them had seen this species on the river in ten years of rafting the Corobici.

This sighting represents the northernmost record that I'm aware of for the Pacific side of Costa Rica.



Mangrove Tour Yet Another Carara Area Option

With so much to see and do birdwise in the Carara/Tarcoles area, I often find that I just don't have time to do everything I'd like to in the course of a single visit. But nevertheless, in the last year I've found myself trying to make sure I can work in a boat tour through the Tarcoles River mangroves. No, not one of those touristy feed-the-crocs type of tours, I'm talking about a truly bird-oriented excursion in search of things like American Pygmy Kingfisher (Chloroceryle aenea), the rare and elusive Rufous-necked Wood-Rail (Aramides axillaris), and the endemic Mangrove Hummingbird (Amazilia boucardi).

Luis Campos Monge, a resident of sleepy little Playa Azul, is the owner and capitan of an 18-passenger boat that specializes in tours for birders. His is likely the only vessel working the area that will actually get you into some of the smaller channels, where Luis claims to have seen the wood-rail half a dozen times in the last few years. Luis also has a stake-out spot for the hummer. Additionally, since the Boat-billed Herons (Cochlearius cochlearius) no longer seem to roost at the oxbow lake in Carara, the boat ride will take you right past a roosting colony.

The tour typically takes about 2.5 hours and costs $25 per person (minimum two). Anyone interested in arranging for a mangrove tour should call Luis Campos at 637-0472. (You'll need to speak Spanish, or have someone translate.)



Magnolia Warblers Seen across the Country

A generally very uncommon winter resident, Magnolia Warblers (Dendroica magnolia) have been showing up at several sites recently. In late November and again in mid-December, Eduardo Amengual and Robert Dean found an individual along the oxbow lake trail in Carara National Park. Dennis Rogers also saw the bird while guiding there in December. On 30 November, Erick Castro spotted a Magnolia Warbler in the scrub just beyond the La Selva gate, and a bird (the same one?) has been seen several times near the far end of the newly finished cement trail that begins at the soccer field. That hurts since both these areas were part of my route during the La Selva CBC and this wasn't one of the 135 species we logged that day. However, I'm somewhat assuaged by the fact that it has only shown up three times on the CBC (in '89, '93, and '99), and lone individuals each time. A third locality is the Cerro Espiritu Santo between Naranjo and Palmares, where Jim Zook had one on the Grecia CBC. It was the first time that Jim had seen a Magnolia Warbler there in his numerous years of birding the site.



Prevost's Ground-Sparrow Pops Up Near Monteverde

On 01 November 2002, Eduardo Amengual and Robert Dean made another ornithological discovery. While roaming country roads in search of newly arrived migrants, they came across a small group of Prevost's Ground-Sparrows (Melozone biarcuatum) about five kilometers from the town of Santa Elena. They were hoping to encounter some interesting birdlife attracted to a pond on the right hand side of the road to Las Juntas. However, finding nothing of note, Robert noticed a small lane leading off to the right and decided to explore. To their surprise there were the ground-sparrows foraging in the yard of a small farm building!

The following day, Sergio Vega went to check the site and they were still there. This is apparently the first record for this species north of the Central Valley in Costa Rica.



Official List of the Birds of Costa Rica

In a special bulletin of ZELEDONIA dated August 2002, Gilbert Barrantes, Johel Chaves-Campos, and Julio E. Sánchez have published an "Updated List of the Birds of Costa Rica: With Notes on Conservation Status." This latest listing includes 857 species. The authors have deleted 22 species from the previous checklist put out by the Asociación Ornitológica de Costa Rica (1998) and added two new species -- Crested Oropendola (Psarocolius decumanus) and Tricolored Munia (Lonchura malacca).

Some of the deletions are based on fairly recently reported, yet unsubstantiated, species (e.g., Lesser Black-backed Gull (Larus fuscus), White-headed Wren (Campylorhynchus albobrunneus), and Swallow Tanager (Tersina viridis)). Others, however, are surprising in that they are species for which museum specimens or reliable sight records exist even though they haven't been seen in Costa Rica in decades (e.g., Orange-breasted Falcon (Falco deiroleucus), Indigo-capped Hummingbird (Amazilia cyanifrons), and Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus)). It was my understanding that the protocol is that once a species is confirmed on a list, it stays on the list -- even if you have to put a little cross in front of the name. So, the removal of Indigo-capped Hummingbird is particularly disturbing as it constitutes what Stiles and Skutch call, "Perhaps the foremost ornithological mystery of Costa Rica." How can you sweep something so tantalizing under the rug? Additionally, Rafa Campos passed along the news that the AOU recently gave this lone specimen from 1895 full species status as Alfaro's Hummingbird (A. alfaroana), thus giving Costa Rica yet another endemic species of hummer, albeit probably extinct.

Another deletion is Veraguan Mango (Anthracothorax veraguensis), which has been mentioned in the two previous newsletters. In a conversation with Jim Zook, he told me that in early January 2003, he finally got a good look at the ventral side of a male mango while birding in the Uvita area, south of Dominical. The bird had no black on the center of the throat and breast! We discussed how several dry forest species seem to be expanding their ranges south into that portion of the country (e.g., Inca Dove (Columbina inca) and White-throated Magpie-Jay (Calocitta formosa), as well as Rufous-naped Wrens (Campylorhynchus rufinucha), of which their is currently a nesting pair in Dominical), and perhaps the Green-breasted Mango (A. prevostii) was one of these. However, Jim's recent observation points to the likelihood of Veraguan Mango heading north, though as he said, it would be great if someone could mistnet a few birds and determine conclusively what we've got down there.

Anyone interested in obtaining a copy of the new list should contact the Asociación Ornitológica de Costa Rica.



Tricolored Munia: Where Are They? Where Did They Come From?

While reading the previous segment, more than one reader may have wondered, "Tricolored Munia? Where did that come from?" It's true, this species has never received any mention in previous newsletters, but it is in fact here. And, it seems, here to stay.

This is another of Jim Zook's discoveries, though unlike Crested Oropendola and Mouse-colored Tyrannulet (Phaeomyias murina), this is not a native Central American species that has been spreading north or south. Originally from southern Asia (India to the Philippines), this species seems to have been introduced to Puerto Rico in the 1960's and has since been spreading throughout the Caribbean islands, both on its own and with human assistance. How it arrived in Costa Rica may remain a mystery, but introduction would appear to be the most likely method.

Jim first discovered five individuals in 1999, near the large sugar cane mill in La Guinea, about ten kilometers downriver from Filadelfia, Guanacaste. Each time his field censusing work has since taken him back to that area, he has continued to find more and more individuals. They are also spreading within that general area, so that in November 2002 Jim counted about 100 total birds, with the largest group consisting of about 40 individuals. He says that though they're found near sugar cane fields, they seem to prefer sorghum and some of the grasses that grow in irrigation ditches.

Given the close connections between many of the local large cane operations and those in the Caribbean, it is conceivable that someone brought them to Costa Rica as pet birds and they later escaped or were released. However, Jim also spoke with someone here who used to be involved in the pet shop business and he immediately recognized the munias from the illustration Jim showed him.

Thinking that the Ministry of Environment and Energy (MINAE) ought to have records of all exotic species that are legally imported for the pet trade, I recently rang their offices. The fellow I spoke with informed me that a list of species as such does not exist, rather importations are dealt with on a case-by-case basis. That seemed strange, but not surprising (e.g., Does anyone know when classes will start this school year??). So, it looks as though there's no easy way of checking to see whether a given species, such as the Forpus parrotlets mentioned in the last edition, are known introductions, or not.



Mystery Bird Seen in San Isidro

In mid-December, I received a call from Noel Ureña with news of a strange bird that he had seen in Walter Odio's yard in the center of San Isidro de El General. They were stumped since there was nothing in the field guide that quite resembled the bird. Since the bird seemed to be showing up regularly at the feeder, I asked Noel if he could take a photo and send it to me. So, here's this issue's Mystery Photo Contest: Could you correctly ID this bird if it turned up in your yard?

The answer will be announced in the April 2003 newsletter.

Congratulations to Chris Fagyal ("Indeed a tough bird to see, as is typical of most parrots we saw on my two trips to Costa Rica so far."), Tim Fitzpatrick, Carson Wade, Jenny-Lynn Smith, Charles Everly, Rafa Campos, Michael Biro, and Scott Spangenberg, who were able to ID the mystery bird in the last edition. It was interesting how many people claimed to have had difficulty finding the bird in that image, so here's a less cryptic angle of the same Crimson-fronted Parakeet (Aratinga finschi) feeding in an Erythrina glauca in my yard in San Antonio de Belén.



Thanks to everyone who contributed news of rare sightings and good finds. I hope that you've enjoyed this newsletter and welcome any comments at or if you're in Costa Rica, feel free to give me a ring at 293-2710.

Wishing you all great birding,

Richard Garrigues



October 2002

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October 2001

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January 2001

October 2000

July 2000

April 2000