The Gone Birding Newsletter
Vol. 5, No. 4
Pelagic Trip Produces Possible New Species for Costa Rica
One good way to add to a country's species list is to spend time at sea, especially in a place such as Costa Rica where very little pelagic birding is done.
On 31 July 2004, the Birding Club of Costa Rica offered its members the chance to explore where few local birders ever go. Alison Olivieri organized the pelagic outing aboard the 28' "Just Fishin' Off" skippered by Captain Jay Belseski, and Jim Zook sent this report:
We left Golfito at 07:00, setting a 190 degrees course from the mouth of Golfito harbor through Golfo Dulce for 17 miles, entering open ocean off Cabo Blanco on the Osa Peninsula. We changed to a general course of 210-225 degrees and cruised in search of birds. At 09:26 we crossed the 400m depth contour; at 09:55 we crossed the 1000m depth contour; at 11:40 and 27 miles out from the mouth of the Gulfo Dulce, we reversed course and began the return trip, entering Golfo Dulce off Cabo Blanco at 15:00, back at port by 16:30 after stops at Puerto Jiménez and Playa Nicuesa. Surface water temperature: 84.1 to 84.5 degrees F. Weather: Sunny, no rain, light wind and seas.
Species encountered from the boat (21) :
SHEARWATERS: We saw six shearwaters, all of them out in the open ocean beyond the trash drift line, which was about 5 miles off shore on our way out. All were flying alone, low to the water surface, and most only gave us brief and distant glimpses as they moved away from us. The only one we had a good, close look at was the one that approached the boat from the stern, came to within 20 m, circled around allowing us a good look at its upper and lower parts and then flew off. Three of the six shearwaters were seen too briefly and too far off to say anything definite about their ID and should be recorded as just shearwater sp.
Audubon's Shearwater (Puffinus lherminieri) (2) -- These were relatively small birds, with relatively short wings, obviously dark above and white below, showing a well-defined border between the two, and with no noticeably darker or lighter markings (i.e. wing bars above or below, cap, nuchal collar or rump patch). These birds flew rapidly and low, hugging the wave contours, with lots of fluttery flapping and glides that were not long sustained. Audubon's Shearwater was one of the shearwater species that we were most likely to encounter according to Stiles & Skutch.
Black-vented Shearwater (BVS) (Puffinus opisthomelas) (1) -- The bird that came up close to the stern was this species. This would be a new species for Costa Rica's bird list and the most southerly report for the species as far as I can tell (Harrison mentions reports from 13º N during June and January; we were at about 8º 15" N). It is a Mexican endemic breeder on islands off Baja. Post-breeding dispersal begins in July-Aug and it normally moves north along the US Pacific coast. In situations like this it's best to see what more common species might cause confusion.
My impression, right or wrong, was of a small shearwater that seemed uniformly brownish above and whitish below, but that otherwise lacked any prominent features. Especially along the side of the head, neck and breast, there was no sharp contrast between above and below, with the dark above shading gradually to the lighter breast, belly and underwing. I really didn't notice if the bird had a dark or light undertail but again, there appeared to be no sharp contrast along the backside of the bird. Bill and feet appeared to be uniformly dark -- yet again nothing there that stood out. I remember the bird's flight as being close to the water with quick but shallow wing beats and short glides when it was approaching and leaving the boat. When it circled around it never went very high.
So what other species might it have been? Wedge-tailed Shearwater (WTS) (Puffinus pacificus) seems to be the most likely alternative. Perhaps a lighter phase example of this species (apparently much individual variation) could match the plumage described above. Compared to BVS, the WTS is a larger bird (approx. size of Royal Tern), has relatively longer wings and tail; pale undertail (in typical light phase); more evident pale scaling to upperwing; and has pale colored feet. Flight is supposed to be buoyant and unhurried with wings pressed forward, much gliding or soaring on bowed wings held slightly above body. Although sporadic, WTS would not be as unexpected for our trip date and location as BVS. Pink-footed Shearwater (PFS) (Puffinus creatopus) would be another species that shows a similar sort of plumage pattern, but it is a much bigger bird, with heavier and broader wings and a leisurely but lumbering flight, with frequent glides and occasional high, banking turns. Also the pink bill with a dark tip of a PFS would have been quite noticeable on a bird seen at 20m (this is one species I actually have some experience with), as would the pink feet. Also, not very likely to have occurred at our location on trip date.
STORM-PETRELS: All the storm-petrels we saw were out in the open ocean, but we started seeing them close to the mouth of the Golfo Dulce near the trash drift-line. We saw about 25-30 small storm-petrels with white rumps (SPWR), which provided plenty of identification challenges. We hardly ever were able to get close to any of these. All were flying, although a few did come down and skim or patter along to the water's surface briefly. Most were by themselves but a few times more than one bird was in view.
Wedge-rumped Storm-Petrel (Oceanodroma tethys) (15) -- Almost all of the SPWR that we saw were this species, the most likely to encounter. These were very small, basically black birds with prominent white rump patches, long wings and fast flight consisting of deep wingbeats and much bat-like banking and twisting. This was a life bird for me, and only the second time I've ever seen storm-petrels. The occasional bird would seem to have a smaller rump patch or would show a glimpse of a lighter carpal bar on the upperwing or would exhibit a slower and more swallow-like flight style. But I always felt that it was within the variation of a single species. Perhaps a few of these were Wilson's Storm-Petrels (Oceanites oceanicus), but I never saw a bigger, browner bird with shorter, broader wings that had really long legs that trailed behind the tail or that consistently showed the swallow-like flight style or that pattered its feet over the water surface. I'd really like to have more experience with this group.
Black Storm-Petrel (Oceanodroma melania) (2) -- These were the only storm-petrels we saw that had dark rumps. We saw two within about 10 minutes of each other on the return trip, maybe a couple of miles out in the ocean beyond the Golfo Dulce. Both were flying west, low over the water, exhibiting their typical buoyant, direct flight with deep steady wingbeats. These were much bigger than the white-rumped birds we had been seeing all day and from afar. Before they came close enough to tell otherwise, they looked somewhat like Brown Noddy (Anous stolidus).
Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) (12) -- All were seen either inside the Golfo Dulce or Golfito Harbor.
Brown Booby (Sula leucogaster) (30) – These birds were seen mostly out in open ocean, but also in the Golfo Dulce, as individuals, a few times in groups of two and three, either flying or perched on flotsam (one was on the back of a drifting sea turtle) or settled on open water. The much talked about "white booby" that Capt. Jay championed as the best fish-finding bird, never materialized.
Neotropic Cormorant (Phalacrocorax brasilianus) (1) -- in Golfito Harbor
Magnificent Frigatebird (Fregata magnificens) (10) -- in Golfito harbor and Golfo Dulce
White Ibis (Eudocimus albus) (2) -- flying together along shore of Golfo Dulce
Roseate Spoonbill (Platalea ajaja) (1) -- flew over Golfito Harbor in the morning
Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus) (1) -- on beach near mouth of Golfito harbor
Willet (Catoptrophorus semipalmatus) (1) -- on shore, Golfito Harbor
Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularia) (2)
Sandpiper-plover sp. (12) -- two small flocks flying across the Golfo Dulce, perhaps Semipalmated Plovers (Calidris pusilla). Although at the time I said Spotted Sandpipers, now that I think of it, it's unlikely that Spotted Sandpipers would flock together given their nature. When was the last time any of you saw a cohesive flock of Spotted Sandpipers?
Sabine's Gull (Xema sabini) (1) -- Everyone's favorite bird of the trip, not just because of its beauty, but also because of the great look we had. A lone adult, spotted perched on flotsam on our return trip, about 5-10 miles outside the Golfo Dulce. It allowed us to cruise right up to it and then flew off and leisurely circled the boat while the boat was trying to circle it.
Black Tern (Chlidonias niger) (25) -- all in basic plumage and mostly around the trash drift-line, flying or perched on flotsam.
Bridled Tern (Sterna anaethetus) (15) -- all seen in the general area of the trash drift-line, often perched on flotsam
Tern Sp. (Royal-Sandwich type, 3) -- flying, seen from afar in the Golfo Dulce shortly after leaving Golfito Harbor in the morning.
Brown Noddy (2)-- two birds flying together cruising the trash drift-line, seen well enough to clearly discern their warm brownish color, with frosty cap and nape.
Participants: Robert Dean, Abraham Gallo, Liz Jones, Henry Kantrowitz, Dorothy MacKinnon, Peter Negaard, Allison Olivieri, and Jim Zook.
Thanks, Jim, for the excellent report. Spurred on by the success of this trip, there's been talk of organizing one or two pelagic trips in November. So, hopefully, there'll be more interesting news from off shore in the January edition.
Brown Noddy Comes Ashore on Caribbean Coast
Carrying his high seas karma with him to the other side of the country, Henry Kantrowitz came across a Brown Noddy on the beach at Puerto Vargas in Cahuita NP. Of his experience in early October, Henry wrote, "this noddy let me get within four feet of it before it finally took off and flew about 50 feet away and landed again on the beach." During that close approach, Henry tookthis photo.
Two months earlier, on 12 August 2004, Daniel Martínez had a similar experience a bit farther down the coast at Manzanillo. He reported seeing a Brown Noddy that was standing on some rocks. It then flew back and forth along the water's edge for about 20 minutes. The bird's wing feathers were a bit deteriorated and its flight was unsteady.
Could this bird have been blown in by one of the first of the various hurricanes that wreaked havoc in the Caribbean these past few months? [Hurricane Charlie passed just south of Jamaica on 11 August, while Tropical Storm Bonnie moved through the region just a few days earlier.]
Fall Migration Reports
Once again local birders attempted to keep tabs on the presence of migratory species here in Costa Rica. Out of a total of 50 people on the mailing list, 22 participated at least once by sending in reports of migrant sightings (though actually only about a dozen of us have been regular contributors). And as of 26 October, a total of 98 species had been reported.
The season opener came on 30 July, when Jim Zook saw an Orchard Oriole (Icterus spurius) near La Gamba (along the road leading to Esquinas Rain Forest Lodge). A day later, Noel Ureña saw a young Orchard Oriole that was right beside the apartment where he lives in San Isidro de El General. By mid-August, another 20 species of woodland birds had arrived, along with basically all of the common shorebirds and waders. Here, in taxonomic order, are some of the highlights so far this season:
Chuck-will's-widow (Caprimulgus carolinensis): On 29 August, Alejandro Solano found a roosting bird along the Uruca River canyon at the Santa Ana Conservation Center in the southwestern portion of the Central Valley.
Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris): An extraordinarily earlier individual turned up in the Arboretum at the La Selva Biological Station on 17 August. The bird was seen by Rainer Araya and Joel Alvarado. It's hard to even guess what might have been the cause of this bird's presence here so far in advance of the species' normal arrival period of mid- to late October. No other reports of this species were received until Robert Dean sighted a bird in Santa Elena de Puntarenas (near Monteverde) on 17 October.
Brown-chested Martin (Progne tapera): While birding at Esquinas Rain Forest Lodge on 08 October, Paco Madrigal and Heather Frid reported seeing nine of these rare migrants that occasionally come this far north from their usual haunts in South America.
Veery (Catharus fuscescens): Paco again, but this time he didn't have to travel very far, actually only from his living room to the balcony of his home in San José de la Montaña. The bird was feeding in a fruiting tree on the morning of 28 September, and was seen again on the morning of the 30th. There have been no other reports of this species since, though they ought to be moving through along the Caribbean coast.
Cerulean Warbler (Dendroica cerulea): On the afternoon of 23 August, Greg Links and Rick Nirschl spotted an adult male amid a mixed flock in some second growth shrubbery, while birding with me at La Selva. (Unfortunately, yours truly was looking at something else in the flock and missed what would have been a very nice addition to the CR year list.) The only other news of this species to reach our migrant monitoring group came the following day, 24 August, when Jim Zook saw a young bird on Cerro Espíritu Santo, near his home in Naranjo de Alajuela.
Yellow-throated Warbler (Dendroica dominica): This species showed a distinct affinity for Jim, who was the only person to report seeing it. His first sighting came on 31 August, when he found one individual in a pine plantation at Las Brisas, near San Vito. In the same region, he saw two birds on 12 September at Gutierréz-Braun. And then on 18 September, came across three Yellow-throated Warblers on Cerro Espíritu Santo.
Chestnut-sided Warbler (Dendroica pensylvanica): This almost-annoyingly abundant migrant in boring non-breeding plumage a highlight?! Well, it was for me, while visiting San Gerardo de Dota on 19 October. At an elevation of 2380m, foraging with other species in a mixed flock at the edge of highland oak forest, was what must have been at least the fortieth Chestnut-sided Warbler to be seen within four days. The only difference was that all the others were in tropical lowland or foothill forests -- where one expects them at this time of year. Later, upon commenting about the bird to Marino Chacón, the local birding guide at Savegre Mountain Hotel, he remarked that earlier in the week he had also observed the first Chestnut-sided Warbler that he'd ever seen in the area.
Blackpoll Warbler (Dendroica striata): On 09 September, Rachel Taylor reported five individuals of this rather casual visitor to Costa Rica. Rachel has been here researching birds in forest fragments in the Río Frío de Guápiles area and wrote that the group was "foraging actively in the twigs but not calling. Five individuals was a conservative estimate owing to their rapid searching movements though the canopy and twigs, there may have been up to eight. They were largish warblers with two narrow white wing-bars (pale yellowish in at least two individuals) with olive-grey remiges and distinct white or very pale edging to the tertials. Greyish-olive backs, pale bellies and white undertail coverts, with short tails. All individuals had distinct parallel dark streaking on their backs and streaked sides, although the side streaking was less distinct than that on the back. One individual had a white rather than yellowish breast, throat and sides, and also had most of a black lateral (malar) stripe and paler cheeks, with a mixed olive and black crown (I identified this as an adult male in prebasic moult) and the others had olive or olive and streaky crowns and yellower breasts and throats. I identified them as mostly juveniles and one showing a grey malar stripe as a probable adult female. The group was visible for a good ten minutes, and I had a good look at several individuals in the group during that time (meaning most of the bird for more than a couple of seconds at a time). I have seen and banded this species in Canada although not in Costa Rica before this. Possible species to confuse this with: most similar to Blackburnian Warbler (D. fusca) except that my birds did not have the distinct olive cheeks and long, broad yellow supercilium I would have expected of a Blackburnian. They also had grey rather than black legs, and the whitest individual had those very pale cheeks, black malar stripe and white throat."
Connecticut Warbler (Oporornis agilis): A week later, on 16 September, Rachel found this rare visitor in the same forest plot and described it thusly: "The bird was very similar in colour and size to an immature Mourning Warbler (O. philadelphia) but rather paler and more washed-out yellow, with a complete brownish-yellow hood. I casually identified it as a juvenile Mourning Warbler (a species I have previously caught in that forest patch) but what sparked my attention was that it walked (not hopped) along a near-horizontal branch about 1m from the ground, something I have never seen a Mourning Warbler do. On closer examination (the bird was clearly visible several times over the course of it's exploration of the scrubby edge of the forest patch), it had a distinctly clear, complete eye-ring. Undertail coverts were yellow, and very long compared to the length of the tail. I did not notice if it had a yellow supraloral area or not. (I was too busy being astonished at seeing this species in Costa Rica)."
MacGillivray's Warbler (Oporornis tolmiei): On 12 September, Paco Madrigal informed the migrant monitoring group that he had seen an adult of this uncommon species at his home in San José de la Montaña. Curiously, the bird appeared very near to the spot where Paco had seen an individual of this species four years earlier. Ten days later, on 22 September, Bruce Young sent word that an adult male had turned up near his home in Monteverde -- where he had also been seeing a winter resident between January and April of this year, and had had sightings from October 2001 through February 2002, as well.
Bobolink (Dolichonyx oryzivorus): On 26 September, near Volcán de Buenos Aires, Jim Zook got a look at his first perched Bobolink in CR. On two previous occasions he had seen fly-bys.
Information Wanted on Two Migrant Species
Any readers who have seen Cerulean Warbler and Yellow-billed Cuckoo in the neotropics are encouraged to send the pertinent data to the respective researchers currently investigating the status of these two migrant species. Below, are two e-mails with all of the necessary details.
Cerulean Warbler (Dendroica cerulea) populations have declined substantially in the past 35 years. Stimulated in part by consideration of listing the Cerulean Warbler as threatened in the USA under the Endangered Species Act, a group of ornithologists from South and North America has begun exploring the possibility that the population size of this species may be partially or largely limited by conditions in its wintering range or during migration.
This consideration will hopefully lead to conservation measures beneficial to Cerulean Warbler and the many other species with which it shares habitat in South and Central America. El Grupo Cerúleo, the Cerulean Warbler Conservation Initiative, is a large and diverse group, including representatives from the five northern Andean nations, Canada, various international NGOs, the academic community, the forest products industry, and federal and state agencies in the USA. The group is reasonably confident that it has reviewed existing specimen data and published information on wintering records from the northern Andes and in transit records from South and Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean.
These data are scanty, however. Convinced that unpublished observations can significantly increase our understanding of the non-breeding distribution of this bird, and thus opportunities to undertake conservation measures, we request interested people to send us details on Cerulean Warbler sightings outside of the USA and Canada.
Please include the following information for each observation: observer, date, precise locality (country, province, and as much detailed information on locality as possible, hopefully including coordinates), elevation, time of day, conditions or quality of observation, number of warblers observed (with age and sex if possible), habitat description, and any other potentially useful comments (nature of flocks and associated species with which Cerulean Warbler co-occurs, etc.).
All information will be properly acknowledged. Please submit your records to: Paul Hamel, Center for Bottomland Hardwoods Research, P.O. Box 227, 432 Stoneville Rd, Stoneville, MS 38776, USA. Phone: (662) 6863167. Fax: (662) 6863195. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Western Yellow-billed Cuckoo (Coccyzus americanus occidentalis) populations have declined; in 2002 it became a Candidate for protection in the United States under the Endangered Species Act. In order to better inform conservation efforts through increased knowledge of the winter distribution of this bird, we request interested people to send us details on Yellow-billed
Cuckoo sightings and collections within Central and South America. Please include the following information, when available, for each observation/collection: your name and address, observer/collector, specimen type (including age and measurements or visual or auditory detection), date, precise locality (country, province, and as much detailed information on
locality as possible, including distance and direction from traditionally mapped features (e.g., nearest town), and lat-long coordinates if known), elevation, habitat description of locality (with as much detail as possible).
Also please include time of day, condition or quality of observation/collection, number of Yellow-billed Cuckoos observed, and any other potentially useful comments (information on migration arrival and departure dates from locality, behavior, diet, and con-specific interactions, etc.). Please submit your records to: Christopher Calvo, Colorado Plateau Research Station, Northern Arizona University, P.O. Box 5614, Building 24, Room 100, Flagstaff, AZ 86011 USA (PH: 928-523-8691; FX: 928-556-7466; EM: email@example.com).
Any help with this would be greatly appreciated!
Thanks for your time.
Breeding Evidence Found for Southern Lapwing
Still no birder has found a nesting pair ofSouthern Lapwings (Vanellus chilensis) in Costa Rica, but Jim Zook came up with some interesting evidence to indicate that, after having been seen in the country for the last seven years, these large plovers have indeed established a breeding population.
On 24 September, Jim was visiting the Coopeagri-Cenizas oxidation ponds on the outskirts of San Isidro de El General. There were ten Southern Lapwings making "more noise than ten Brown Jays. They were together, but paired off within the group, and some pairs seemed to be engaged in a type of breeding display. Two birds, standing beside each other and facing the same direction, lowered their wings to expose a red wing spur, similar to that of a jacana, and shook their wings while calling noisily. Some individuals seemed to be juveniles (they had brown legs and eyes, and their plumage, though similar to the adults, was a bit less colorful). According to one of the workers at the ponds, a pair had a nest with five eggs, about three months ago, and fledged three chicks."
Noel Ureña informs me that despite the putrid odor from the fermenting coffee pulp (at least it's not human sewage!), these ponds offer some very good birding with a variety of shorebirds and waders, in addition to the lapwings. To find them, take the PanAmerican Highway south past San Isidro and turn right at the top of the first little hill (opposite the turnoff to Rivas). Upon leaving the highway, apparently you simply follow the road for about 15 - 20 minutes until reaching the coffee waste treatment facility.
And if you go looking for actual lapwing nests, don't expect to find much, since, like other plovers, they merely deposit their eggs on a scrape on the ground.
The Return of the Violaceous Quail-Dove
On 30 July 2004, Joel Alvarado and Johel Chaves were coming down the stairs from Joel's office above the dining hall at La Selva. It was midday and they were heading for the lunch line, but as they reached the bottom step, some movement from across the gravel driveway caught their attention. Looking over, they saw a Violaceous Quail-Dove (Geotrygon violacea) on the ground, feeding on fallen fruits at the edge of the woods! As some readers may recall, it was exactly two years ago, in July 2002, that the first sighting of this species at La Selva occurred. Then, there were three birds being seen. Although only one individual was seen this year, Joel noted that it was feeding on the same species of fruit that seemed to attract the previous birds.
Another New Species for the La Selva List
As fate would have it, I arrived at La Selva that very evening in the company of Bruce Cohen and Dale Dillavou. I checked behind the dining hall every time I passed the area, but to no avail; though on one occasion three Gray-chested Doves (Leptotila cassini) flushed from the ground beneath the fruiting tree, together with a darker, ruddier-backed bird that might have been . . . oh well, who knows?
However, in addition to the usual number of great birds, I did come across a bird previously unrecorded for La Selva. In the afternoon of 31 July, Bruce Cohen wandered down the Sendero Arriera - Zompopa (the trail that goes off from behind the soccer pitch) and stumbled into an incredible amount of bird activity. I can't really say that it was a flock because there was no apparent direction to the movement. In fact, the activity continued virtually sustained, with new species coming and going, for more than two hours. I never could figure it out; there were no army ants, no obvious fruiting trees that were the draw, just birds, birds, and more birds.
At one point, I heard a Yellow-margined Flycatcher (Tolmomyias assimilis) call and, as it was a species we hadn't seen yet during the trip, I looked over in that direction to try and find it. Momentarily, I saw a flycatcher flit from one perch to another and called it out to get Bruce and Dale's attention. As I looked at the bird, I realized that even though it had the right general coloration (grayish crown, olive back, whitish throat, and pale yellow belly) something was wrong. The bird had wing-bars and not the yellow wing-edging I was expecting to see! Then, I noticed the telltale dark ear patch of Slaty-capped Flycatcher (Leptopogon superciliaris) just as the bird flew off. Not remembering ever having seen this species at La Selva, I consulted the checklist in the gift shop. The congeneric Sepia-capped Flycatcher (Leptopogon amaurocephalus) was at least listed as an X for accidental, but there was no mention of its mid-elevation relative. The field guide offered no hope either, placing the elevational range of Slaty-capped Flycatcher precisely between 600 - 1600m. We were at no more than 60m.
No problem, I thought, simply an out-dated checklist and a bird that didn't bother to read the field guide. However, when I spoke with Jim Zook, as well as Joel and Rodolfo Alvarado, none of them had ever seen or heard of this species at La Selva. Unfortunately, neither Bruce nor Dale had gotten a very good look at the bird before it flew, so I was left to wonder if I had somehow misidentified it.
On 23 August, I was once again birding the same stretch of the SAZ trail, this time with Greg Links and his group of birders from Ohio. Shortly before or after the above-mentioned Cerulean Warbler, a flycatcher popped into view. I was incredulous. There it was again! This time it stayed a bit longer and I made sure that people got onto the bird, and purposely asked Greg, without any prompting, to tell me what he saw on the bird. He confirmed all of the field marks and I was relieved by the assurance that I hadn't imagined them. It was a Slaty-capped Flycatcher!
The next morning, before we left, I told Joel that I'd seen the bird again and was sure of its ID. Several weeks later, I found out that Joel had gone out to the spot that same day and had also seen the bird.
It's nice when once in awhile the "one that got away" comes back and gets caught.
New Distribution Record for Yellow-headed Caracara
Never having been to Caño Negro National Wildlife Refuge in later half of the year, I thought October ought to be a good time to visit since northern migrant waterfowl should be arriving and water levels would be higher than I'd experienced from February to April. At least I was right about the last part.
On 02 October 2004, Paul Murgatroyd and I arrived at Caño Negro with less than an hour of daylight remaining. I was surprised by the lack of waterfowl visible around the shores of the little inlet by the Caño Negro Fishing Club, but was sure that our early morning boat ride into the lagoons would be more productive. Well, technically, I suppose I was right. But in reality, the activity was far less than I'd hoped for. The only duck species we found was the resident Black-bellied Whistling-Duck (Dendrocygna autumnalis), and the only peeps present were half a dozen Spotted Sandpipers (Actitis macularia). Very disappointing. In fact, we saw as much, if not more, variety and quantity in some wet fields between the Río Frío and the Los Chiles highway later that morning.
The completely unexpected highlight of the morning, however, came as we were returning to the lodge's dock. A pale raptor flew across in front of our skiff and landed in a nearby tree at the water's edge. With the morning sunlight behind us, we had a glorious view of a Yellow-headed Caracara (Milvago chimachima). Though common enough now in the southern Pacific half of the country, this is still a very uncommon species on the Caribbean side of the country, where the northermost record that I'm aware of is from the Sarapiquí area. I turned to our young boatman, who was looking quite intently at the scavenger falcon, and asked if he'd ever seen one before in Caño Negro. No, he replied, he hadn't. Poor fellow, he was at a complete loss, too, seeing as this species was not illustrated on his handy two-sided laminated sheet of the Birds of Caño Negro.
Also of note during our brief visit to these northern wetlands, was finding both Gray-fronted Dove (Leptotila rufaxilla) and Spot-breasted Wren (Thryothorus maculipectus) on the grounds of the Caño Negro Fishing Club.
Rusty Sparrows Spotted on Miravalles Volcano
The first target species of my recent trip with Paul Murgatroyd was Rusty Sparrow (Aimophila rufescens), a life bird for both of us. On 30 September 2004, we traveled to Guayabo de Bagaces, and then a few kilometers beyond in search of the place where, a few months earlier, Bruce Young and Jim Zook had worked their way up the western flank of Miravalles Volcano and found about 20 Rusty Sparrows. Bruce's instructions were good and I had no trouble finding the place where they had left the road and struck off into the pastures leading up to the sparrow habitat. The only problem was that the walk looked rather forbiding with thigh-high star grass (zacate estrella) and probably untold quantities of chiggers and ticks. Additionally, the fellow at the house nearby, where Jim and Bruce had left their vehicle, told us we needed to go down the road another kilometer to the Volcan Miravalles Centro de Aventura to ask permission.
As it turned out, what they really wanted to do at this establishment was sell us a tour, which actually wasn't such a bad idea as it included transport on horseback up through the pastures, guide, and a sack lunch for $25 each.
At 6:00 the next morning, Paul and I were there ready to mount our able steeds. The elevation where we left the road was about 550m, and within 30 minutes we were looking at our first Rusty Sparrows, two juveniles at an elevation of 700m. We didn't reach the natural grass habitat until an elevation of 1000m -- the "grassy, windswept, boulder-strewn slopes" that the field guide mentions as the prime habitat for this species, along with Rock Wren (Salpinctes obsoletus), Botteri's Sparrow (Aimophila botterii), and Grasshopper Sparrow (Ammodramus savannarum). We did see two Rusty Sparrows along the edge of this open grassy area, but most of our sightings (at least eight individuals, and perhaps as many as a dozen) were a bit lower down and the birds seemed to prefer the shrubbery adjacent to the grassy areas, rather than the grass itself (both that planted by humans for cattle and the naturally occuring grass on the upper slopes). In fact, the only species that we flushed out of the grass as the horses made their way through was Gray-crowned Yellowthroat (Geothlypis poliocephala). Bruce and Jim did get to see a Grasshopper Sparrow when they visited the site in July.
The Volcan Miravalles Centro de Aventura has a nice-looking patch of forest that we unfortunately did not have a chance to investigate. I'm also under the impression that there is a trail that leads through their forest and comes out above in the pastures where we saw the Rusty Sparrows. If this is so, it would be a wonderful alternative to going on foot or by horseback through the lower pasture area. I do know that there is a trail that continues up another 1,200m in elevation from where we were to the summit of the volcano. Bruce did this hike and said that the forest and the birds he saw/heard reminded him very much of Monteverde. The Centro also has four comfortable-looking rooms with private bath, as well as a small swimming pool and a restaurant. For more information, call them at 673-0697.
Christmas Bird Counts Coming Up Soon
Here are the dates and contact information for the variousCBC activities that traditionally take place in Costa Rica. All interested birders are welcome to participate. Hope to see you out there!
Cartago: 12/12/04 Julio Sánchez <firstname.lastname@example.org> 551-2509
Aerial Tram: 16/12/04 Daniel Torres <email@example.com> 711-0018
Grecia: 18/12/04 Rafael Campos <firstname.lastname@example.org> 444-6572
Monteverde: 20/12/04 Alex Villegas <email@example.com> 241-4123
La Selva: 26/12/04 Joel Alvarado <firstname.lastname@example.org> 766-6565 ext. 109
Fila Costera*: 03/01/05 Noel Ureña <email@example.com> 771-9686
*This CBC was formerly known as La Merced, but the count circle area remains the same.
Mystery Bird Photo Quiz
It finally happened. No one was able to correctly identify the nestling birds inthe quiz image in the previous newsletter. Admittedly, it was arguably the toughest challenge I've presented you with to date. Guesses ranged from Common White-Tern (Gygis alba) and Gray-breasted Wood-Wren (Henicorhina leucophrys) to three species of hummingbirds (Blue-throated Goldentail (Hylocharis eliciae), Snowy-bellied Hummingbird (Amazilia edward), and White-tailed Emerald (Elvira chionura)). The three hummingbird guesses were in the right family, which hopefully would have been surmised by the nest architecture consisting of a tightly woven cup decorated with lichens. The three proposed species all occur in the southern Pacific portion of the country, however, the actual builder of the nest might have been ascertained by this phrase from the nest description in Stiles & Skutch: ". . . fastened by cobweb to upper side of dead branch . . . where fully exposed but appearing like an excrescence on the branch." And if you want further proof of the builder's identity, here's the mother Long-billed Starthroat (Heliomaster longirostris) sitting on the nest.
Let's try something easier for this edition's photo quiz that ought to help rebuild confidence. Any of you who have experimented with digiscoping can attest to the fact that a preening bird is seemingly an excellent subject as it remains in the same spot for a period of time. In reality, though, you've probably discovered how frustratingly difficult it can be to get a good "clean" image because the bird is constantly moving its head, ruffling its feathers, scratching, etc. Fortunately for me, I have this venue for presenting some of the images that would otherwise get deleted immediately from the memory card. Can you IDthis preening bird?
The answer will be announced in the January 2005 newsletter.
Bird Geography Quiz
Congratulations to Ginger Constantine and Noel Ureña, who both correctly namedPoas Volcano Lodge as the site where, on any given day of the year, one could see (and/or hear) Red-billed Pigeon (Columba flavirostris), White-crowned Parrot (Pionus senilis), Dusky Nightjar (Caprimulgus saturatus), Flame-throated Warbler (Parula gutturalis), and Sooty-capped Bush-Tanager (Chlorospingus pileatus). Actually, anywhere in the Vara Blanca area of the saddle between Poas and Barva Volcanoes would have sufficed as a correct answer, as the first two species routinely cross from one side of the Continental Divide to the other through this 1800m high pass. The other three species are year-round breeding residents at this elevation.
Several readers suggested sites in the Talamanca range, including San Gerardo de Dota and Tapantí. However, in my experience along the country's southernmost mountain range, neither Red-billed Pigeon, nor White-crowned Parrot occur regularly.
So, ready to try again? Just to remind you, the idea of this geography quiz is to see how many readers can guess the actual site -- or at least come close in terms of naming the region of Costa Rica -- where a given set of five bird species occurs together.
On any given day of the year, where in Costa Rica could one encounter:
Yellow-eared Toucanet (Selenidera spectabilis)
Black-hooded Antshrike (Thamnophilus bridgesi)
Long-tailed Manakin (Chiroxiphia linearis)
Nightingale Wren (Microcerculus philomela)
Golden-crowned Warbler (Basileuterus culicivorus)
I'll look forward to your answers!
Thanks to everyone who contributed news of rare sightings and good finds. I hope that you've enjoyed this newsletter and welcome any comments firstname.lastname@example.org or if you're in Costa Rica, feel free to give me a ring at 293-2710.
Wishing you all great birding,
Dr. Skutch eulogy, Shiny Cowbird, Crested Eagle, Cinnamon Woodpecker, Warbling Vireo, Keel-billed Motmot, Rufous-necked Wood-rail, White-throated Magpie-Jay
Rusty-margined Flycatcher, Striated Heron, Red-billed Tropicbird, Masked Yellowthroat, Black-headed Grosbeak, Cape May Warbler, MacGillivray's Warbler, Bullock's Oriole, Crested Eagle, Uniform Crake, Paint-billed Crake, White-rumped Sandpiper, Maroon-chested Ground-Dove, Rufous-vented Ground-Cuckoo, Tropical Mockingbird, Blue Seedeater
Christmas Bird Count results, American Bittern, Gray Kingbird, White-eyed Vireo, Brewster's Warbler, Great Swallow-tailed Swift, Unspotted Saw-whet Owl, Maroon-chested Ground-Dove, Worldwide Ornithological Literature website
Cory's Shearwater, Swallow-tailed Gull, Black Tern, Gray-breasted Crake, Gray Kingbird, Orange-crowned Warbler, Blue-headed Vireo, Bobolink, Lincoln's Sparrow, Peg-billed Finch, Buffy-crowned Wood-Partridge, rare raptors
Greater Ani, Green Heron, Bat Falcon, Orange-breasted Falcon, Swallow-tailed Kite, Keel-billed Motmot, Spot-tailed Nightjar, Black-whiskered Vireo, Lincoln's Sparrow, Yellow-breasted Chat, Mouse-colored Tyrannulet, Strong-billed Woodcreeper
Large-billed Tern, Green Heron, Golden-cheeked Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Keel-billed Motmot, Red-throated Caracara, Pheasant Cuckoo, Wattled Jacana, Tropical Mockingbird
Christmas Bird Count results, Southern Lapwing , Short-tailed Nighthawk, Lanceolated Monklet , Sunbittern, Magnolia Warbler, Prevost's Ground-Sparrow, Tricolored Munia
Golden-cheeked Warbler, Migrant monitoring, Southern Lapwing, Harpy Eagle, Violaceous Quail-Dove,Wedge-tailed Grass-Finch, Rusty Sparrow
Dr. Skutch update, Veraguan Mango, Pearl Kite, Red-breasted Blackbird, Tody Motmot, Mourning Dove, Red Knot, Pinnated Bittern, Black-and-white Owl
Harpy Eagle, American Avocet, Pacific Golden Plover, Ruff, Cave Swallow, Southern Lapwing, South Polar Skua, Maroon-chested Ground-Dove
Southern Lapwing, White Tern, Chipping Sparrow, Black-headed Grosbeak, Ash-throated Flycatcher, Migrant warblers, hummers and more hummers
South Polar Skua, Pomarine Jaeger, Sharpbill, Long-billed Curlew, Lovely Cotinga, Black-banded Woodcreeper, Blue-and-yellow Macaw, White-tipped Sicklebill, Bicolored Hawk, Lanceolated Monklet
South Polar Skua, Silvery-fronted Tapaculo, Scaled Antpitta, Pearl Kite, Scarlet Macaw, Mystery hummers, White-eyed Vireo, Nashville Warbler, Masked Duck
Crested Oropendola, Rosy Thrush-Tanager, Wattled Jacana, Brown-throated Parakeet, Lanceolated Monklet, Black-banded Woodcreeper, Lovely Cotinga, Cinnamon Teal, Silvery-throated Jay, Migrant wood-warblers, Violaceous Quail-Dove
Crested Oropendola, Lark Sparrow, Oilbird, Double-striped Thick-knee, Pheasant Cuckoo, Y2K CBCs, Ochre-breasted Antpitta, Crested Eagle, Rufous-necked Wood-Rail
first migrants and rare warblers, disappearing migrant shorebird habitat, Mallard (sic), Rufous-necked Wood-Rail, Scaled Antpitta, Black-and-white Owl
Blue-tailed Hummingbird, Prairie Warbler, Tiny Hawk, Red-throated Caracara, Western Slaty-Antshrike, Red-breasted Blackbird, Clapper Rail, Swallow-tailed Gull
Green-winged Teal, Painted Bunting, Green Ibis, Western Slaty-Antshrike, Pearl Kite, Southern Lapwing, Lanceolated Monklet