The Gone Birding Newsletter
Vol. 6, No. 1
Another Pelagic Trip Proves Profitable
Spurred on by the success of a pelagic trip out of Golfito in late July, a second outing was organized by Alison Olivieri for 24 November 2004, this time leaving from Puerto Quepos. Along with Alison, the other five participants were Eduardo Amengual, Robert Dean, Adolfo “Fito” Downs, Jim Zook, and myself. We were supposed to board the “Alboran” at 7:00, however, an unforeseen glitch caused nearly an hour delay at port. Since our vessel was actually a charter fishing boat, the local representative of INCOPESCA (the Costa Rican Institute of Fishing and Aquaculture) would not let us board without fishing licenses. No amount of reasoning was of any use, and the fellow had a valid and unarguable point: we were going out to sea in a fishing charter, if we were just going sightseeing, why weren't we using one of the boats specifically designed for that purpose? Well, at least now all six of us are duly licensed to fish in any Costa Rican waters until 23 November 2005.
The weather was clear with a light breeze as we pulled out of Quepos heading south into the open waters of the Pacific. We had only gone 20 km (30 minutes) when we had our first excitement: a large “gull” sitting on the water. As we circled and brought the boat closer, it took to the wing, flying a short distance before lighting again on the surface. Our bird wasn't a gull at all, but a juvenile Red-billed Tropicbird (Phaethon aethereus)! The yellow bill and whitish coloration, noticeable at a distance, had caused the initial confusion. [On the return route, a mere 8 km SW of Quepos, there was a second sighting of a juvenile tropicbird. The same bird, or a second individual??]
Another few kilometers farther out (at 23.6, according to Jim's GPS), we flushed two phalaropes off the water. They flew away ahead of us never to be seen again, but Eduardo and Robert, who had the best views, IDed them as Red Phalaropes (Phalaropus fulicarius). This was our first case of pelagic frustration. Being near the stern, all I got on was a disappearing pair of bird behinds. Jim, who had somewhat better, but still not great views, thought they had “dark backs like Red-necked Phalaropes (Phalaropus lobatus) and not the contrasting grayish back and nape that Red Phalarope should show.”
When we were 22 km out, our skipper, Eugenio, changed from a southerly to a WSW course for another 29 km. So we were 44 km SW of Quepos when we came across a Pomarine Jaeger (Stercorarius pomarinus) that was quite content to stay put on the surface as we approached. Gabriel, the skipper's mate, began tossing small fish from a bucket they'd brought along. In what seemed like just a few seconds, Magnificent Frigatebirds (Fregata magnificens) appeared and vied with the jaeger for the prizes. In fact, once they arrived, I don't think the jaeger got any more fish. During the commotion, a Pink-footed Shearwater (Puffinus creatopus) came in along the port side of our craft, giving a great look as it had its landing gear fully extended. This was the only individual of this rare visitor to Costa Rican waters that we recorded during the trip and, unfortunately, those on the starboard side never even saw it.
By 12:30, we'd reached our farthest point (57.7 km from port on a 211° heading, or 8°58.52', 84°26.325') and there was no need to go any further. We were in the midst of a large school of more than 100 Spinner Dolphins (Stenella longirostris) that had attracted at least as many seabirds. Brown Boobies (Sula leucogaster), which had been common throughout our voyage, were there in good numbers, but may have been outnumbered by Black Terns (Chlidonias niger). Estimates varied, but it's probably safe to say that there were at least 50 Black Terns swirling around us. Amongst them were four Arctic Terns (Sterna paradisaea), which caused us to do a fair amount of consultation with the references we'd brought along since there are so few reports of Arctic Tern in our area. Although Common Tern (Sterna hirundo) would have been more likely, based on commonality, Eduardo, Robert, and I agreed on Arctic Tern in non-breeding plumage based on the excellent looks we had at the uniformly gray wing pattern. There was some after-the-fact contention, however, when Jim and I exchanged lists via e-mail. He stated that neither he nor Fito saw Arctic Tern. However, the reality is that at that point in the trip neither of them were feeling terribly seaworthy, as evidenced in this comment from Jim:
“I was in bad shape out at the dolphin school and the only birds I could identify were Black Terns, Brown Boobies, Audubon's and Wedge-tailed Shearwaters, two Common Terns, and the one Brown Noddy. I could see there were a few medium sized white terns, but every time I got a look at one, it had a good dark wing tip, which would make it a Common Tern.”
Another unfortunate example of pelagic frustration and confusion.
The aforementioned Brown Noddy (Anous stolidus) was the only one of the trip. The two shearwaters, Wedge-tailed (Puffinus pacificus) and Audubon's (P. lherminieri), were represented by several individuals at the dolphin school, as well as other singles throughout the trip for an approximate total of 14 and 6 individuals, respectively.
The only other pelagic species definitely recorded was Black Storm-Petrel (Oceanodroma melania), with at least a dozen sightings scattered throughout the voyage. A small, dark storm-petrel flew past us on the way out, but none of us were able to see anything definitive in the brief view it gave, and so will have to leave it as a “probable” Least Storm-Petrel (O. microsoma).
Apart from those, we also observed quite a number (50+) of Barn Swallows (Hirundo rustica) flying south well out away from land (20+ km).
All in all, the outing was quite productive from the standpoint of lifers, with the various participants netting between three and six new birds each.
More Pelagics from On and Just Off Shore
Jim Zook had his bounding main mojo working for more than a month after our November pelagic trip. On 31 December, he picked up his final CR year tick (see below) with “an adult Masked Booby (Sula dactylatra) perched on a grassy topped stack of rocks off the Osa between San Pedrillo and Marenco.” It was also a lifer for Jim.
Farther north, while participating in the Fila Costera CBC on 03 January, Robert Dean observed another juvenile Red-billed Tropicbird just a few kilometers off the coast of Uvita. His group also picked up a Herring Gull (Larus argentatus) at the Hatillo Viejo mangroves.
Meanwhile, now clear across the country “at a stormy Tortuguero,” Jim Zook reported having “an adult Sooty Tern (Sterna fuscata) fly in off the ocean, over my head, and in towards the canals while I was at the beach end of the soccer field in town.” The bird was yet another lifer for Jim.
But it didn't stop there. The following day, 04 January, “we had a Brown Noddy cruise over our boat while we were on the straight, open part of Caño Palma N of the biological station. Then, on a morning walk along the beach, between passing rain squalls, from Laguna Lodge to the river mouth, we had an adult Parasitic Jaeger (Stercorarius parasiticus), a 1st winter Herring Gull and a 1st winter Ring-billed Gull (Larus delawarensis)—new CR bird for me—cruise past us heading N just a few meters above the beach. The Ring-billed was at the river mouth with the usual Royal and Sandwich Terns and Laughing Gulls, and the Herring Gull cruised past us again by the airport heading S when we were returning. On the beach we also encountered a recently dead (still clean and supple) Brown Noddy and an almost dead juvenile Brown Booby. Way out we a caught glimpse of an unidentified shearwater moving S with the storm. I can only imagine what else might have been blown in during the following week when the storms reached their peak. Was anybody even going to Tortuguero then? The docks at Caño Blanco were already flooded and unreachable when we left on Jan.4. (we had to unload in the pasture). Our bus barely made it out the flooded roadway.”
[For those who aren't aware of it, the Caribbean side of Costa Rica has received record rainfall this month, with many places already having logged more than three times the average rainfall for January as of the 20th of the month. While neither Tortuguero nor the coastal areas between Cahuita and Manzanillo suffered direct problems due to flooding, many other areas were severely affected, specifically Sixaola and Puerto Viejo de Sarapiquí. Joel Alvarado wrote to say that although there was no damage to infrastructure at La Selva, the water rose to within just 40 centimeters of the Reception Office. Also, there were portions of the STR (Three Rivers Trail) that were covered with at least two meters of water at the height of the flooding!]
Daryl Loth also informed me of a Cory's Shearwater (Calonectris diomedea) that was seen and photographed at Tortuguero in early December by members of the migratory bird banding project. This is the second record of this species in CR, but I don't have any further details, or copies of the photos.
The Year of the Chat
Most birders in Costa Rica have either never seen Yellow-breasted Chat (Icteria virens), or have only had one or two sightings in perhaps a dozen years or more of observation. In my case, I saw a bird years ago (unfortunately, I don't have date records from my early years here) in the coastal scrub at Tortuguero during fall migration. Being familiar with the species in the US, I didn't think too much about it at the time, and only since, in retrospect, realize that I've yet to see a second one. In part, sightings of chats in CR may be rare due to its behavior. [You know you're in for a difficult time when the field guide states, “Skulks near ground in thickets . . .”] However, given the paucity of reports of this species, many of us have come to consider the species genuinely rare here.
So, when I read that Fito Downs had seen a chat near Guapiles during the Aerial Tram CBC, I thought, “That's newsletter material!” But then, a few paragraphs later in the same e-mail from Jim Zook, I read that visiting birder Steve Heinl had also found one in mid-December on the grounds of the Hotel Bougainvillea in Santo Domingo de Heredia!
Jim sent another e-mail on 21 January that included a summary of the fall banding program at Tortuguero and commented: “They got what was only their sixth Chat in 10 years of banding. The only others were one in '95, one in '98, and three in '00. The one from 95 was one that I netted at Jungle Lodge and it was the only Chat I'd ever seen in Costa Rica, until....today! Finally had another one, along a scrubby stream in the coffee fields out back here about 500m from home [in Naranjo].” That banding data does suggest that Yellow-breasted Chat is a rather rare migrant. But a subsequent phone conversation with Jim supported the possibility that their numbers may indeed be up this year as he saw yet another individual on 23 January at a spot about a kilometer distant from the previous one.
Migrant Round Up
Daniel Martínez received a totally unexpected Christmas present: a female Golden-cheeked Warbler (Dendroica chrysoparia)!! While birding on 25 December 2004 at Finca Los Espinos in Oratorio de Oreamuno, above Cartago at an elevation of 1700m, he and Viviana Ruiz encountered a mixed flock feeding in a fig tree. To their surprise, the Golden-cheeked Warbler was among the flock members and they got to watch it for nearly ten minutes! This constitutes the third sighting in CR that I'm aware of, and interestingly all three individuals have been females.
Other migrant sightings of note since the previous newsletter's publication have been:
Northern Shoveler (Anas clypeata): A female has been on the small pond at Las Concavas since at least mid-December. And on 30 January 2005, David and Daniel Garrigues spotted a male shoveler at Palo Verde NP.
Dunlin (Calidris alpina): while looking for Collared Plovers (Charadrius collaris) at the mouth of the Tarcoles River on 07 January, Drew Wheelan came across two of these rare migrant peeps.
Black-billed Cuckoo (Coccyzus erythropthalmus): One individual reported in November from the Tortuguero banding program.
Yellow-billed Cuckoo (Coccyzus americanus occidentalis): Alejandro Solano reported seeing an individual at the Santa Ana Conservation Center on 10 November. Daniel Martínez also spotted one at La Selva on 13 November. And additionally, the Tortuguero banding program reported one bird in October and two in November.
Chuck-will's-widow (Caprimulgus carolinensis): In the early morning twilight of 03 January, during the Fila Costera CBC, David and Daniel Garrigues watched as one of these migrant nightjars foraged around them and finally went to roost on a branch just a few meters away.
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius): On the mornings of 19 & 20 November, a female repeatedly drilled on the tree trunks right off the balcony of my room at the Wilson Botanical Gardens, allowing me to capture this image. Joel Alvarado, Ileana Molina, and Wagner López also had a sapsucker on their route during the Fila Costera CBC on 03 January.
White-eyed Vireo (Vireo griseus): One individual reported in November from the Tortuguero banding program.
Blue-headed Vireo (Vireo solitarius): Julio Sánchez saw one in Tausito during the Cartago CBC on 12 December.
Gray-cheeked Thrush (Catharus minimus): Though the field guide deems this a “very uncommon fall migrant,” it was the second most commonly netted migrant species at Tortuguero with 76 captures in October and 36 in November. [Swainson's Thrush (Catharus ustulatus) was first with 291 captures and Veery (Catharus fuscescens) was third with 108 captures.] Perhaps even more surprising was Jim Zook's discovery on 21 January 2005 of a bird “in a big fruiting fig about 50m from where the Chat was.” Again, the field guide states that this species is a “casual winter resident in lowlands of both slopes,” whereas Jim's bird was at about 1200m in the Central Valley.
Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum): in early December, Steve Heinl found a bird on Cerro Diriá, above Santa Cruz, Guanacaste. And on 12 January, Karen Arras sighted “a flock of about ten Cedar Waxwings eating Lantana berries” in Tamarindo.
Blue-winged Warbler (Vermivora pinus): Two birds were reported by Pieter Westra, Luis Sandoval and Matthew King during the Fila Costera CBC.
Northern Parula (Parula americana): Another of Steve Heinl's finds, this one was at Barra Honda NP.
Magnolia Warbler (Dendroica magnolia): While birding the grounds of Talari Mountain Lodge (near Rivas de Peréz Zeledón) with Lou and Mary Hegedus on the morning of 18 November, we spotted a female flitting amongst the branches of small trees near the Chirripó River. Then again, on 09 January 2005, while doing the Oxbow Lake Trail at Carara NP with my sons, David, Daniel and Roberto, we found another female Magnolia Warbler. This bird was basically along the same section of trail where numerous sightings occurred two years ago. Curiously, no birds were reported by the banders at Tortuguero last fall.
Black-throated Blue Warbler (Dendroica caerulescens): Robert Dean got looks at a male bird on 27 October while birding at the Finca Ecológica in Monteverde.
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Dendroica coronata): I'm only aware of three birds so far this season. An individual was banded in Tortuguero in November. Jim and Fito had one on 25 November, while returning from our pelagic outing. The bird was seen “at Esterillos Este in a huge moist, short-grass pasture.” And the third sighting came from farther south, during the Fila Costera count week the first week of January.
Hermit Warbler (Dendroica occidentalis): On 28 December, Mathias Kümmerlen observed an individual while birding along the Agres River in San Antonio de Escazú, at an elevation of 1,440m.
Prairie Warbler (Dendroica discolor): Alejandro Solano, Agustina Arcos, Alexandra Onofa and Fabian Cupueran were birding at El Rodeo on 29 December, when they came across an adult male of this species that was foraging in a Nance tree (Byrsonima crassiflora) together with other migrants.
Cerulean Warbler (Dendroica cerulea): Noel Ureña, Cristian Valenciano and Pieter Westra decided to stop in briefly at Quebrada González (Braulio Carrillo NP) on their way home from the La Selva CBC on 27 December. Only Cristian got a view of this handsome migrant that was foraging with a mixed flock, but they were all rewarded with a very obliging Lanceolated Monklet (Micromonacha lanceolata)! Additionally, the Tortuguero banders reported one cerulean in November.
Christmas Bird Count (Partial) Results
Final tallies from the various CBCs that took place within the past month and a half have been slow in coming (if at all), so here's what I know:
Cartago, 12/12/04: This count was fortunate to have good weather (clear morning, partly cloudy afternoon, and calm winds) and hopefully that will help the final result, but I haven't received any word yet.
Aerial Tram, 16/12/04: The day after the Cartago count, it started raining on the Caribbean side of the country. And four days later, it was still raining. Nonetheless, 72 stalwart participants turned out to cover 27 routes. The total number of species reported was 341, which is fantastic considering the weather conditions and the less-than-glowing reports from everyone I spoke with. In our own case, David, Daniel, Roberto and I only produced 38 species in 5.5 hours of birding at the Quebrada González ranger station and trails.
[Although we complain of rain here, things were put in perspective for me by Bob Quinn of New Hampshire who wrote, “Rain on a Christmas Count? Try 15 degrees F with snow and wind—now THAT"s a Christmas Count!”]
The most numerous species was Least Sandpiper (Calidris minutilla) with 1003 individuals, while the most widespread species (once again) was Chestnut-sided Warbler (Dendroica pensylvanica), which was tabulated on 23 of the 27 routes. A few of the more notable species recorded were one Ruddy Woodcreeper (Dendrocincla homochroa), one Streaked Xenops (Xenops rutilans), two Laughing Gulls (Larus atricilla) and two Purple Martins (Progne subis). In three years of existence, the cumulative tally now stands at 450 species.
Grecia, 18/12/04: Thanks to Rafael Campos, who within less than a week after the count sent out preliminary data, I can inform you that the venerable Grecia CBC, in its 21st edition, produced its second highest tally ever. The unofficial number of 218 species is ten shy of the 2003 record, but still impressive for the western end of the Central Valley. We (Winnie Orcutt, David, Daniel, Roberto and I) also had our second best effort in ten years of doing the La Garita – Turrucares route, with 102 species recorded, including a rare wintering Swainson's Hawk (Buteo swainsoni).
Monteverde, 20/12/04: No data available, but again, the inclement weather can't have helped the final output.
Osa Peninsula, 22/12/04: No data available.
La Selva, 26/12/04: As in most recent years, the rains decided to take a break and fine weather prevailed during the count. I trust the final numbers will reflect this good fortune, but don't have any data.
One of the surprises on my route was finding two Emerald Tanagers (Tangara florida) feeding in a fruiting fig tree, along with a dozen or so other species. Joel Alvarado had just reported seeing this species a few days earlier, on 22 December; it had never previously been seen at La Selva and so I was excited to get two individuals during the count. However, it turned out that I was not alone: this foothill species was reported from a total of four different routes on the La Selva property that day!
Fila Costera, 03/01/05: Rounding out the field, the Fila Costera count ended up with a whopping 392 species, thus surpassing last year's record of 385!
Black-and-white Hawk-Eagle (Spizastur melanoleucus) was seen for the second year in a row, this time by Alejandro Solano, Agustina Arcos, Fabian Vega, and Sonia Arguedas. New for the count was a Bicolored Hawk (Accipiter bicolor), found by Esteban Biamonte, Jorge Luis Soto, and Gilberth Valverde. In all, 29 new species were added to the count circle list, bringing the running total for the three years to 439 species.
I've been intrigued by the number of species normally associated with drier areas to the north that continue to show up in the area (e.g. White-winged Dove (Zenaida asiatica), Inca Dove (Columbina inca), *Lesser Ground-Cuckoo (Morococcyx erythropygius), *Pacific Screech-Owl (Otus cooperi), *Steely-vented Hummingbird (Amazilia saucerrottei), Cinnamon Hummingbird (Amazilia rutila), Hoffmann's Woodpecker (Melanerpes hoffmannii), Long-tailed Manakin (Chiroxiphia linearis), and Rufous-naped Wren (Campylorhynchus rufinucha)). And the White-throated Magpie-Jays (Calocitta formosa) that have been included in previous newsletters have yet to show themselves during a CBC! Birds marked above by an asterisk are species that were new for the count this year, indicating that the trend is continuing.
On the Tumbas – La Florida route, we had something totally unexpected. Just a kilometer in from the main road between San Isidro and Dominical, in an area that's largely agricultural with scattered dwellings, Luis Sánchez spotted a black-and-yellow bird in the top of a citrus tree. Looking at it, I realized that it was an adult Black-cowled Oriole (Icterus dominicensis)! Once I got over my initial amazement of seeing a strictly Caribbean slope species in the middle of the S Pacifc slope, I assumed that it must have been an escaped caged bird—though I can't recall ever seeing this species in a cage, nor could any of the other local birders with whom I inquired. I would have left it at that, but about another two kilometers further in the gravel road, another Black-cowled Oriole was sighted! As we watched, we discovered that there was a pair working the flowering stalks of a small banana patch. Now I really don't know what to think. Furthermore, at the count dinner, when I told Noel and his brother Carlos about the orioles, Carlos said that he had seen one, too, during his route the year before in the Angostura area, much closer to San Isidro. So, what's going on??
In addition to our orioles, Montezuma Oropendolas (Psarocolius montezuma) were again present. Last year, one bird was found; this year, a total of three birds were reported from two different routes—distinct from where last year's bird was encountered. Of course, even though much more commonly thought of as a Caribbean slope species, these birds might also be part of the expansion from the northwest.
Los Cusingos Closed for Remodeling
The Los Cusingos Neotropical Bird Sanctuary, the home of the late Dr. Alexander F. Skutch, will be closed until further notice as the main building is being renovated. The Tropical Science Center (TSC), the non-profit tropical ecology consulting firm that now owns and operates Los Cusingos, announced the measure early this month. While birders interested in visiting the site in the near future might argue that walking the forest trails should not interfere with the remodeling plans, the TSC plans to dedicate their limited staff and resources (donations are welcome!) to the project and will not be able to attend to visitors. Thus, the property will not be a birding option for those whose itineraries will be taking them to the San Isidro de El General region in the coming months.
One immediate alternative that pops to mind, although the bird mix is somewhat different, is the Las Quebradas Biological Reserve. To get there, take the PanAmerican Highway north out of San Isidro and just on the outskirts of town you will see a sign for Las Quebradas (turning right off the highway). There are one or two forks in the road that aren't signed, but keep to the right at any such junction.
By the way, it turns out that the Coopeagri-Cenizas oxidation ponds on the outskirts of San Isidro de El General, mentioned in the previous newsletter as a good site for Southern Lapwings (Vanellus chilensis), is not currently an option for birders visiting the area. I attempted to visit in November and was politely, but firmly, turned away by the armed security guard since I didn't have written permission from the co-op's general manager. Of course, if you're willing to take the time to obtain such a permit, then I guess a visit would still be possible.
On a related note, those who visit the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve—also operated by the TSC—will discover that a significant chunk of the former trail system (“the triangle”) is no longer available to the public. The trails that have been closed off are the Río (adíos, Green-fronted Lancebill sightings), Bosque Eterno, Chomogo, Pantanoso, and El Valle trails. I don't have any details as to the reason why this has happenned, so please don't ask me.
Life in Monteverde is not as tranquil as it used to be, it seems. Recent local TV news has been airing (somewhat confusing) information of a dispute over a project to channel water from several streams in the reserve to private farmland in Cerro Plano. At the height of the conflict, road access to the reserve was blocked in protest.
The result of all this could be a windfall in visitation for the Santa Elena Reserve and surrounding attractions.
Eurasian Collared-Dove Sighted in San Jose
On 21 December 2004, Jean Jacques Jozard spotted a Eurasian Collared-Dove (Streptopelia decaocto) by the rotunda in Zapote (on the SE side of San Jose). As far as I know, there's only been one other sight report of this species in Costa Rica—a bird seen near La Garita by Bill Howard in December 2001, during the Grecia CBC (though lacking documentation, the bird was not reported). This introduced species has been spreading rapidly westward across the southern US and given its rate of dispersal should not be completely unexpected in Costa Rica.
Jean Jacques also informed me that White-winged Doves (Zenaida asiatica) have continued their range extension on the Caribbean side of CR and can now be found in the central park of Limón.
And on the subject of doves, I'll use this space to report that Matt Denton, while leading a Birdquest group in Carara NP on 27 December 2004, had great views of a Violaceous Quail-Dove (Geotrygon violacea). The bird was perched on a vine just a meter off the ground near the beginning of the forested part of the new Universal Access Trail and allowed the group to watch it for a full five minutes. Additionally, the Tortuguero banding program netted a Violaceous Quail-Dove in November.
While staying dry and enjoying some easy birding at the Cinchona Mirador on 13 November, Lou Hegedus called my attention to a “dove” that was on the ground below the balcony. Expecting to see a White-tipped Dove (Leptotila verreauxi) ambling around, I was stunned to look down and behold a Buff-fronted Quail-Dove (Geotrygon costaricensis)! The bird came in several times to pick up bits of rice and other food scraps in the drainage ditch below the roof's dripline. I don't know how regular a visitor this species is to the spot, but it's one more thing to keep an eye on when making this roadside birding stop.
Hummingbirds of Note
On 27 December, Noel Ureña got to see a Blue-tailed Hummingbird (Amazilia cyanura). He and his aforementioned companions were having lunch at the Aposento restaurant, located just a kilometer or so down on the Central Valley side from the crest of the Braulio Carrillo highway. Only Noel had his binoculars at the ready and was quick enough to see this rare hummer as it came in to work a hibiscus hedge.
Liz Jones, of Bosque del Río Tigre, wrote in an e-mail dated 12 January 2005 that the female White-tipped Sicklebill (Eutoxeres aquila) that they've found nesting along the river in recent years has already begun domestic duties this year. She also mentioned that a White-crested Coquette (Lophornis adorabilis) nest had been found near Matapalo.
Jim Zook reported seeing a singing Green Violetear (Colibri thalassinus) in a flowering eucalyptus tree near his home on 21 January. “The first time I've had that this low in the Central Valley [1200m], or anywhere else on the Pacific for that matter. This weather is wacky.”
Cagan Sekercioglu was banding birds in the Las Cruces area from 25 March to 10 July 2004 at elevations from 1100 to 1200m. During his work, he captured three species that were pushing the upper limits of their range in the S Pacific: five Bronzy Hermits (Glaucis aenea), one Long-billed Hermit (Phaethornis longirostris), and one Blue-throated Goldentail (Hylocharis eliciae). In addition, one White-throated Mountain-gem (Lampornis castaneoventris) appeared at this significantly lower-than-expected altitude.
Global warming is always a potential suspect when species from lower elevations start turning up at higher-than-expected elevations, and may also be, at least in part, to blame for the vagaries of climate that result in spells of bad weather that particularly affect the highlands here in CR, which in turn may cause montane species to move temporarily to lower elevations. Well, whatever may be the reasons that cause them, it is always interesting to make note of unexpected elevational bird occurrences. In addition to a Short-tailed Nighthawk (Lurocalis semitorquatus) that Cagan filmed flying over the cabins at the Wilson Gardens in 2003, he found two road-killed Rufous Nightjars (Caprimulgus rufus) in the area during his 2004 stay. More surprising still is Matt Denton's report of a Common Pauraque (Nyctidromus albicollis) near the school in San Gerardo de Dota in late December. Admittedly, many lower elevation species have settled in this narrow montane valley above 2200m, but this is the first report I've heard of pauraque there.
Of course, there are other elevational notes scattered throughout this newsletter, but I'll also add here that Jim Zook remarked on the presence of “a ton of Chlorophonia and Mountain Elaenia and more than the normal amount of Swainson's Thrushes in the figs” where he saw the abovementioned Gray-cheeked Thrush. On 24 January 2005, the boys and I were birding at El Rodeo and found three Mountain Elaenia (Elaenia frantzii) feeding in a fig tree at a mere 800m.
Reappearance of Greater Ani in Tortuguero
After making GBN headlines a year and a half ago, it seems that the Greater Ani (Crotophaga major) is still alive and well in Tortuguero NP. Daryl Loth wrote to inform me that on 11 (at 7:00 am) and 12 (at 7:45 am) December 2004, “I spotted an old friend. As far as I could tell it was alone and was cruising the low brush at the edge of the water looking for food(?). On the 11th (overcast) I was able to get a number of photos in the 25 minutes or so that I followed its movements. On the 12th, this bird was also seen (briefly) by experienced guide Alexander Quinn Cayasso (aka "Tunan") of Mawamba Lodge.” Daryl was able to observe the bird for about ten minutes on the second day. He took this image on the morning of 11 December.
Another reappearance in Tortuguero is that of the Red-throated Caracara (Ibycter americanus). Jean Jacques said he saw two birds, and heard a third, along the main canal near Mawamba Lodge on 19 December. The birds were feeding on a wasp nest. Apparently, they were seen again on 03 January 2005.
Palm Tanager with the Blues??
I really don't know what to think of this odd-looking bird that has been coming to Ron Boyd's feeder in San Francisco de Dos Ríos. Ron sent me several photos, including this one, of a bird that looks basically like a Palm Tanager (Thraupis palmarum)—the bird on the right is a Palm Tanager. But what are we to make of the decidedly bluish individual in the center?? Blue-gray Tanagers (Thraupis episcopus) are also common at Ron's and perhaps this strangely colored bird is a hybrid between the two congeners.
Ron and I would welcome any comments, especially any information of known hybridization between these species.
It Was a Very Good Year
Since the year 2000, I've been keeping Costa Rica year lists and have come close to seeing 600 species each year. My previous best year was 2001, with 595 species seen and another 14 heard only. But at last I've managed to hurdle the 600 mark! Thanks to everyone who traveled with me here this past year and helped me see so many great birds! The final tally came to 620 species seen and an additional 17 heard only. Furthermore, I added 12 species to my CR list, which at this stage of the game doesn't happen every year. The November pelagic trip was responsible for four of those, and several of the others have been reported in past newsletters (e.g. White-eyed Vireo, Rufous-vented Ground-Cuckoo, Black-banded Woodcreeper, and Rusty Sparrow). All told, my CR millenium list now stands at 706 species, plus five heard only.
However, those efforts take a definite back seat to Jim Zook's incredible production. Jim finished 2004 with the aforementioned Masked Booby giving him 701 birds seen and 15 more heard only!! [If you want to count Mangrove Warbler as a full species, we each get an additional year tick.] And with the way he's starting out 2005, his CR life list could soon hit 800!! Way to go, Jim!
Mystery Bird Photo Quiz
Now we're back on track! Tim Fitzpatrick, Robert Dean, Dave Tripp, Michael Biro, Rudy Badia, Lori Conrad, Daniel Garrigues, Jesse Ellis, and Noel Ureña all correctly identified the preening bird in the previous newsletter. For those of you who are still unsure of the bird's identity, here's another view of the same Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus).
Now that you've regained some confidence, let's try a potentially more difficult subject that Noel Ureña was able to capture (digitally, of course). Can you ID this bird?
The answer will be announced in the April 2005 newsletter.
Bird Geography Quiz
Congratulations to Robert Dean and Noel Ureña, who correctly named Bijagua de Upala (specifically the trail system at the Albergue Las Heliconias) as the place where, on any given day of the year, one could encounter: Yellow-eared Toucanet (Selenidera spectabilis), Black-hooded Antshrike (Thamnophilus bridgesi), Long-tailed Manakin (Chiroxiphia linearis), Nightingale Wren (Microcerculus philomela), and Golden-crowned Warbler (Basileuterus culicivorus). For those unfamiliar with the site, it lies on the Caribbean side of the Continental Divide on the NW flank of Tenorio Volcano (10° 42' N, 85° 02' W) at an elevation of about 700m (though one of the trails goes steeply up to an elevation of about 1000m). The forest can be classified as premontane wet forest.
The two “surprises” here are the antshrike and the manakin. The former is endemic to CR and adjacent W Panama, and is generally associated with the southern Pacific avifauna, which extends N to Carara NP. However, as the field guide indicates, it is “uncommon to rare and local farther N, to Volcán Tenorio.” The manakin is a typical member of the dry NW avifauna that spans from S Mexico to NW CR, although this species reaches up to and across the Central Valley. Though again, careful perusal of the species' status per the field guide yields this revealing note: “to Caribbean slope . . . locally along Cordillera de Guanacaste.” Thus, unlike some of the previous geography quizzes, this one could actually have been solved using the information provided in “A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica.”
Jesse Ellis came very close (and could even be correct) with his guess of “the southern part of the Cordillera de Guanacaste, on the Pacific side, perhaps Rincon de la Vieja, but more likely (from my research) Volcan Tenorio or Miravalles.” I just haven't had access to forest on the Pacific side of Tenorio, though based on what happens at places like Rincón de la Vieja, I don't see what would keep the Caribbean slope species from slipping right around and over the divide.
By the way, although the lodging is fairly basic and the restaurant menu is limited, the birding at Las Heliconias can be very rewarding. (Of course, being mostly forest interior birding, it can also be slow and frustrating.) Perhaps it's main claim to fame is as home to the tiny and elusive (to me, at least!) Tody Motmot (Hylomanes momotula). The stately Ornate Hawk-Eagle (Spizaetus ornatus) also nests on the property. And, it is one of the easiest places I know of to see Spotted Antbird (Hylophylax naevioides), Streak-crowned Antvireo (Dysithamnus striaticeps), and Song Wren (Cyphorhinus phaeocephalus). Anyone interested in planning a visit, can contact the lodge at 466-8483.
Understandably, it takes a rather intimate knowledge of local bird distribution to ascertain the locations of these geography quizzes and so there are a somewhat limited number of readers who might have much hope of correctly answering them. Nonetheless, given the paucity of responses (right or wrong) to the last several quizzes, I've decided to abandon the exercise, but hope you enjoyed this segment of the newsletter while it lasted.
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 email@example.com or if you're in Costa Rica, feel free to give me a ring at 293-2710.
Wishing you all great birding,
Black-vented Shearwater, Sabine's Gull, Brown Noddy, Brown-chested Martin, Cerulean Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, Connecticut Warbler, Violaceous Quail-Dove, Rusty Sparrow
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