The Gone Birding Newsletter
Vol. 2, No. 2
A Letter from the Editor
As this edition marks the first anniversary of the Gone Birding Newsletter, I want to take a moment to pass along my sincerest thanks to all of you who have taken the time to send me your feedback on the previous four editions. Your kind comments and thoughtful suggestions have meant a great deal to me and have been a wonderful stimulus to continue with this project -- you have continually reaffirmed that it is indeed a worthwhile endeavor.
Rather than simply being a vehicle for tooting my own horn, it is my hope that the GBN will help spark a greater sharing of information among resident Costa Rican birders, as well as with those who journey here to visit us. And so far, it seems to be working. As the mailing list grows with each new edition (currently nearly 300 recipients), the process should continue to snowball.
In a way, I suppose this is just a microcosm of the entire Internet phenomenon and there's no telling where it will take us. It's exciting to be part of this unique moment in the history of birding and information sharing and I look forward to your continued participation in the development of this newsletter.
Southern Pacific Region Still Hot
Literally and figuratively, that is. Many exciting sightings have come from beyond kilometer 140 on the Pan-American Highway in recent weeks:
Crested Oropendola (Psarocolius decumanus): Rolando Delgado phoned in early April to report that a small group of about three or four Crested Oropendolas were found roosting about 1.3 Km from the Wilson Botanical Garden en route to Ciudad Neilly. To find the site, look for three stands of bamboo on the right-hand side of a curve in the road. The birds have been seen coming to roost in the bamboo around 16:30. This species was first reported in Costa Rica late last year by Jim Zook.
Rolando also passed along word that a Common Potoo (Nyctibius griseus) is apparently nesting on a fence post not far from the road between the Wilson Botanical Garden and San Vito. Rolo and a group he was with saw the bird on 13 March and, according to local sources, it is on a nest (such as it is for this species). The directions he gave were to clock 2.8 Km from the garden gate en route to San Vito. At this point, there will be a covered bus stop; take the road on the right and continue for some 400 meters. You'll come to a small house with a corral. On the right are three or four eucalyptus trees atop an embankment on a curve in the road. The potoo roost/nest is on the first fence post after the first eucalyptus tree. As with any nesting (or even roosting) bird, please use prudence in observing it.
Rosy Thrush-Tanager (Rhodinocichla rosea): Another score for Jim Zook! In late February, Jim heard a bird singing in Valle Azul, near Cañas Gordas. So far, only a lone male has been observed (on several occasions), which is a bit strange for a species that supposedly stays paired throughout the year. Also in this general area is a site where Jim has found a Mouse-colored Tyrannulet (Phaeomyias murina). For exact directions to these sites, as well as spots for Lance-tailed Manakin (Chiroxiphia lanceolata) and Crested Oropendola, the reader is referred to Jim's detailed notes in the "Observations" logbook kept near the coffee machine in the Wilson Garden dining hall.
Actually, we should probably take a moment here to thank ecologist Catherine Lindell for her bird study project being conducted in the Coto Brus area and for which Jim Zook works as a field researcher. Without this project, Jim (nor anyone else, for that matter) would not likely have gotten off the beaten birding track to have made these fascinating discoveries.
Brown-throated Parakeet (Aratinga pertinax ocularis): On their way in to the Esquinas Rainforest Lodge in mid-March, a recent Birdquest tour group saw flocks of this relatively newly-arrived species. Fueled by news of the parakeets and also Red-breasted Blackbirds (Sturnella militaris), both potential lifers, as well as Paul Coopmans' report that Black-cheeked Ant-Tanagers (Habia atrimaxillaris) were "dead easy" on the property (these would be lifers for my sons), I arranged to spend two nights at the lodge with my family during Easter Week.
Sure enough, as we were driving in (just before reaching the small settlement of Gamba) young Roberto spotted some parakeets in flight. We pulled over, pulled out the scope and pointed it at the tree where they had landed. However, I realized that there was a male Ruddy-breasted Seedeater (Sporophila minuta) perched atop a nearer bush practically in line with the parakeets. As this was also new for the boys, we had a good look at it, then proceeded to ID the psittacids. Brown-throated Parakeets! We had hardly finished our jubilant celebration when Roberto again pointed out something new: a male Red-breasted Blackbird in the field on the other side of the road! We spent the better part of half an hour right there, logging more than 30 species, including a soaring White Hawk (Leucopternis albicollis), nesting Fork-tailed Flycatchers (Tyrannus savana) and nice looks at a pair of low-flying Lesser Swallow-tailed Swifts (Panyptila cayennensis), together with some two dozen parakeets and eight blackbirds.
Wattled Jacana (Jacana jacana): We hadn't quite arrived at the lodge when David noticed a different-looking jacana in a newly-planted rice field. Upon closer inspection it turned out to be a Wattled Jacana in amongst more than a dozen Northern Jacanas (Jacana spinosa)! We drove through this same area three more times during our stay and never again spotted the bird. Realizing how fortuitous the sighting had been, we unanimously deemed this "the bird of the trip" (although excellent studies of an immature Tiny Hawk (Accipiter superciliosus) at the lodge made this rare accipter a close second).
Pearl Kite (Gampsonyx swainsonii): Roger Everhart of Minnesota wrote to report seeing a Pearl Kite perched on a wire at La Palma -- just inland from the Golfo Dulce coast on the Osa Peninsula -- during a trip back in early February. And on 22 February, I received a fax from Jan Westra of the Talari Mountain Lodge (near Rivas, NE of San Isidro del General) in which he mentioned that the resident pair of Pearl Kites currently had a nestling. According to Jim Zook, this species has been seen as far north as Dominical along the Pacific coast.
Number One Nemesis Nailed At Last!
We all have our nemesis birds: those species that have been seen by numerous other birders at places we've been to -- though apparently never at precisely the right moment. Perhaps no other resident bird has had more local birders so keen to see it as has the Lanceolated Monklet (Micromonacha lanceolata).
The first time I ever "chased" a bird in Costa Rica was years ago, in 1985, with Gary Stiles and Jim Lewis when we went out to Tapantí National Wildlife Refuge (now a national park) to look for the monklet. Victor Emmanuel had seen one near the ranger station at dawn a couple of days earlier, and so we went to try and find this rare creature. Suffice it to say, we didn't.
In the years that have followed, there have also been reports of Lanceolated Monklet from (moving southeastward along the mountain ranges) La Fortuna de San Carlos, Peñas Blancas (Monteverde), Colonia Palmareña (San Ramón Forest Reserve), La Virgen del Socorro, Quebrada González (Braulio Carrillo N. P.), and Río Tuis (near Rancho Naturalista). With the exception of Peñas Blancas, I have been to all those sites for a total of probably more than 100 field days, and to no avail, at least with regard to the monklet.
But as they say, if you put in enough time in the field, eventually they all must fall.
And so it was that on 23 February I visitedLa Virgen del Socorro with Rob and Paul Stark. It was mid-morning by the time we'd reached the bridge and then gone into the "Monklet Trail." We only went in the trail 100 meters or so before deciding to turn back since things were very quiet. We hadn't gotten very far in retracing our steps when I happened to look up and see a bird fly onto a branch over the trail (quite high actually, probably some eight or ten meters above the ground).
"I've got it!" I exclaimed, the words coming out of my mouth as soon as my binoculars were on the bird. Of course, Rob and Paul weren't exactly sure what "it" was, but after they got onto the bird they remarked, "Oh, another one of those." As it turns out, they had seen Lanceolated Monklet, not once, but twice a week earlier -- on each of two visits to the Río Tuis during their weeklong stay atRancho Naturalista. Kind of took the thrill out of finally coming to grips with my most sought-after species in Costa Rica.
I am happy to report, however, that my birding buddy Robert Dean, who had been similarly intent on seeing this species, got his life look at the monklet in early January from the main track just a bit beyond the bridge at La Virgen del Socorro. Also, congratulations are in order to Robert for having joined the "700 Club" early this year. Not inclined to stop there, he's already added another dozen Costa Rican lifers so far this year.
Likewise, Rafa Campos, who has been over the 700 mark in CR for years now, finally added the monklet to his lifelist this spring while birding the Río Tuis site.
Black-banded Woodcreeper at Tapanti and other news from Rancho
The aforementioned Stark brothers had a productive fortnight here in February. Not only did they see the monklet three different times, they found Black-banded Woodcreeper (Dendrocolaptes picumnus) inTapantí National Park. In my experience in Costa Rica, this is the rarest of the Dendrocolaptidae family. I do know of one other sighting of this species in Tapantí. Paul Coopmans found one in April 2000, in the general area of where there is a small shed-like structure on the right-hand side of the road, about midway between the waterfall viewing point and the bridge farther up the road.
Matt Denton, one of the resident birding guides at Rancho Naturalista, reported that they have seen Lovely Cotinga (Cotinga amabilis) on several of the occasions that they have made the rather grueling trek up above Platanillo (in the hills beyond Rancho). Once, there were three males feeding in the same fruiting lauraceous tree with a maleResplendent Quetzal (Pharomachrus mocinno). That must have been a sight!
As an interesting range record, there was a subadult male Rose-throated Becard (Pachyramphus aglaiae) hanging out around Rancho for most of March.
Matt also mentioned that he saw the Ochre-breasted Antpitta (Grallaricula flavirostris) at Tapantí on the lower loop of the Oropendola Trail back in December. As noted inthe previous newsletter we also found this diminutive antpitta at the La Paz Waterfall Gardens at the end of last year. Based in part on that report, Leo Chaves was able to find it there in early February. Then on 23 March, Charlie Gómez and Noble Proctor had great looks at it there, too. Noble was so amazed by the way that it sat on the thick green rope -- used as a railing along the walkway -- that he's thinking of buying some to string up around his yard in Connecticut to see if it will attract antpittas. Good luck, Noble. Hey, it was great seeing you again!
No Drought of Rarities from the Dry Forest
A number of interesting species have been turning up out near La Ensenada Lodge at Costa de Pájaros. Several birders reported seeing a maleCinnamon Teal (Anas cyanoptera) at the little pond near the salt ponds.
Mauricio (Morris) Quesada mentioned possible sightings of bothGrasshopper and Botteri's Sparrows (Ammodramus savannarum and Aimophila botterii, respectively) in grassy fields in the area. Actually, having seen the birds through telescopes, he's pretty sure of the IDs. Nonetheless, given that the field guide doesn't mention either of these species occurring here at sea level and the potential difficulty in distinguishing among sparrows, in general, it would be interesting to hear of any other observations from the area that might help with confirmation.
Morris also got to see a group of 35Cedar Waxwings (Bombycilla cedrorum) feeding on mistletoe berries together with a Three-wattled Bellbird (Procnias tricarunculata).
Silvery-throated Jays nest at Savegre
Lots of lucky birders who visited Albergue de Montaña Savegre (a.k.a. Cabinas Chacón) in March got to see the elusiveSilvery-throated Jay (Cyanolyca argentigula) since there was an active nest up in the oak forest above the lodge. My travels didn't happen to take me there, but from the reports I heard, the nest situation was similar to one that Richard Schofield and I found in April 1994 in the oak forest above La Esperanza. That nest was constructed amid the dense foliage of the upper limbs of a small oak tree (some 15 meters tall) and was essentially invisible from below. It was more from the behavior of the birds than anything else that we knew there was a nest.
Warbler Sightings of Note
A variety of fairly rare migrant warblers have turned up around the country these last few months. Here, in alphabetical order, are the ones I've heard of.
Cape May Warbler (Dendroica tigrina) was seen by Eduardo Amengual in the vicinity of La Colina Lodge in Monteverde.
Hermit Warbler (Dendroica occidentalis) has been seen at several sites: Monteverde (behind the El Bosque Restaurant), Finca Los Lotes in the upper Río Tiribí watershed above Tres Ríos, and in the vicinity of Hotel El Tirol.
Ruth Pestes and I got to watch an immature male Palm Warbler (Dendroica palmarum) as it foraged in the rear courtyard of the Eco-Lodge (Lake Cote) on 06 February.
Winnie Orcutt reports both a male and a female Prairie Warbler (Dendroica discolor) coming to her backyard hedge in Hacienda Los Reyes (La Guácima de Alajuela). The birds were seen a couple of times a week, on average, from January through mid-April.
Rudy Zamora told me of finding a Yellow-breasted Chat (Icteria virens) for the second year in a row now out at Playa Coyote on the southern Nicoya Peninsula. [In addition to the chat, Rudy also said he saw a White-bellied Emerald (Amazilia candida) in the same general area!]
And okay, so it's not exactly a warbler, but Robert Dean was birding in Cahuita with Patrick O'Donnell on 11 April, when Patrick said he heard a White-eyed Vireo (Vireo griseus) singing. Tracing the song to its source, they had nice looks at this rare migrant, which according to the field guide is "not heard in Costa Rica"!
A Tale of the Tape in Hitoy-Cerere
During their recent southern Caribbean birding trip, Robert Dean and Patrick O'Donnell also visitedHitoy-Cerere Biological Reserve. Hoping to find Great Jacamar (Jacamerops aurea), they played a pre-recorded tape of this species. Almost instantaneously, a Violaceous Quail-Dove (Geotrygon violacea) came flying in! It sat on a low branch near them and cooed for several minutes.
Wondering if there was perhaps a vocalization of this rare quail-dove in the background of the jacamar recording, they listened closely to the commercial tape but couldn't detect anything sounding like the dove. The responsiveness of the quail-dove remains a mystery, but if you're trying to find this bird, you might try playing a tape of Great Jacamar!
For those of you who may not yet be aware of this, theNational Audubon Society and BirdSource now maintain a website with the results of the annual Christmas Bird Counts. Within weeks of the count period, information is available on the website. That sure beats waiting for nearly a year until the printed version comes out!
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,