The Gone Birding Newsletter

Vol. 3, No. 1

January 2002



Southern Lapwings Seen on Both Coasts

Nature brought us an avian gift this holiday season: two separate occurrences of Southern Lapwings (Vanellus chilensis)! Don't go scrambling for your Birds of Costa Rica, because you won't find any mention of this South American plover there, as these are just the third and fourth records of the species in the country. The first record was on the San Carlos River, near Nicaragua, in 1997; and the second was near the Ingenio El General (sugar mill), a few kilometers southwest of Dr. Skutch's reserve, in March 2000.

In mid-November, a group of six birds was sighted on the Pacuare River, near Freemont. Apparently, they have continued to be seen in the area, although unfortunately I don't have any better directions to give.

Credit for the fourth record goes to Rafa Campos. On 17 December 2001, Rafa was birding an area of wet pasture behind Playa Hermosa and discovered a pair of these rare visitors. He began calling around that same day to tell people of the find. Rudy Zamora went to the spot on 19 December and saw them. And on 21 December, I finally got the chance to get down there and see them for myself. Rafa himself returned to the spot on 30 December 2001 and again on 8 January 2002 and they were still there. So, it seems that they are going to very likely stick around for a while, perhaps until the dry season advances enough to make the area unsuitable to them. I would be very interested in hearing from anybody else who sees these birds (or doesn't), in order to know just how long they remain at the site.

To find them, take the Pacific coastal highway south of Jaco. Just after passing the last of the hotel/restaurant/condos (beginning with Terrazo del Pacifico) that have proliferated at the north end of Playa Hermosa, you'll see a gravel road on your right. (There's a sign there advertising trail rides.) Take this road for two kilometers south -- there are no turns and no other options -- until you come to the wet area. You'll know you're there when you see a large corral and some buildings on the right.

In addition to the Southern Lapwings, there are lots of birds there right now and the hour we spent was very entertaining. Of note were two Pectoral Sandpipers (Calidris melanotos), for which, according to the field guide, there are no winter records.



White Tern Makes Wrong Turn in Osa

Another rare visitor didn't have such good fortune as the lapwings. Neyer Campos reports that on 28 October 2001, a White Tern (Gygis alba) was found in Sierpe de Osa by Erick Beita, a local naturalist guide. In fact, if I got the story correctly, the off-course wanderer actually turned up in Erick's yard. For whatever reason, the handsome tern didn't last more than 24 hours. Neyer said he took pictures of the bird, but that the specimen was lost because while Erick was away from the house, his brothers threw away the carcass because it smelled badly.



Monster Year for CR CBCs

Three of the four Costa Rican Christmas Bird Counts all had record years this past December. Both the Cartago and La Selva counts far surpassed their previous highs of 327 and 344 species, respectively (both produced in 2000). The Cartago 2001 count ended up with 355 species and La Selva tallied 365! Good weather, participation, and organization were all in large part responsible for the success.

Monteverde likewise came up with a best-ever total of 367 species, though this is more on a par with past results for the "hill folk."

The Grecia count also had an excellent year with a total of 189 species, just four shy of the 193 high produced in 2000.

[Remember, you can now check the results of CBCs online!]



Migrant Round-up

The rarest migrant report to have reached me in the last few months was that of a Chipping Sparrow (Spizella passerina) seen in Cahuita by Robert Dean in mid-November. The sighting represents perhaps only the second record of this species in Costa Rica.

In mid-October, Robert also found a female Black-headed Grosbeak (Pheucticus melanocephalus) accompanying a small flock of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks (Pheucticus ludovicianus) in Monteverde. There are only two previous sightings of Black-headed Grosbeak mentioned in the CR field guide.

Eduardo Amengual, who with his wife Patricia is administrating La Colina Lodge in Monteverde, enjoyed a veritable parade of migrants that visited a fruiting fig tree beside the hotel this past season. Highlights included a Prairie Warbler (Dendroica discolor) -- the first species of Dendroica to arrive at the fig -- seen on 14 August; at least four Cerulean Warblers (Dendroica cerulea) -- including one gorgeous adult male -- that came through from 02 to 04 September; and a Yellow-throated Warbler (Dendroica dominica) on 02 September.

Other reports from Monteverde include a Hermit Warbler (Dendroica occidentalis) that has been frequenting the conifers behind the cheese factory and a Black-throated Blue Warbler (Dendroica caerulescens) -- albeit, a female -- that has been seen at the Ecological Farm. Also, Bruce Young sent word of a MacGillivray's Warbler (Oporornis tolmiei) that he has seen from his office window "off and on since 10 October."

On a migrant-chasing trip to the Caribbean, Eduardo Amengual spotted an Ash-throated Flycatcher (Myiarchus cinerascens) on 08 October while birding along the road to Punta Uva. The bird was among many migrating Great Crested Flycatchers (Myiarchus crinitus) and its presence coincided with the passage of Hurricane Iris in the Caribbean.

A few days later on 12 October, at Gavilán Lodge near Puerto Viejo de Sarapiquí, Eduardo found a male Blue-winged Warbler (Vermivora pinus) foraging with a mixed flock of other warblers. While birding with Chris Fagyal, Jerry LeTendre, Judith Sullivan, and Ric and Betty Zarwell on 07 November, we were able to add this species to the Rancho Naturalista balcony list for the year 2001, likewise with a fine adult male. And returning to the Puerto Viejo area, Blue-winged Warbler also showed up on 29 December during the La Selva Christmas Bird Count.

Several rare migrant warblers were reported from the Grecia CBC on 15 December. Two Cape May Warblers (Dendroica tigrina) were seen in an area known as El Chayote and on Cerro Espiritu Santo, outside of Palmares, Jim Zook found a Hermit Warbler and a Yellow-throated Warbler.

On 21 December 2001, after chasing the above-mentioned lapwings, my sons and I birded the Skywalk at Hotel Villa Lapas and had nice long looks at a foraging Worm-eating Warbler (Helmitheros vermivorus). It was a life bird for them, and a year bird for me. [By the way, the lower portion of this trail has also been fairly reliable for Stub-tailed Spadebill (Platyrinchus cancrominus).]



Magpie-Jay Clarification and Additional Info

After the note in the previous newsletter regarding the southward spread of the White-throated Magpie-Jay (Calocitta formosa), Jim Zook wrote to clarify that both this species and the Cinnamon Hummingbird (Amazilia rutila) had been reported to him by Brian Nice, a British birder who has recently taken up residence in Dominical. [I apologize for this and all other errors that may occur in these newsletters due to occasional "data mismanagement".]

I had the opportunity to bird Rancho La Merced (between Dominical and Uvita) in mid-October 2001 and while there David Sequiera, the farm's local guide, saw three magpie-jays on the property. We went looking for them in the same spot the following day, but there was no sign of them.

Neyer Campos also recently informed me that White-throated Magpie-Jays were seen in the summer of 1999 at Esquinas Rain Forest Lodge by one of the local guides.



A New Species of Hummingbird for the Savegre List

While visiting Savegre Hotel de Montaña on the morning of 04 November 2001, Jay Carlisle spotted a White-tailed Emerald (Elvira chionura) "feeding in a purple-flowered shrub on left side of 1-track driveway into parking area behind cottage #5." Jay pointed out this regionally endemic hummer to Marino Chacón, the local birding guide at the lodge, who said that he had never seen that species in the area before (and Marino has lived there all his life!). Rich Hoyer and the Wings tour group that he was leading also observed this stray individual. The field guide gives the normal elevational range of White-tailed Emerald as between 1000 and 1700 meters and mentions that the species wanders up to 2000m. At 2,200m, the Savegre site represents a slight increase in the species' elevational wandering.

If you're looking for this species, a more likely spot to come across it is the Vista del Valle Restaurant at Km 119 on the PanAmerican Highway South. The restaurant has feeders that attract several other species, as well, and they also put out bananas for a variety of tanagers and other frugivores.

Rich Hoyer mentioned a place just down the road (Km 120) that has been productive for hummers, too: the roadside vegetation just 100 meters or so up the road from the Río Payner washout (a hairpin turn in the road that was washed away by flood waters from Hurricane Cesar back in 1996). Between two different Wings tours and a visit I made with Fagyal et. al. on the morning of 11 November 2001, the following species have been seen there: Green Hermit (Phaethornis guy), Green Violet-ear (Colibri thalassinus), Violet-headed Hummingbird (Klais guimeti), Snowy-bellied Hummingbird (Amazilia edward), Stripe-tailed Hummingbird (Eupherusa eximia), Black-bellied Hummingbird (Eupherusa nigriventris), White-tailed Emerald (Elvira chionura), White-throated Mountain-gem (Lampornis cinereicauda), and Purple-crowned Fairy (Heliothryx barroti). All in all, a rather interesting species mix.



Hummingbird Mystery Resolved

Thanks to Nancy Newfield and her contacts at LSU, I finally feel 100% sure that back in July 1994 I photographed a rare Blue-tailed Hummingbird (Amazilia cyanura), rather than the common Stripe-tailed Hummingbird (Eupherusa eximia), at the Hummingbird Gallery in Monteverde.

Nancy forwarded digital copies of the photos to Van Remsen at LSU, who replied:

"The photos to me look good for Amazilia cyanura. Eupherusa does indeed have a mostly greenish tail, less rufous in the wings, less rust on upper tail coverts.


I'm sure regular readers of this newsletter will be relieved not to have to read any more about this matter that had been perplexing me for a couple of years now!



Very Nearly a New Mystery Bird

On 08 November 2001, while checking out the action at the mouth of the Tarcoles River with the aforementioned Fagyal group, Ric Zarwell pointed out a strange-looking cormorant standing on a sandbar among numerous Neotropic Cormorants (Phalacrocorax brasilianus). The bird in question had almost completely white underparts that contrasted with its dark crown, nape, and back. Neither the illustrations in the CR field guide nor the National Geographic guide showed anything like what we were seeing.

The following day, we checked my copy of SEABIRDS, by Peter Harrison, and more or less unanimously agreed that the closest thing to what we had seen at Tarcoles was a Pied Cormorant (Phalacrocorax varius). However, this species is only known from Australia and New Zealand, and hence didn't seem very likely.

I eventually decided that the illustrations available to me were not going to solve the riddle of the mystery cormorant and so thought I'd check what the texts had to say. And sure enough, Stiles and Skutch describe young Neotropic Cormorants as "gray-brown with underparts largely whitish." Better yet, Robert Ridgely in Birds of Panama states: "Juvenal almost entirely white below, including sides of head." And Paul Slud in his 1964 volume of Birds of Costa Rica writes: "Plumage stages include brownish-backed individuals, with face, throat, and breast almost white on young birds, ..."

Let this be a lesson to all who have removed the plates from their copies of Stiles and Skutch and rarely (if ever) bother to consult the text.



Dominance Behaviour in Toucans

[The following account is reprinted from Cotinga 16 with permission from the Neotropical Bird Club. This astounding observation is worth disseminating as much as possible, especially as it pertains to the Costa Rican avifauna. (Numbers in parentheses correspond to the referrences cited at the end of the article.)]


Occasionally avian behaviour is sufficiently strange as to make it worthwhile reporting in the hope that, combined with other observations, a clear pattern and understanding will emerge. On 21 February 2000, in Jardin Bótanico Wilson, near San Vito, south Costa Rica (at 1,100 m), our attention was drawn to two adult Chestnut-mandibled Toucans (Ramphastos swainsonii) flying from tree to tree. They were in an area of open canopy at the edge of Las Cruces forest. No obvious size, colour, or bill length differences were noted between the two, which were c.30 m diagonally above us. The following is a composite of our brief observations, edited by the senior author.

One Ramphastos had a green fruit and appeared to feed it to the other, a behavior commonly observed in toucans(8). We considered this perhaps an example of courtship feeding(1,5) or of an adult feeding a nearly mature juvenile, but there followed a loud clashing of bills, and the two appeared for perhaps 30 seconds to involved in a struggle. One individual, considered the original possessor of the fruit, grasped the other behind the eyes, with its bill, causing the fruit to drop. The grasped bird dropped below the individual holding it, keeping its upturned, closed bill largely between the others mandibles (suggesting that it might have been a female with a shorter bill).

For approximately three minutes (partially timed) it dangled completely inert, with the sole exception that it once partly extended its wings for less than a second. The dangling individual was shaken vigorously several times during the period. Two Fiery-billed Aracari (Pteroglossus frantzii) flew into the same tree, as did two other Ramphastos, but the latter did not become involved. One of the Pteroglossus, however, suddenly approached the two in combat and appeared to try and climb onto them. This caused the two Ramphastos to leave, the lower still grasped by the upper for a second or so. All six individuals departed simultaneously and quickly disappeared from view, the dangling toucan commencing normal flight following a short drop when it was released.

This appears best interpreted as an aggression-submission interaction between individuals within an established dominance hierarchy. Skutch(7) reports what may have been bill-to-bill pushing dominance contests in P. frantzii.

'Dueling' with bills appears widespread among rhamphastids(9) and their use in social interactions(6) may prove to be one answer to the ancient puzzle of the function of their giant bills(7,9). Strong intraspecific aggression in which the mandible is used to hold a victim during an attack has been reported in Pale-mandibled Aracari (Pteroglossus erythropygius)(2). Stable interspecific hierarchies related to feeding occur among other frugivores(3), and an intraspecific dominance hierarchy has been demonstrated in at least one avian herbivore in the New World tropics, the White-winged Trumpeter (Psophia leucoptera) (although dominance interactions there appear primarily among males for access to females)(4). To our knowledge, in such hierarchies, subordinate individuals have not exhibited such dramatically submissive behaviour (which presumably helped avoid serious injury) as that we observed.



We thank Gretchen Daily, Jared Diamond, Mercedes Foster, Dick Hutto, Ivan Jimenez, Bette Loiselle, Van Remsen and Gary Stiles for helpful comments.



1. Bourne, G. R. (1974) Red-billed Toucan in Guyana. Living Bird 13: 99-126.

2. Brydon, A. (1995) Intra-specific aggression in Pale-mandibled Aracari Pteroglossus erythropygius. Cotinga 3: 55.

3. Daily, G. C. & Ehrlich, P. R. (1994) Influence of social status on individual foraging and community structure in a bird guild. Oecologia 100: 153-165.

4. Eason, P. K. & Sherman, P. T. (1995) Dominance status, mating strategies and copulation success in cooperatively polyandrous white-winged trumpeters, Psophia leucoptera (Aves: Psophiidae). Animal Behav. 49: 725-736.

5. Howe, H. F. (1983) Ramphastos swainsonii (Dios Tede, Toucan de Swainson, Chestnut-mandibled Toucan). In Janzen, D. H. (ed.) Costa Rican natural history. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

6. Riley, C. M. & Smith, K. G. (1992) Sexual dimorphism and foraging behavior of Emerald Toucanets Aulacorhynchus prasinus in Costa Rica. Ornis Scandinavica 23: 459-466.

7. Skutch, A. F. (1983) Birds of tropical America. Austin: University of Texas Press.

8. Stiles, F. G. & Skutch, A. F. (1989) A guide to the birds of Costa Rica. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

9. Van Tyne, J. (1929) The life history of the toucan Ramphastos brevicarinatus. Univ. Michigan, Mus. Zool., Misc. Publ. 19: 1-43.


Paul R. Ehrlich, Sallie-Anne Bailey, Ellyn Bush, Thomas Davis and Sarah Girshick

Center for Conservation Biology, Stanford University, Stanford CA 94305-2040, USA.



Mystery Photo Contest

While you were enjoying Paul Ehrlich's article, I was thinking, "Hm-m-m, maybe there's a use for some of those less-than-perfect digital photos I've taken recently. I can let the newsletter readers try and guess what species they are!" Actually, in reality you don't always get a great look at every bird, but with experience, even a glimpse of a bird can be enough to know what it is. So take a look at this photo and see what you think. Do you know what you're looking at? If so, email me with the correct answer and you'll win a free lifetime subscription to the Gone Birding Newsletter!

The answer will be announced in the April 2002 edition.



I hope that you've enjoyed this newsletter and welcome any comments at or if you're in Costa Rica, feel free to give me a ring at 293-2710.

Wishing you all great birding,

Richard Garrigues



October 2001

July 2001

April 2001

January 2001

October 2000

July 2000

April 2000